The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy

One hundred and nineteen years ago, the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown. Queen Lili‘uokalani began her reign on Jan 29. 1891. Concerns at the start of her reign included the Bayonet Constitution, internal political struggles and the McKinley Tariff. When Lili‘uokalani ascended the throne, she was forced to pledge an oath of allegiance to the Bayonet Constitution. This meant that the monarch was unable to accomplish any act without the cabinet’s or the legislature’s approval. The monarch’s greatest power was the ability to appoint cabinet members.

But internal political dissention made it difficult for Lili‘uokalani to select and keep an ideal cabinet. As the queen put it in her 1897 book Hawaiiʻs Story, “The legislature, instead of creating legislation to benefit the people, spent its time in the making and unmaking of cabinets.” The parties involved included the Reform Party, the National Reform Party, and the Liberal Party

The Reform party was also known as the downtown party, or the missionary party. It consisted of sugar businessmen. A key figure was Lorrin Thurston, whose agenda was to maintain control of the government and achieve annexation to the US.

The key figure in the National reform party was the new Queen, Lydia Kamaka‘eha Lili‘uokalani. Her agenda was to maintain Hawaiian independence, change the constitution, and to govern via careful and irreproachable means, so as not to provide the foreign presence in Hawai‘i any justification for calling for assistance from their home countries, which could lead to an overthrow.

Finally, the Liberal party’s key figure was Robert Kalanihiapo Wilcox, one of the young Hawaiians educated in Italy under the guardianship of Celso Cesar Moreno. His agenda was to maintain Hawaiian independence by not acknowledging the validity of the Bayonet Constitution. Further, he planned to take back control of government through more “liberal” means. This group, which included anti-annexation activist Joseph Nawahï, eventually advocated a Native Hawaiian-controlled republic.

The queen consulted with the anti-annexation political party Hui Kalaʻāina to ask the members of the group to draft a new constitution.  Lili’uokalani told the group to hold on to the document until further notice.  After Lili’uokalaniʻs alliance between the Reform Party and Wilcox’s Liberal Party, she decided it was time for a new cabinet.  The Queen wanted to restore some measure of native rule that was lost in the Bayonet Constitution.

As Queen Lili‘uokalani was about to promulgate a new constitution (to replace the “Bayonet Constitution” forced on her brother King Kalakaua in 1887, which gave foreigners the right to vote), non-Hawaiian business leaders, most connected with the sugar industry, overthrew the Queen with the aid of US Marines. On January 16th, 1893, the day that Queen Lili‘u was to instate a new constitution, John L. Stevens had the sailors and marines of the USS Boston 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.

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– 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 f 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.

Liliʻuokalani yielded, as Kamehameha III had fifty years earlier, under protest to “the superior force of the United States of America, until such time as the Government of the United States should undo the action of its representatives.” The provisional government then proceeded to lobby the US Congress to annex Hawaii. Their aim was to become a territory, thereby avoiding foreign tariffs on sugar. In March 1893 Grover Cleveland replaced Harrison as President, and withdrew the treaty of annexation from the Senate.

President Cleveland opposed the annexation of Hawai‘i and the overthrow. Cleveland sent Senator James Blount to investigate the events of 1893. Blount was flooded with testimonies from numerous parties; the largest majority of whom were Hawaiians.

The Provisional Government wined and dined Blount, because he was the one who could justify their actions. Blount did not meet a single annexationist willing to put the question of annexation to a vote of the people. After collecting weeks of testimony from both sides of the issue, Blount produced one of the most scathing critiques of US foreign policy in American history. Blount’s 1400-page document recommended that the Provisional Government step down, and that Lili‘uokalani be restored to her rightful position as the monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

On the basis of this report Cleveland pushed for reinstatement of Queen Lili‘uokalani. In his address to Congress, Cleveland stated: “In an act of war a friendly and confiding people has been overthrown, a substantial wrong has thus been done which we should endeavor to repair.” Congress, however, was mainly pro-annexation, and this led to a standoff for the next five years between Congress and the President over the issue of annexing Hawai’i. The Blount report was excerpted in newspapers across the United States, striking up a national debate over imperialism. Cleveland’s message to Congress strongly advised restoring the throne and government to Lili’uokalani.

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.” 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 Clevelandʻs recommendation to Congress, however, the Provisional Government, on July 4, 1894, declared itself to be the Republic of Hawaii, claiming that the US had no right to interfere in its domestic affairs. According to Noenoe Silva, the Republic of Hawai’i was created in 1894 by “about 4000 men, most of foreign birth, [who] signed the oath and voted in the election.” 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.”

When the Republic of Hawai’i planned to proclaim itself on July 4, 1894 – a date meant to signify a transition from monarchy to republican government – 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. 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. A soldier on each side was killed. Two hundred were captured and tried for treason against the Republic.

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 surrender, her position as queen (as opposed to head of state). 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 ʻIolani 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 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.”

The United States sent out diplomatic statements, which, as historian Ralph Kuykendall notes, notified other countries that the US considered Hawai‘I as in its sphere of influence, and that “it would patrol the orchard.” Five years after the overthrow, with a new president in office, the US again attempted annexation, but in a way that was doubly illegal, and as I will argue in a future column, very unlikely.

Lot Kapuaiwa (Kamehameha V’s) birthday:

La Ku’oko’a (Hawaiian Independence Day):

Pearl Harbor 70th anniversary:

The Original ‘Umi [a-Liloa] – a response to Kamakau vis-a-vis Kame’eleihiwa

Beginning a mo’olelo with a genealogy situates the characters in a web of relationships. Kamakau constantly does this, showing the complexity of chiefly relationships and … This technique is seen in other Hawaiian literature such as Kaluaiko’olau by Pi’ilani.

Samuel M. Kamakau

Kame’eleihiwa holds that there are four traditional Hawaiian metaphors that order Hawaiian society: Mälama ‘Äina, Nï’aupi’o, ‘Aikapu and ‘Imi Haku. Mälama ‘Äina is not merely caring for the land, but also represents the reciprocal relationship between aliÿi and makaÿainana in which the aliÿi care for the makaÿainana (eyes of the land) through their administration of the land. Nï’aupi’o is the incestuous mating practices of ali’i, which, by limiting one’s ancestors to those of royal blood, provides an unquestioned right to rule. ‘Aikapu was a central legal principle in Hawaiian society, dividing men and women (while eating) created two parts to society, which could be balanced through distinct societal roles. This balancing act was pono, a fundamental value of Hawaiian society, and the goal of every chief. ‘Imi Haku was the search for mana which had two paths, the paths of Kü (violence) and Lono (peace, e.g. political marriages). In this response, I will locate these metaphors in the story of ‘Umi and in the life of Kamehameha I.

‘Umi practiced mälama ‘aina continually, in both its literal sense – he was considered a humble chief who “did two things with his own hands – farming and fishing”, and in the figurative sense – he “took care of the old men, the old women, the fatherless, and the common people” (Kamakau, 1992, p. 19).

‘Umi practiced nï’aupiÿo when he married his half-sister, Kapukini, daughter of Liloa by Pinea, who was Liloa’s aunt. Thus Kapukini was herself a pi’o chief. ‘Umi practiced ÿaikapu when he built menÿs houses for an army to defeat his brother Hakau. This metaphor is also seen in the story of ‘Umi’s conception when his mother, Akahiakuleana had just completed her menstrual cycle in which “Lehua shed her tears” (Kamakau, 1992 ). Finally, ‘Umi practiced ÿimi haku, both the path of Kü, defeating his elder brother through force, and the path of Lono, increasing his mana by marrying both Kapukini and Pi’ikea, daughter of Pi’ilani, the king of Maui.

Kamehameha, like ‘Umi was a chief who would labor in the fields, thus practicing mälama ‘äina directly. He also exhibited the indirect practice of mälama ÿäina with his “law of the splintered paddle,” mamalahoe känäwai, which forbade the abuse of chiefly and other powers upon threat of death. He thus protected the most vulnerable sectors of society. He practiced nï’aupi’o and imi haku by marrying Keöpüolani, the daughter of Kiwala’o, his  cousin and rival. While she was not a close relative like Kapukini was to ‘Umi, he thought of her as such – this is seen when he referred to his children by her as his “grandchildren.” He therefore thought of Kïwala’ö as his brother and Keöpüolani as his daughter. Kamehameha also practiced ‘aikapu. This can be inferred by the fact that Ka’ahumanu waited until his death to officially abolish the ÿaikapu in December 1819. This suggests that kamehameha never would have allowed this change to such a foundational aspect of Hawaiian society. Finally, Kamehameha exhibited ‘imi haku, both the path of Kü, in the unification struggle and the path of Lono by his political marriages to Ka’ahumanu and Keöpüolani.


Late last year, a case called Corboy v. Lingle was submitted to the US Supreme Court. This case challenges the lower tax rates that Hawaiians pay on their leases of Hawaiian Home Lands. In light of this challenge to one of the most significant Hawaiian entitlement programs, a review of the history of the Hawaiian Homelands is in order. During the early Territorial period (1900 – 1920), both Congressional delegates Robert Wilcox and Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole (pictured) sought the passage of a Hawaiian homesteading bill. Prince Jonah Kūhiō was the long-time republican-Hawaiian delegate in Congress (1902 – 1922). Kūhiō’s plan (which was also Wilcox’s plan earlier) was to use some of the government’s 1.8 million acres of land for Hawaiian homesteading. Sugar growers and ranchers were using much of the best portions of this land despite the Organic Act land laws that restricted businesses from leasing large portions or land for long periods.  Sugar growers and ranchers came to have use of these lands because leases were initiated earlier under the Provisional Government (1893 – 1894) or Republic of Hawaiʻi (1894 – 1898), and those leases entered into before the Organic Act were exempt from the Organic Act. Leases typically involved a 30-year term. Thus the leases, negotiated in the 1890s, would expire in the early 1920s and only at that point would the lands be subject to the Organic Act land laws.

Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaʻole

The sugar growers and ranchers eventual become interested in a Hawaiian homestead bill because could become an underhanded method of maintaining their cheap, large, long-term leases of the best government lands by rescinding the Organic Act land laws, which they were soon going to have to follow. Because Republicans had direct connections in Washington, Kūhiō could not get a Hawaiian homesteading bill passed without the support of the Hawaiʻi Republican leaders. The Hawai‘i sugar growers’ pitch to Congress was that the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA) addressed those (small farmers and potential landowners) whose interests were protected in the Organic Act land laws. Thus, with the passage of the HHCA, the Organic Act land laws would be obsolete. This logic ignored those who would not be eligible for lands, including Hawaiian less than 50% blood quantum, and low-income non-Hawaiians (mainly Asians).

The deal struck between sugar and ranching interests (who were mainly Republican) and Hawaiians involved Hawaiians supporting the maintaining of large, long-term leases for sugar growers and ranchers in exchange for Republican support for the Hawaiian Home Lands program. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act passed on July 9th, 1921, and provided that “native Hawaiian[s]” defined as “any descendent of the of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778,” could acquire leases for “one dollar a year … for a term of ninety-nine years.” In her book Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigneity, a critique of the process by which the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act was passed, Professor Kēhaulani Kauanui states:

The stated aim of the [Hawaiian Homelands] legislation was to enable Hawaiians to escape the tenements and slums in Honolulu; back on the land, they might ʻtill the soil and become self supporting and raise healthy, happy families and become homeowners, new blood would gradually be infused into the race and it would thrive…

The HHL program faced obstacles upon its inception, including poor lands, a lack of funding, and a program controlled by individuals (at that time) who did not always have the best interests of Hawaiian beneficiaries in mind. Examples of federal and Hawai‘i State abuses of Hawaiian Home Lands include illegal transfers of title. From 1921-1991, according to Alan Murakami, “Hawaiʻi’s governors illegally transferred over 30,000 acres of Hawaiian Home Lands to other agencies and departments under executive orders and proclamations” The Territory of Hawaiʻi also illegally conveyed the fee title to 650 acres of trust land to private interests. 1,356 acres of Lualualei Valley (Nānākuli and Maʻili) conveyed by and to the federal government for military purposes. Use for military purposes was usually for a “nominal fee” of usually $1.00 per year – for example, 295 acres at Pōhakuloa, Hawaiʻi Island and 25.7 acres at Kekaha, Kauaʻi. Many uses of Hawaiian Homelands for public parks and schools violate the intent of the trust.

The problem of Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) abuses was significant enough that settlement was made for both Federal and State abuses of the trust. In 1991 the HawaiʻI Advisory Committee to the US on Civil Rights released a report called A Broken Trust, which documented “seventy years of failure of the Federal and State Governments to protect the civil rights of Native Hawaiians,” and detailed many of the abuses. In the report, Haunani Kay Trask  testified that “these trust assets make us the wealthiest Native Americans in the United States. Despite this fact, the Native Hawaiians are the poorest, the sickest and least educated of the state.” For Federal abuses, in 1995, the US agreed to compensate the DHHL for taking 1,400 acres of land. The military also gave DHHL land at Kalaeloa for the Lualualei lands it uses DHHL. For State abuses a settlement with DHHL was approved in 1995 for $600,000,000 ($30 million for 20 years). In the 1990s and 2000s, the performance of DHHL improved, and leases were awarded at an unprecedented rate. At the same time, the strategy of making the trust “self-reliant” was maintained. This encouraged continued leasing of lands to fund development.

The tax issue, then, is far from central to the functioning of the trust. Historic abused has devastated the potential of the trust in ways that continue to require being addressed. The Hawaiʻi legislature has already passed tax exemptions to Kuleana grant owners (from the original Māhele process of 1848-1850), so a precedent exists for the government to incentivize Hawaiians remaining on the land. Further, it is well-known that the waiting list for lands is 20,000 – awarding leases to these Hawaiians is a far more important issue to which resources should be devoted than the tax rate paid by those already on these lands.

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