In this second installment of my “in Hawaiʻi” series, I look at Samuel Langhorne Clemens’s critical view of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1866. Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorn Clemens, in Frear, 1947) put the Kingdom somewhat into “perspective” by noting the top-heavy nature of its government. He made the shrewd, if caustic, observation that:
each Hawaiian official dignitary has a gorgeous, varicolored, gold-laced uniform peculiar to his office … all this grandeur in a playhouse kingdom whose population falls absolutely short of sixty thousand souls!
Twain’s remark underscores the fact that despite its importance as a historical period, the kingdom represented the nadir of both the Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian population.
His views were also more stereotypical in that he noted that Hawaiian “women will bed,” and that despite the feeble nature of its government, it was the most “lovely spot” he’d seen. Despite his misgivings, Twain/Clemens was in principle opposed to the annexation of Hawaiʻi. This was in keeping with his opposition to expansionism generally, shown in his membership in the Anti-imperialist League. As The Internationalist (internationalist.org) put it:
Mark Twain faced the onset of European and American imperialism at the end of the 19th century with an acute understanding that white racism denied the very humanity of people of darker skin. He was aware that vile theories were then either being generated or revived by the educated hirelings of the European and American ruling classes, to justify their piratical conquests in Africa and Asia. These depraved bourgeois scientists posited that the single human race was actually comprised of several different “races,” and that these “races” could be ranked in a hierarchy based upon intelligence and culture. Not surprisingly, they placed their own “race”the “white race”at the top of the hierarchy and therefore deserving of world domination.
Twain was in Europe during the outbreak of the Spanish-American war, and while he at first thought that democracy might emerge from these adventures, he changed his mind as the facts emerged as to the true nature of the initiative. Arriving in New York in 1900, he announced:
I have read carefully the treaty of Paris [between the United States and Spain], and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem…. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.
New York Herald, 15 October 1900