#183 in the Moʻolelo series
The “Overthrow” was, in many ways, a non-event. It’s even debatable as to whether it was an overthrow (or a coup dʻetat). Whatever it was, it was always about the US response – would the US annex Hawaiʻi? This was not as simple as the perpetrators expected it would be, as a new President-elect was waiting in the wings, and in the debate over the international role of the US, he was on the side of Mark Twain: an Anti-Imperialist.*
In Cleveland’s message to Congress he stated: “By an act of war, the government of a friendly and confiding people has thus been overthrown. A substantial wrong has been done that we should endeavor to repair” (Cleveland, 1893, p. 456). President Cleveland was accused by some of restoring monarchy and “stamping out republicanism,” an ironic move for an American President. Others in the US supported Cleveland’s position.
Meanwhile passage of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff in 1894 repealed the McKinley Tariff, and replaced Hawai‘i sugar growers in the privileged competitive position with regard to US sugar sales.
In response to Clevelandÿs recommendation to Congress, however, the Provisional Government, on July 4, 1894, declared itself to be the Republic of Hawaiʻi, claiming that the US had no right to interfere in its domestic affairs. The Republic of Hawai’i was created in 1894 by a “about 4000 men, most of foreign birth, [who] signed the oath and voted in the election” (Silva, 2004, 137). Hawaiians protested to the US and other countries over this process, claiming that “confident in the honesty and impartiality of America, [had] patiently and peacefully submitted to the insults and tyranny of the Provisional Government” (Silva, 2004, p. 136).
When the Republic of Hawai’i planned to proclaim itself on July 4, 1894 – a date meant to signify a transition from monarchy to a republic (a government with an elected head of state, usually a president) – Hawaiians were “outraged” (Silva, 2004, 137). On July 2, between 5000 and 7000 people rallied at Palace square to protest the formation of the Republic (Silva, 2004, 137). This rally was never reported in any of the standard history books.
In January 1895, Robert Wilcox planned a second “counter-revolution,” this time against the Republic of Hawaii. The plan was discovered, and the counter-revolutionaries were chased through the mountains behind Honolulu. One combatant on each side was killed. Two hundred were captured and tried for treason against the Republic, including Wilcox and Prince Kūhiō.
Some of the captured counter-revolutionaries were sentenced to death. These death sentences were used as a threat by the Republic to persuade Liliʻuokalani to abdicate, or give up the throne. US officials sent a message to the Republic that no executions should occur, but the Republic allowed Liliʻuokalani to continue to believe that the executions would still be carried out, and under this impression she abdicated her throne. Lili’uokalani was arrested for “misprision of treason” – an antiquated, or out-of-date charge that meant knowledge of treason. She was imprisoned in ÿIolani palace for eight months. She was pardoned in 1896, and immediately traveled to the US to lobby against the annexation treaty. In Washington, Lili‘uokalani lodged a formal protest with the US State Department.
The Provisional Government declared itself an American protectorate after eight days. According to a statement of Hui Aloha ʻĀina (the Hawaiian Patriotic League): “But eight days had not elapsed before the loyalty, fidelity and patriotism of the incongruous, discordant crowd, who supported the provisional government manifested itself by dissensions running riot, to such a point that the only manner of saving the new order was to implore Mr. Stevens for a declaration of American protectorate.”
*Twain was a staunch member of the American Anti-Imperialist League, and had visited Hawaiʻi.