John A. Burns

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John Anthony Burns (March 30, 1909–April 5, 1975) served as the second Governor of the Hawaii from 1962 to 1974. Born in in Ft. Assinneboine, Montana, the eldest son of four children of an Army sergeant major, Burns came to Hawaii at the age of 4 when his father was transferred to Fort Shafter. Raised in Kalihi, Burns graduated from St. Louis High School in 1930 and attended the University of Hawaii for only a year, driven to work by the Depression.. From 1934 to 1945, Burns was in the Honolulu Police Department, becoming a captain in 1941. During World War II, he helped form a community liaison group with members of the Japanese community. His insistence that Americans of Japanese ancestry be treated fairly helped create the famed 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In the early 1950s, he was administrator of O`ahu Civil Defense in addition to operating retail and real estate businesses.

In a Star-Bulletin article, Burl Burlingame wrote,

"Burns was a curious combination of gaunt, ascetic priest and bare-knuckles backroom brawler, a troubled kid who didn't graduate from high school until his 20s but spent millions on higher education, a firm father figure whose own father deserted the family, a man in the most prominent position in the islands who also shunned the spotlight, a former vice cop who had seen the worst of human behavior and become an ardent champion of civil and social rights, a public figure who despised public speaking, a white man embraced by other races, a card-carrying Hawaii Democrat when Democrats weren't cool, an autocrat who was a friend of labor, a devout Catholic who attended church every day and yet presided over Hawaii's legalization of abortion -- in other words, a conflicted politician and a man of his own times." [1]

Burns is often described as the father of the modern Hawaii Democratic Party. From 1948 he held various leadership positions in the territorial Democratic Party, culminating in being chair of the territorial party in 1952. He is credited with building a coalition with organized labor and Japanese-Americans to strengthen the Democratic Party.

In 1956 Burns was elected territorial delegate to the US Congress from Hawaii. As Delegate he played a key role in lobbying for Hawaii statehood, a goal that was achieved on March 12, 1959 when the statehood bill was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He sought to become the first Governor of the newly formed State of Hawaii, but lost the election to then-Territorial Governor William F. Quinn.

In 1962, Burns won the election to become Governor of Hawaii. He was re-elected in 1966, severing with Andrew Tut Fo Ing, and 1970. He became ill in October 1973 and then-Lt. Gov. George R. Ariyoshi became Acting Governor. John A. Burns died in Honolulu on April 5, 1975 and is interred in the Punchbowl National Cemetery.

The Hawaii State Legislature passed a bill legalizing abortion on demand in 1970. At the time Hawaii's abortion bill was the most liberal in the land. Governor John Burns, a Catholic, allowed the bill to become law without his signature after assuring then Bishop Scanlan that he would veto it; Governor Burns succumbed to Union pressure to allow the bill to become law.

Among the many things Burns is credited with over his career are shaping the modern Hawaii Democratic Party, the establishment of the East-West Center and supporting the creation of new schools at the University of Hawaii - in particular, what is now the John A. Burns School of Medicine. In a controversial move by Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano, the newly completed Interstate H-3 was named in Burns' honor.

The Asahis, a storied Hawaii baseball team in Hawaii League baseball that represented the Japanese-American community, was founded in 1905 by Steere Noda. Former Gov. John A. Burns owned the franchise during World War II, when the team was known as the Athletics, and former Mayor Neal S. Blaisdell managed the club to a Hawaii League title in 1942.

External Links


  • Boylan, Dan, and T. Michael Holmes. John A. Burns: The Man and His Times . Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2000.
  • Amalu, Sammy. Jack Burns: A Portrait in Transition. Honolulu: Mamalahoa Foundation, 1974.
  • Burns, Sheenagh M. “Jack Burns: A Daughter’s Portrait.” Hawaiian Journal of History 24 (1990): 163-83.
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