New DocsTeach Activity: Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii

In our newest activity on, students analyze a petition signed by over 50% of the native Hawaiian population against it becoming a part of the United States.  Petition Against Annexation of ??? challenges students to use context clues within this petition to figure out which specific territorial acquisition this petition relates to in US History.

Petition against the Annexation of Hawaii

We suggest teaching with this activity in units related to US imperialism, manifest destiny, and the growth of the United States. Students should have some background related to the issues that led to the United States taking a larger role in the world at the turn of the 20th century.  Students in grades 6-12 may complete this activity individually, in small groups or as a full class activity.  Approximate time needed is 15 minutes.  The activity can be found under The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930) or directly at

The sole document used in this activity is a selection from a single page of an over 500 page petition sent to Congress from native Hawaiians.   More than 21,000 native Hawaiians—out of a population of less than 40,000—signed this petition opposing the annexation of Hawaii.   Their actions contributed to the defeat of a proposed annexation treaty.

Begin by asking students to read and analyze the petition from the native inhabitants of a future territory against the US annexing their homeland.  Since this activity uses the Focusing on Details: White Out/Black Out Tool, the specific name of the territory is obscured and students must use clues from other parts of the document to determine which territory it is.

Ask the students to examine the document and answer the following questions:

  • What type of document is it?
  • Who wrote the document?
  • To whom was it written?
  • What is the date of the document?
  • Why do you suppose it was written in two languages?
  • What was the purpose of the document?

Based on the evidence, ask students to offer hypotheses about which annexation in US history this petition is about. After discussing their educated guesses, inform students that this is a petition against the US annexation of Hawaii. Inform students that this petition contributed to a defeat of a proposed treaty to annex Hawaii. As a result of the petition, only 46 Senators in favor of the resolution to annex, less than the 2/3 majority needed for approval of a treaty.

Hawaii DT 2

Tell students that victory was shortlived, however as unfolding world events soon forced the annexation issue to the forefront again. With the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in February 1898 signaling the start of the Spanish-American War, establishing a mid-Pacific fueling station and naval base became important to the United States. The Hawaiian islands were the clear choice, and this time Congress annexed the Hawaiian islands by Joint Resolution (which requires only a simple majority) on July 12, 1898.

The activity will encourage classroom discussion whether or not the US should have annexed Hawaii.  Since lawmakers initially listened to the will of the Hawaiian people, but changed their minds following the outbreak of the Spanish-American War (something that had nothing directly to do with native Hawaiians), ask students if they believe our annexation was a justified action.

  • If this petition was signed by over 50% of the native population, do you think the United States should have annexed it? Why or why not?

This activity is adapted from an article published in Social Education by Wynell Schamel and Charles E. Schamel.



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