On February 11, 2014, President Obama will host a state dinner honoring French President Francois Hollande. As the official announcement for the dinner states, the diplomatic event presents “opportunities to further strengthen the U.S.-France security and economic partnership.” These goals link President Obama’s state dinner with the very first state dinner hosted by a United States’ president.
In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant hosted King David Kalakaua of Hawaii for the country’s first formal state dinner. On November 17, 1874, King Kalakaua departed Hawaii on board the U.S.S. Benicia for a three month journey that culminated with the state dinner and the execution of a treaty with the United States.
By December 12, 1874, the Hawaiian monarch had arrived in Washington, D.C. To commemorate his arrival, the first state dinner honoring a foreign leader was held that night. Upon the conclusion of the event, various attendees stated that the dinner was “conceded to have been the most brilliant state reception that has ever taken place in Washington.”
On February 15, 1875, King Kalakaua arrived back in his native land. However, before leaving, he executed the 1875 Treat of Reciprocity with the United States. This treaty opened United States’ markets to Hawaiian sugar and provided an American presence in what is now known as Pearl Harbor.
Through the successful negotiation of the Treaty of Reciprocity, the first state dinner can be judged a success. As Ralph S. Kuykendall states, the dinner fostered “knowledge and respect” and generally “improved relations” among the two countries. These feelings must have transcended to the treaty negotiations and help forge a relationship culminating in 1959 with Hawaii’s admission to the Union as the 50th state.
Kuykendall, Ralph S., The Hawaiian Kingdom, Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1967.