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While American missionaries and businessmen had settled as residents in the Kingdom of Hawaii since 1820, relations between the governments of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the United States developed slowly, beginning in 1826, when the first treaty between the two countries was signed by Captain Thomas ap Catesby Jones and Kuhina Nui Ka'ahumanu.

However, recognition by the United States of Hawaii's government was withheld following the 1843 Paulet affair, after which the United Kingdom and France announced their recognition of the Kingdom of Hawaii. It was finally granted in 1849, when the United States and the Kingdom signed a treaty which established relations between the two countries.

The first U.S. ambassador to Hawaii was David L. Gregg, who became minister to Hawaii in 1853.

Further treaties were signed between the United States and Hawaii, including the infamous Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. Relations between the two countries were aggravated following the 1893 Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, in which then-Minister John L. Stevens had participated; he was accused of inappropriate conduct by the Blount Report, and was forced into retirement by the United States government that same year. After the Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed, a new minister, James Henderson Blount, was sent to the country to investigate the overthrow of the monarchy. After Blount issued his report, he was succeeded by Albert Sydney Willis, who convinced the deposed queen to grant an amnesty to the instigators of the coup, and then demanded that the Provisional Government turn power back to the monarchy. This was refused by Sanford B. Dole.

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