The 1874 “Riot of the Queenites”

#89 in the Moʻolelo series

When reading of Kalākaua’s world tour, his reception by foreigners and the pride that instilled in Hawaiians, it’s easy to forget that Hawaiians didn’t want him as King.

In 1874, the second election for monarch took place, barely more than a year after the first: Lunalilo vs. Kalākaua. This time it was Kalākaua vs. Queen Emma. So why was Queen Emma running in an election to become Queen Emma? Because she was Queen by virtue of having been married to Kamehameha IV, she was called Dowager Queen Emma, that is, widow of the former King (and once a Queen, always a Queen – this is why the statue of Queen Liliʻuokalani has her dates of rule as 1891-1917).

The first political party in Hawaiʻi was comprised of the supporters of Queen Emma: the “Emmaites,” or, as the Advertiser called them, the “Queenites.” The front page of the PCA on February 14, 1874 read “Riot of the Queenites:”

Dowager Queen Emma Kaleleonālani [Naʻea Rooke]

When the announcement was made … the Prince David Kalākaua* was elected King of the Hawaiian Islands, several attempts were made in the audience to cheer, but they were suppressed by the police … there were yells and cries of rage from the mob of Queenites. Orators, mostly of the “sans culottes” class [a reference to French revolutionaries], were busy here and there, exciting the passions of their hearers against the Representatives for having, as they declared, voted against the wishes of the people in making Kalakaua King.

PCA, February 14, 1874

It makes sense that the PCA, owned by Lorrin Thurston, would be in favor of Kalākaua – he is remembered as being more amenable to the interests of the capitalist, sugar grower class. (Remember, as we saw in the previous posts, he facilitated immigration agreements while on his world tour, which was in the interests of sugar growers). Kalākaua was also seen as more pro-American, whereas, being herself a quarter English, Emma was seen as being aligned against American sugar interests.

Rioting at the legislature, 1874

Kalākaua thus had support in the legislature, and won the election of 1874 by a vote of 39 to 6. There was no popular vote as it was not required by the constitution. (Lunalilo had requested one, which he got and won easily). Emma’s supporters rioted, storming the courthouse and attacking Hawaiian legislators who had voted for Kalakaua (Osorio, 2002, p. 156). British and American troops from ships in the Honolulu harbor were called on to quell the riot. 

*I haven’t seen Kalākaua called “Prince” before – that would imply that he was actually heir to the throne, in which case, he wouldnʻt have to run in an election! Did the Advertiser want to make him appear as heir apparent? It’s unclear. However, it is possible this was done elsewhere, and not only by the Advertiser.

Sources: Pacific Commercial Advertiser, February 14, 1874.

Jonathan K. Osorio, Dismembering Lāhui: A History of Hawaiʻi to 1887, University of Hawaii Press, 2002.

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