Misconceptions about the Overthrow

1. That Hawaiʻiʻs sovereignty was lost
Many think that Hawaiʻi lost sovereignty on January 17th 1893. Yet most also seem to know that annexation was five years later in 1898. This shows that what I call “double think” is operating when people think about the overthrow. Hawaiʻi, whether as the Kingdom or as the republic in 1898 was sovereign. If it wasnʻt, there wouldnʻt be any need for a treaty at all. (If a treaty wasnʻt needed, then why did the US try twice to get one?)


The Palace, Jan. 17, 2018

2. That the overthrow was inevitable
After the Provisional Government proclaimed themselves, Queen Liliʻuokalani still had control of the Police and the Royal Guard – in other words, all of the armed forces of the Hawaiian islands. So there was really no overthrow, there was a surrender by a head of state who was in full control of the government apparatus of Hawaiʻi, although the US Marines had temporarily occupied Honolulu.

Afterwards, Grover Cleveland negotiated an agreement of restoration with Liliʻuokalani, who, as she notes in her book Hawaiʻi’s Story, still considered her the head of state as late as December, 1893, a full 11 months after the overthrow.

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The statue of Queen Liliʻuokalani at the state legislature reads “Queen of Hawaiʻi 1891 – 1917”

3. That it was “US backed”
It is well-established that President Benjamin Harrison gave a green light for the overthrow, without explicitly saying the words. “If you people act as you have indicated, you will find an exceedingly sympathetic administration here.” There is also an encoded US document that, it is alleged, actually gives a plan for an overthrow, but this needs to be vetted by historians. What we have then, it seems, is a US, not a US-Backed, overthrow.

4. That its legality is debatable
Some people seem to have forgotten about the 1993 apology resolution (Public Law 103-150), which makes the illegality of the overthrow a settled issue. I havenʻt.

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