Sanford Dole, Lawyer Helped Make Hawaii a US Territory

Served as only president of the independent Republic of Hawaii

photograph of Sanford Dole
Sanford Dole.

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Sanford Dole was a lawyer who was largely responsible for bringing Hawaii into the United States as a territory in the 1890s. Dole helped overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy and served for several years as president of the Hawaiian Republic, an independent government of the islands.

The campaign to establish Hawaii as an American territory was backed by sugar planters and other business interests. After being thwarted during the administration of Grover Cleveland, Dole and his allies found a more welcome reception following the election of William McKinley. Hawaii became an American territory in 1898.

Fast Facts: Sanford Dole

  • Full Name: Sanford Ballard Dole
  • Born: April 23, 1844 in Honolulu Hawaii
  • Died: June 9, 1926 in Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Known For: Lawyer known for working in the 1890s to bring Hawaii into the United States. Served as only president of the independent Republic of Hawaii and first governor of the Territory of Hawaii.
  • Parents: Daniel Dole and Emily Hoyt Ballard
  • Spouse: Anna Prentice Cate

Early Life and Career

Sanford Ballard Dole was born April 23, 1844, in Hawaii, the son of missionaries who had been assigned to educate native people. Dole grew up in Hawaii and attended college in the island before traveling to the United States and enrolling in Williams College in Massachusetts. He studied law and practiced the profession briefly in Boston before returning to Hawaii.

Dole set up a law practice in Honolulu and began to get involved in politics. In 1884, he was elected to the Hawaiian legislature, which operated under a monarchy. In 1887, Dole became involved in a rebellion against the Hawaiian king, David Kalakaua. The king was forced to sign away much of his power at gunpoint. The new constitution, which placed most power in a legislature, became known as the Bayonet Constitution, as it had been put in place by threats of violence.

Following the rebellion, Dole was appointed to the Hawaiian Supreme Court. He served as a judge on the court until 1893.

Revolutionary Leader

In 1893, the successor of King David Kalakaua, Queen Lilioukalani, resisted restraints put upon the monarchy by the 1887 constitution, which heavily favored the interests of white businessmen. As the queen sought to restore the monarchy to its earlier power, she was deposed by a coup.

In the aftermath of the coup against Queen Lilioukalani, Sanford Dole became the head of the revolutionary provisional government which replaced the monarchy. An obvious goal of the new government was to have Hawaii brought into the United States. A front-page article in the New York Times on January 29, 1893 provided details on the revolution, and mentioned that the newly installed government wanted to be admitted to the United States as a territory.

Joining the United States

Grover Cleveland’s return as president in 1893 (he began serving the second of his two non-consecutive terms) complicated matters. Cleveland was offended by the coup that deposed the Hawaiian king, especially when an investigation determined that U.S. Marines had been involved, operating without any official orders from Washington.

In President Cleveland’s view, the Hawaiian monarchy should be restored. That changed when emissaries from Washington, while seeking to bring the queen back to power, could not get her to forgive the revolutionaries. After relations with the queen broke down, the Cleveland administration eventually recognized the Republic of Hawaii on July 4, 1894.

Sanford Dole served as the first and only president of the Republic of Hawaii, holding the office from 1894 to 1900. A focus of his attention was to get the United States to adopt a treaty which would make Hawaii an American territory.

Dole's task became easier when William McKinley, who was more sympathetic to the idea of Hawaii as an American territory, became president in 1897.

Dole continued advocating for Hawaii to join the U.S., and in January 1898, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet government officials.

After sailing to San Francisco, Dole and his wife embarked on a cross-country railroad journey. His travels became front-page news in cities he visited along the way. He was portrayed as "President Dole," a respected foreign leader from an exotic location who also carried himself as a typical American politician.

Arriving by train in Washington, Dole was greeted at Union Station by members of McKinley's cabinet. President McKinley called upon Dole at his hotel. A few days later, Dole and his wife were guests of honor at a formal White House dinner.

In a number of newspaper interviews Dole was careful to always say he was not lobbying for his cause but merely answering any questions federal officials might have about Hawaii and its desires to join the United States.

In the summer of 1898, Hawaii was admitted to the United States as a territory, and Dole’s position as president of the independent republic came to an end.

Dole was widely recognized as one of the leading citizens of Hawaii. In 1898, a San Francisco newspaper published a feature on Hawaii joining the United States, and it prominently featured Dole. Though the move toward becoming a U.S. territory had been long and complicated, motivated by business interests and often accompanied by threats of force, Dole put a good face on it. He said Hawaii joining the U.S. was the result of "natural growth."

Territorial Government

President McKinley appointed Dole to be the first territorial governor of Hawaii. He served in that post until 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him to be a judge of the U.S. district court. Dole accepted the post, and left politics to return to the law. He served as a judge until 1915.

In his later life, Dole was revered as one of Hawaii's most prominent citizens. He died in Hawaii in 1926.


  • "Dole, Sanford Ballard." Gale Encyclopedia of American Law, edited by Donna Batten, 3rd ed., vol. 3, Gale, 2010, pp. 530-531. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
  • "Hawaii." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Carson and Mary Bonk, vol. 1, Gale, 1999, pp. 422-425. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
  • "Joint Resolution to Provide for Annexing the Hawaiian Islands to the United States." American Eras: Primary Sources, edited by Rebecca Parks, vol. 1: Development of the Industrial United States, 1878-1899, Gale, 2013, pp. 256-258. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
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McNamara, Robert. "Sanford Dole, Lawyer Helped Make Hawaii a US Territory." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, McNamara, Robert. (2020, August 28). Sanford Dole, Lawyer Helped Make Hawaii a US Territory. Retrieved from McNamara, Robert. "Sanford Dole, Lawyer Helped Make Hawaii a US Territory." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 5, 2023).