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The Overthrow: a blow-by-blow

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On the day of the overthrow the Hawaiian newspaper Ka Leo o ka Lahui ran on its front page “Ka Moolelo o Hiʻiakaikapoliopele,” the story of Hiʻiaka and Pele. It was as if Hawaiians, knowing that change was coming, looked to their own mythology to retain their identity.

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By the time of Liliʻuokalani’s ascension to the throne in January 1891, the stage was beginning to be set for a takeover; the British ambassador Wodehouse, who had been critical of American ambitions, was replaced by a more conciliatory one in the early 1890s, for example. But the real stage-setter was the “Bayonet” Constitution – the constitution of 1887, virtually signed at gunpoint. Willie Kauai has argued that this constitution, with its restrictions on voting rights, was the beginning of racial demarcations, rather than those of citizenship. It gave voting rights by race, whereas previously there had been universal male suffrage for Hawaiian subjects.

There may never have been an overthrow if it werenʻt for US Minister [essentially the ambassador] John L. Stevens and a small group of men from Maine. Stevens was a close friend of James Blaine, US Secretary of State, part of the group that College of William and Mary Professor William Crapol has called the “Maine mafia.” In what the Cleveland administration called “reprehensible” behavior, Stevens was coaching the insurgents on how to conduct the overthrow.

In 1892, Lorrin Thurston had travelled to Washington to get a green light for the overthrow. He communicated that “it may be necessary to secure the government through a coup dʻetat.” B.F. Tracy, Secretary of the Navy responded that “the President does not think he should see you, but if you feel compelled to act as you have indicated, you will find an exceedingly sympathetic administration here.” Crapol has said that this arms length kept between President Harrison and Thurston, and the statement that they would be “sympathetic,” without mentioning the coup directly, strongly suggests the knowledge that the US was possibly in breach of international law. It was B.F. Tracy who later sent the order to US Marines on the USS Boston (a state of the art battleship) the following year to head to Honolulu and await orders.

Louis “Buzzy” Agard has found encoded documents (and the code book!) in the US archives that show a US plan to attack the major ports in Hawaiʻi ending in Honolulu. This changes the story from a US-backed overthrow to a US overthrow, and sheds light on Stevens’s actions – they were secretly condoned and encouraged by the Harrison administration.

The Queen planned to promulgate a new constitution, but the cabinet backed down – likely aware of the plans that were being fomented by the conspirators. The Queen counseled patience.

COMMITTEE OF SAFETY

The so-called “Committee of Safety” – a name based on the pretense that American lives and property were in danger was comprised of 9 foreigners and 4 haole citizens of the Kingdom.

Marshall Charles Wilson closed saloons early – 9:00pm rather than 11:00pm – to prevent any pretext for foreign troops to land (as they had done during the riots after Kalākaua’s election). He sent agents to do surveillance on the conspirators. Wilson proposed to arrest the conspirators and put the island under martial law, but the cabinet advised against it and refused to give Wilson permission to make arests. Wilson felt that Hawaiian forces could successfully oppose the Marines. They had over 200 men, whereas there were 152 men in the Marine battalion, and 11 officers.

Stevens wrote: “in view of the existing critical circumstances in Honolulu, I request you to land US Marines and sailors under your command to secure American life and property.” G. Wiltse, commander of the USS Boston responded to Stevens’s request and marched his men past the palace. At 4:25 Wiltse landed the Marines to “assist in preserving public order.”

Samuel Parker

The cabinet had not requested the landing of the troops – cabinet member Samuel Parker requested the “authority upon which this action is taken.” The marines stationed themselves on Mililani Street, but ended up staying at a hotel that, ironically, had been Liliʻuokalani’s childhood home. [I heard this recently, but have not verified it].  The Queen asked why the troops had landed when everything was at peace. Attorney General Paul Neumann said that the charged that lives and property were in danger was “spurious and false … lives and property were as safe here as in Kennebec, Maine.” This was a reference to the curious link to three towns in Maine that seemed to be the origin of annexationist sentiment – Augusta, Hollowell, and Kennebec.

The conspirators continued to recruit at a lodging house, and Marshall Wilson suggested proclaiming martial law and arresting the conspirators. The Queen asked why the troops had not stationed themselves in front of American properties instead of “with guns aimed at us?”

January 17, 1893: by 11:00am Dole had been named as President of the Provisional Government. He had considered the matter overnight, as a Supreme Court judge undoubtedly knowing that his actions constituted treason.

On the street, a policeman named Leialoha was shot trying to intercept a wagon of arms.

Dole and a small group of men walked to the entrance of the Government building, the present-day Judiciary building. Henry Cooper, a denizen read the proclamation: “the monarchical government is hereby abrogated and a Provisional Governement established.” Those who signed the proclamation included McCandless, Wilhelm, Thurston, Smith, Jones, Emmeluth, Ashley, Cooper, Frear, Bolte, Browne, and Waterhouse.*

Committee of Public Safety

The Palace and barracks and police were still under the control of the Queen and could make an attempt to resist. But Minster Stevens recognized the Provisional Government immediately: “I recognize said Provisional Government as the de facto government of the Hawaiian islands.”

Liliʻuokalani yielded not to the Provisional Government, but to the “superior force of the United States:”

I, Liliuokalani, 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 any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do, under this protest and impelled by said forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo (?) the action of its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.

Done at Honolulu, this 17th day of January, A. D. 1893.

(Signed) Liliuokalani R.

(Signed) Samuel Parker, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
(Signed) Wm. H. Cornwell, Minister of Finance.
(Signed) John F. Colburn, Minister of Interior.
(Signed) A. P. Peterson, Attorney-General.

At 7:15pm Wilson disarmed the police and others who had taken up arms.

Hui Aloha ʻAina noted the irony that after only eight days, the Provisional Government requested to be a protectorate of the US.

Stevens soon preached of the opportunity Hawaiʻi’s overthrow presented to the burgeoning American empire: “the Hawaiian pear is now ripe and this is the golden hour for the United States to pluck it.” But the overthrow was a kind of non-event and was always really about America’s reaction to it. The lame duck President Harrison rushed a treaty of annexation to the Senate in February. But in March, 1893, Grover Cleveland was inaugurated, and withdrew the annexation treaty from the Senate on March 9th, 1893 (executive documents, p. 1190).

On March 29th, 1893 former Senator James Blount arrived in Honolulu and ordered the troops back to their ships and the lowering of the American flag. Blount asked what the result would be if there were to be a vote on the question of annexation. One respondent noted that “it would be overwhelmingly defeated.” Later, Congress ensured that the matter would not be put to a vote.

The Womenʻs Hui Aloha Aina issued a statement:

We resent the presumption of being traded like a flock of sheep or bartered like a horde of savages, and we could not believe that the US could tolerate such an annexation by force, against the wishes of the majority of the population – such an annexation would be an eternal dishonor.

Abigail Kuaihelani Campbell, President of the Women’s Hui Aloha ‘Åina

Harperʻs weekly noted the irregularity of the event:

the Hawaiian islands have been stolen and offered to the United States by the thieves. What is the duty of the US, accept the stolen goods?

As late as December, 1893, Lili’uokalani noted in the book Hawaii’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen, that President Cleveland still considered her the head of state.

On December 18th, 1893, Grover Cleveland addressed Congress, informed by the Blount report:

By an act of war, committed with the participation of a diplomatic representative of the United States and without authority of Congress, the Government of a feeble but friendly and confiding people has been overthrown. A substantial wrong has thus been done which a due regard for our national character as well as the rights of the injured people requires we should endeavor to repair. The provisional government has not assumed a republican or other constitutional form, but has remained a mere executive council or oligarchy, set up without the assent of the people. It has not sought to find a permanent basis of popular support and has given no evidence of an intention to do so. Indeed, the representatives of that government assert that the people of Hawaii are unfit for popular government and frankly avow that they can be best ruled by arbitrary or despotic power.

The law of nations is founded upon reason and justice, and the rules of conduct governing individual relations between citizens or subjects of a civilized state are equally applicable as between enlightened nations. The considerations that international law is without a court for its enforcement, and that obedience to its commands practically depends upon good faith, instead of upon the mandate of a superior tribunal, only give additional sanction to the law itself and brand any deliberate infraction of it not merely as a wrong but as a disgrace. A man of true honor protects the unwritten word which binds his conscience more scrupulously, if possible, than he does the bond a breach of which subjects him to legal liabilities; and the United States in aiming to maintain itself as one of the most enlightened of nations would do its citizens gross injustice if it applied to its international relations any other than a high standard of honor and morality.

In a seemingly scitzophrenic move, the Provisional Government refuses to relinquish control, saying that the US is intervening in the affairs of a sovereign country, then proceeding to call themselves the Republic of Hawaiʻi, with an independence day of July 4th. At their 1894 Constitutional convention, 3000 voted, and 14,000 refused to vote.

In January 1985, Robert Wilcox attempted an insurrection. The plot was discovered and he and 200 others, including Prince Kūhiō, were arrested for treason, and tried before a military tribunal.

“Battle of Manoa”

The queen was imprisoned in the palace for eight months. She was pardoned in October 1896, and she travelled to Washington, D.C. in December to lobby against annexation and protest to the State Department.

There was debate over the extent of the American empire, whether it would be hemispheric or global. Itʻs not hard to see the irony of Cleveland’s position, as one newspaper pointed out: “never before has an American executive [attempted to] stamp out Republicanism and restore monarchy.”

Even with the 1898 breakout of the Spanish-American war, there was not enough support for a treaty, and annexation was purported to be achieved via joint resolution. As one newspaper put it: “if Congress should strictly obey the constitution, annexation could not take place” [Harpers Weekly]

By the end of the century the US had also taken Guam , Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

One commentator noted: “Annexation is not a change, it is a consummation.”

On August 12, 1898, 12 noon, the annexation ceremony took place. Surrounded by US Military troops, Dole exchanged a treaty for a Joint Resolution, and proclaimed:

I now yield up to you representative of the US, the sovereignty and public property of the Hawaiian islands.

As Iʻve noted elsewhere, the purpose of the overthrow was always annexation. In The Secret Session, I published the entire transcript of the closed-door session of the Senate in which the Joint Resolution was discussed.

* Some members of the Committee of Safety are described in another post, Who Was the Committee of Safety? The Inner Circle of Overthrow

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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.

SOURCES:

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.

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The Overthrow

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.

Queen Lili’uokalani

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.

US Marines in Hawai’i, January 1893

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.

Lorrin Thurston

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.

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 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.

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.

Capitano Robert Wilcox

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.

President William McKinley

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