121 Years Later – the Overthrow and the Way Forward

Today is the 121st anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. On January 17th, 2012, the Honolulu Star Advertiser and other media completely neglected the date. On that day, a post on my upstart little blog got nearly 400 views and the umiverse went on to have 20,000 in the following two years. We need to remember these anniversaries, but at the same time, we need to chart a course forward, as well as look back to the recent past for signs of progress. In this post, I give a very brief review of the events of the overthrow and look to the future by looking at the recent past.

On January 16th, 1893, the day that Queen Lili‘uokalani was to proclaim a new constitution, John L. Stevens ordered the sailors and marines of the USS Boston to land at Honolulu harbor and take up quarters in the yard of Arion Hall, in direct view of ʻIolani palace. The Marines acted at the request of Stevens, US Minister to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, but without the knowledge or authorization of Congress or the President.

Lorrin A. Thurston, 1892

The next day, January 17th 1893, the conspirators read a proclamation declaring that the “Hawaiian monarchical system of government is hereby abrogated,” at the back door of Aliʻiolani Hale, the government building. Henry Cooper read this proclamation to “no one in particular” according to Tom Coffman (1998) – there was no crowd present to hear the proclamation. The oligarchy proclaimed itself a provisional government, elected Sanford B. Dole President, and Stevens immediately recognized this government as the “de facto government of the Hawaiian Islands.” De facto  means “in fact” as opposed to de jure, meaning “in law.”

Lili’uokalani’s statement read:

I, Liliʻuokalani, by the grace of God and under the constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the constitutional government of the Hawaiian kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional government of and for this kingdom.

That I yield to the superior force of the United States of America, whose Minister Plenipotentiary, his Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu, and declared that he would support the said Provisional Government.

Now to avoid and collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do, under this protest and impelled by the said forces yield my authority until such time as the government of the United States shall, upon the facts presented to it, undo the acts of its representative, and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.

President Grover Cleveland negotiated an agreement with the deposed Queen, which established the US intent to reinstate her. Later, Cleveland did recognize the Republic of Hawaiʻi, the successor to the government he called “self-proclaimed,” but later said he was “shamed of the whole affair.” Keanu Sai, however, has used the “Liliʻuokalani Assignment” (the assignment of her authority to Cleveland) to assert that US policy is already one of reinstatement of the monarch and that the matter is simply one of compliance. Simple compliance, not decolonization or nation-building. He has attempted to show (convincingly in my opinion) that the responsibility for such compliance lies with successive Presidents, all the way to the current President.

One hundred and twenty-one years is a long time, or not, depending on one’s view. It is much longer than any other occupation has gone on (although the statute of limitations apparently for occupations to become legitimate is about 200 years). But it is a very short time compared to the movement to reinstate the state of Israel.

One question we should ask is: has there been any progress in the past 20 years since the events of 1993 – the march on ʻIolani Palace and the Apology Resolution? In 1993, there was only an infant Hawaiian Immersion program. The Center for Hawaiian Studies at UH Mānoa did not have its own facility. There were no Hawaiian-focused charter schools – now there are 17.

Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua’s book describes the Hawaiian-focused charter school movement.

There were no master’s degrees in Hawaiian Studies or ʻOlelo Hawaiʻi – now there are three degrees, with 50 students in the UHM program. There is even a Hawaiian college, Halau Wanana, now called Kahoʻiwai. Hawaiʻi had not been represented before the World Court (International Court of Arbitration). And, perhaps most importantly, there was no movement for food sovereignty, or nearly as many loʻi kalo opened as there are now.

If a society is like a pyramid, with governance being the pinnacle, and the hard work of economy, education and health care being the foundation, it is as if Hawaiians wanted the pinnacle without a base, and have now intuitively moved into the hard work of building that foundation. As Niklaus Schweitzer (1999) has stated, “the Hawaiian movement is evolutionary rather than revolutionary,” and we continue to build the foundations of a nation, whatever its ultimate form, within the framework and constraints of the present system.


Coffman, T. (1998) Nation Within: The Story of America’s Annexation to the United States. Kaneʻohe, HI: Epicenter.

Schweitzer, N. (1999) Turning Tide: The Ebb and Flow of Hawaiian Nationality. Berne: Peter Lang.



Filed under Mooolelo, sovereignty, Uncategorized

10 responses to “121 Years Later – the Overthrow and the Way Forward

  1. Pingback: 121st anniversary of the Overthrow | INhonolulu

  2. This is why they call it the “MARCH” of civilisation…


  3. Mahina

    Yes, we need to remember the importance of this day but I have a question. When you say, ” within the framework and constraints of the present system”, exactly what system are you referring to? Is it the United States system or perhaps one more powerful, at the international level?


  4. Thank you for this. I have a deep appreciation for your scholarship and your thought process…and I’m digging into your archives.


  5. Jon Brito

    I like how you mentioned food sovereignty, thats huge for us. Hopefully one day we won’t need as many/any barges to come in. I look forward to that day.
    E malama pono.


  6. Frank

    Mahalo nui loa for your insightful and erudite column on the illegal overthrow of our Queen Lili’okalani. It indeed moves our Hawaiian Kingdom Nation forward in it’s Restoration and U.S. Compliance of De-Occupying and De-Commissioning its forces from our Island Nation.


  7. Pingback: 121st anniversary of the Overthrow

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