When it comes to Hawaii, many think it is a state of beautiful beaches and people. However, just like every American frontier, there is darkness. For about 500 years, the Hawaiian civilization remained hidden from the rest of the world. In 1778, amongst other European explorers, James Cook (the inspiration for Disney’s Captain Hook), landed on the islands of Hawaii. When he landed in Hawaii, his arrival coincided with the Makahiki, a Hawaiian harvest festival of worship for the Polynesian god Lono. The form of Cook’s ship, HMS Resolution, resembled certain significant artifacts that formed part of the season of worship. Similarly, Cook’s clockwise route around the island of Hawaii before making landfall resembled the processions that took place in a clockwise direction around the island during the Lono festivals. Some of Cook’s crew believed that due to these circumstances, the native Hawaiians took Cook for the god Lono – but that would remain as hearsay. Cook named the archipelago the “Sandwich Islands” after the fourth Earl of Sandwich—the acting First Lord of the Admiralty (naval leadership).
As Cook desired to resume his expedition, his ship required repairs while in Hawaii. Several quarrels occurred between the Europeans and Hawaiians. In the midst of this, some unknown Hawaiians decided to steal small boats from the ship. This led to Cook attempting to kidnap and ransom the King of Hawaii, Kalaniʻōpuʻu. The King willingly let Cook take him back to his ship, but while trying to launch his boats, the Hawaiian people struck Cook over the head with a club and stabbed him to death.
His death, however, meant nothing for the survival of the original Hawaiian kingdom. Within five years of European arrival, with the help of European military weapons, the ruler Kamehameha I was able to unify all of the Hawaiian islands to form the Kingdom of Hawaii. Two major dynastic families ruled the kingdom: the House of Kamehameha and the House of Kalākaua.
From the time that Cook “discovered” the Hawaiian islands, Europeans started to settle in the islands. The sugarcane crop was introduced to Hawaii in 1841 and from there became the cash cow export. By the end of the first century, 337,000 people had immigrated to Hawaii, mostly from the United States. Not to mention, the main importer of Hawaiian sugar and another crop, pineapples, was the United States. By 1890, 75% of all Hawaiian privately held land was owned by foreign businessmen, mostly American. As the tariffs placed on exports from Hawaii frustrated the American businessmen, they lobbied for the U.S. to annex Hawaii for the removal of such tariffs and the creation of a military base.
The United States’ control of Hawaii was considered vital for the defense of the United States, and they were especially interested in Pu’uloa, Pearl Harbor. The sale of one of Hawaii’s harbors was proposed by Charles Reed Bishop, a foreigner who had married into the Kamehameha family. While Bishop wanted to sell a Hawaiian harbor to the U.S., Bernice Pauahi Bishop, his wife, privately disapproved of selling Hawaiian lands.
David Kalākaua, the newly crowned monarch of the Hawaiian people was pressured by the U.S. government to surrender Pearl Harbor to the Navy. Kalākaua was concerned that this would lead to annexation by the U.S. He traveled to Washington D.C. to gain support for a new treaty which would be called the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. The treaty gave free access to the United States market for sugar and other products grown in the Kingdom of Hawaii starting in September 1876 for seven years. In return, the US gained lands in the area known as Puʻu Loa for what became known as the Pearl Harbor naval base. The treaty led to a larger investment by Americans in sugarcane plantations in Hawaii. After the treaty, sugar production expanded from 12,000 acres of farmland to 125,000 acres in 1891.
By the end of the seven years, the U.S. started to lease Pearl Harbor from Hawaii. Shortly afterward, a group of mostly non-Hawaiians calling themselves the Hawaiian Patriotic League began the Rebellion of 1887. The league drafted a constitution on July 6, 1887. The treaty forced Kalākaua under threat of assassination to dismiss his cabinet ministers and sign a new constitution which greatly lessened his power. It would become known as the “Bayonet Constitution” due to the threat of force used.
The constitution altered voting, stipulating that both candidates and voters were required to own property valuing at least three thousand dollars, or have an annual income of no less than six hundred dollars. This disenfranchised two-thirds of the native Hawaiians as well as other ethnic groups who had previously held the right to vote but were no longer able to meet the new voting requirements. With these changes, citizens were able to be naturalized, Americans and Europeans could retain their home country citizenship and vote as citizens of the kingdom. Along with voting privileges, Americans could now run for office and still retain their United States citizenship, something not afforded in any other nation of the world and even allowed Americans to vote without becoming naturalized. Asian immigrants were completely shut out and were no longer able to acquire citizenship or vote at all.
Then in 1888, the Wilcox Rebellion was a plot to overthrow King David Kalākaua, king of Hawaii, and replace him with his sister in a coup d’état. Conveniently, his sister was away attending Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in London at the time. Once news reached his sister, Princess Lili’uokalani, she and her delegation canceled their plans in Europe and rushed back to Hawaii. Lili’uokalani was approached by members of the legislature’s Reform (Missionary) Party (a party comprised of the white landowners and naturalized citizens), proposing her ascension to the throne if her brother Kalākaua was removed from power and she firmly turned them down.
Kalākaua took a trip to California where he would later die due to “Bright’s Disease with Uremic Blood Poisoning.” – also a convenience. The news of Kalākaua’s death did not reach Hawaii until January 29th when the ship he was to return on, returned with remains of the king.
On January 29th, 1891, Liliʻuokalani took the oath of office to uphold the constitution and became the first and only queen of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Her first act was to request the formal resignation of the holdover cabinet from her brother’s reign that resulted from the Bayonet Constitution. Her act was passed, as the Hawaiian supreme court voted for a new cabinet. Within seven months of her reign, Lili’uokalani’s husband passed away which greatly affected her. From May 1892 to January 1893, the legislature of the Kingdom convened for an unprecedented 171 days, which later was dubbed the “Longest Legislature“. This session was dominated by political infighting between and within the four parties: National Reform, Reform, National Liberal and, Independent; none were able to gain a majority.
Queen Liliʻuokalani promulgated a new constitution to regain powers for the monarchy and Native Hawaiians that had been lost under the Bayonet Constitution. Her opponents, who were led by two Hawaiian citizens included six Hawaiian citizens, five US citizens, and one German citizen, moved to depose the Queen, overthrow the monarchy, and seek Hawaii’s annexation to the United States. The proposed constitution would have restored the power to the monarchy and voting rights to economically disenfranchised native Hawaiians and Asians. The Queen’s ministers and closest friends were all opposed to this plan; they tried unsuccessfully to dissuade her from pursuing these initiatives, both of which came to be used against her in the brewing constitutional crisis. In response to her proposition of the new constitution, the Committee of Safety was created in protest of the “revolutionary” action of the queen and conspired to depose her. The Committee of Safety derived their support primarily from the American and European business class residing in Hawaii. Most of the leaders of the overthrow were American and European citizens who were also Kingdom subjects. They also included legislators, government officers, and a justice of the Hawaiian Supreme Court. In response, royalists and loyalists formed the Committee of Law and Order. Pro-monarchist leaders gave speeches in support of the queen and abandoned attempts to promulgate a new constitution.
On January 16th, 1893, the Marshal of the Kingdom was tipped off by detectives to an imminent planned coup. He requested warrants to arrest the 13-member council of the Committee of Safety, and put the Kingdom under martial law. The requests were repeatedly denied by the Queen’s cabinet, who feared that the arrests would escalate the situation. The Marshal and Royal Household Guard had rallied a force of 496 men who were kept at hand to protect the queen. Marines from the USS Boston and two companies of US sailors landed and took up positions at the US Legation, the Consulate, and Arion Hall. The sailors and Marines did not enter the palace grounds or take over any buildings, and never fired a shot, but their presence served effectively in intimidating royalist defenders.
A day later, the Queen was deposed on January 17th, and the provisional government established under pro-annexation leader Sanford B. Dole (the cousin of the founder of Dole pineapples) was officially recognized as the de facto government. As soon as the provisional government took over, a delegation was sent to Washington D.C. to request Hawaii’s annexation to the U.S. Meanwhile the Queen temporarily relinquished her throne to the United States, rather than the Dole-led government, in hopes that the United States would restore Hawaii’s sovereignty to the rightful holder.
At the request of the provisional government, Hawaii was proclaimed as a protectorate of the United States on February 1st. The US flag was raised and martial law was enforced. The annexation treaty presented to the US Senate contained a provision to grant Liliʻuokalani a $20,000 per annum lifetime pension, and Kaʻiulani (Lili’ukalani’s successor) a lump-sum payment of $150,000. The queen protested the proposed annexation in a January 19th letter to President at that time, Benjamin Harrison. Days later, President Grover Cleveland took over for another non-consecutive term.
The Cleveland administration commissioned James Henderson Blount to investigate the overthrow. He interviewed those involved in the coup and wrote the Blount Report, and based on its findings, concluded that the overthrow of Liliʻuokalani was illegal. On November 16th, Cleveland sent proposed a return of the throne to Liliʻuokalani if she granted amnesty to everyone responsible. Her first response was that Hawaiian law called for property confiscation and the death penalty for treason. Because of her extreme response, the Cleveland administration no longer had goodwill for her reign. The issue was sent to Congress which resulted in the Morgan Report on February 26, 1894. It found all parties except the Queen “not guilty”, absolving them of responsibility for the overthrow. The provisional government formed the Republic of Hawaii on July 4th with Dole as president.
Many royal sympathizers launched a rebellion against the republic which resulted in arrests including the Queen herself. She was imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom of her palace on January 16th, 1895, several days after the failed rebellion. She abdicated her throne in return for the release of her jailed supporters and those sentenced to death. She was tried by the military commission of the Republic led by her former attorney general and she was sentenced to five years of hard labor in prison and fined $5,000. She began her imprisonment on September 4th and on October 13, 1896, the Republic of Hawaii gave her a full pardon and restored her civil rights.
She would share her time between Hawaii and Massachusetts with her husband’s family. Meanwhile, the U.S. was moving forward with the annexation of the Hawaiian islands. On March 4th, 1897, William Mckinley was inaugurated as the next president of the United States. On June 16, McKinley presented the United States Senate with a new version of the annexation treaty, one that eliminated the monetary compensation for Liliʻuokalani and Kaʻiulani. Liliʻuokalani filed an official protest with Secretary of State John Sherman the next day. In June 1897 President McKinley signed the “Treaty for the Annexation for the Hawaiian Islands”, but it failed to pass in the United States Senate after the Kūʻē Petitions were submitted by a commission of Native Hawaiian delegates. The petitions collectively were presented as evidence of the strong grassroots opposition of the Hawaiian community to annexation, and the treaty was defeated in the Senate— however, following its failure, Hawaii was annexed anyway via the Newlands Resolution, a joint resolution of Congress, in July 1898, shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish–American War. On August 12, 1898, Hawaii was officially ceded to the United States of America.
Although Liliʻuokalani was never successful in more than a decade of legal pursuits for recompense from the United States government for seized land, in 1911 she was finally granted a lifetime pension of $1,250 a month by the Territory of Hawaii. This amount was a great reduction from what she originally requested for recompense. She would later die at her residence in November of 1917 at the age of 79. A fire on August 1, 1921, destroyed her home and all its contents, including the footage of the Queen’s funeral.
Her legacy remains in The Queen Liliʻuokalani Trust which was established on December 2, 1909, for the care of orphaned and destitute children in Hawaii. Liliʻuokalani and her siblings are recognized by the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame as Na Lani ʻEhā (The Heavenly Four) for their patronage and enrichment of Hawaii’s musical culture and history. There is also an annual Queen Liliʻuokalani Outrigger Canoe Race, which follows an 18-mile course from Kailua Bay to Honaunau Bay. In 2001 the University of Hawaii named their student center the “Queen Liliʻuokalani Center for Student Services”. Many documentaries have been filmed to represent the story of Lili’uokalani such as Liliuokalani – Reflections of Our Queen, The American Experience: Hawaii’s Last Queen (1994), and Conquest of Hawaii (2003). Also, numerous hula events are held to honor her memory, including the Queen Liliʻuokalani Keiki Hula Competition in Honolulu.
This story proves that if a world power wants to gain possession of land for their own, they will do everything necessary to get it. They can dominate and win in the name of greed and power, even if they are wrong.