Organic Act

An act to provide a government for the Territory of Hawai'i passed in 1900. The Act also provided the legal grounds for declaring martial law in Hawaii and suspending habeas corpus immediately following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 .

Hawai'i was acquired by the United States through a congressional act on July 7, 1898. The Organic Act, passed in 1900, provided for governmental authority over the islands that aligned with U.S. laws, it extended the U.S. Constitution to the islands, and granted Hawaiian territorial citizenship to all U.S. citizens who resided in the Territory for more than a year and U.S. citizenship for all citizens of the Republic of Hawai'i who were in residence at the time of the Act. The Act also extended the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Territory. It required that all Chinese immigrants obtain certificates of residence within a year, and forbade migration of Chinese immigrants, whether they obtained certificates of residence or not, to any other state, territory, or district in the United States. The Act today is posted in its entirety on many webpages advocating for Hawaiian independence and documenting the illegal nature of the U.S. seizure of the Islands. [1]

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, J.B. Poindexter , governor of the Territory of Hawai'i, declared martial law and suspended habeas corpus . Despite some opposition, martial law remained in place in Hawai'i until October 1944. The Supreme Court case of Duncan v. Kahanamoku determined that the Organic Act did not provide for military tribunals under martial law. Both the majority ruling written by Justice Hugo Black and the concurring opinion of Justice Frank Murphy condemned military rule in Hawai'i as deplorable and an affront to liberty.

Authored by Cherstin M. Lyon , California State University, San Bernardino

For More Information

Anthony, J. Garner . Hawaii Under Army Rule . Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1955.

———. "Martial Law in Hawaii." California Law Review 30.4 (May 1942): 371-396.

———. "Martial Law, Military Government, and the Writ of Habeas Corpus in Hawaii." California Law Review 31.5 (December 1943): 477-514.

Burton, Jeffrey F., and Mary M. Farrell. "Jigoku-Dani: An Archaeological Reconnaissance of the Honouliuli Internment Camp, O'ahu, Hawai'i.” Tucson: Trans-Sierran Archaeological Research, 2008.

Kauanui, J. Kēhaulani. Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity . Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.

Okihiro, Gary. Cane Fires: The Anti-Japanese Movement in Hawaii, 1865-1945 . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.

Robinson, Greg. ' A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Tamura, Eileen H. Americanization, Acculturation, and Ethnic Identity: The Nisei Generation in Hawaii . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.


  1. For example, see: Organic Act, , accessed on July 23, 2015.

Last updated July 2, 2020, 6:11 p.m..