Queen Lili'uokalani had ambitious plans for the nation of Hawaii, and wanted to see the rightful power of the monarch restored. Even though she was doing what she thought was best for the people of Hawaii, her dream was never meant to be. She would become known as the last queen ever to reign over the Hawaiian Islands.
In the beginning, Hawaii was unknown to any humans. Polynesians eventually came across its islands, and decided to make it their home. In the early days, each island was ruled by a chief, and many times the islands were in conflict with each other. Centuries like this passed, but then "in 1782, [Queen Lili'uokalani's] cousin Kamehameha set out to conquer and unite the islands". Thirteen years later, in 1795, Kamehameha finally fulfilled his vision of a unified Hawaiian state, and he became king. The nation was then to be ruled by Kamehameha's sons. (Guzzetti 10)
Queen Lili'uokalani's biological parents were Chief Kapaakea and Chiefess Keohokalole. Because it is a Hawaiian custom to give children to other couples for raising, as the Hawaiians believed it brought different families closer together, Lili'uokalani was given to Paki and Konia. She attended the Royal School, where she met many people, some who became friends, and some who she had already been acquainted with, such as her foster sister, and her biological brother, who would eventually be her predecessor, King Kalakaua. (Guzzetti 10, 12, 28)
The Royal School was a new experience for her. At home, she was used to walking around barefoot and wearing as little as possible to keep cool in the warm Hawaiian climate. Because the school was administered by the Cookes, who were missionaries from New England, she had to wear western clothing, meaning she had to wear shoes as well. The children were not even allowed to wear leis around their necks, because "the Cookes told the children that flowers belonged in the garden." Instead of eating mangoes, bananas, raw fish, and roasted pig like she was used to, she had to eat American food, which consisted of fresh vegetables, bread, oatmeal, and apple pie. Lili'uokalani "found the school food tasteless and the portions too small." (Guzzetti 14)
Not only did the Cookes teach the children American ways, but they also taught them Christian beliefs, making them abandon their polytheistic religious views. Lili'uokalani also learned how to speak English at the school which became an asset to her when she was later to become queen. She studied music as well, and down the road she became a renowned Hawaiian singer and songwriter. In the mid 1880's she published the song "Aloha Oe" meaning "Farewell to Thee," which became one of the most famous pieces of music ever written in Hawaii. (Guzzetti 14, 15, 22, 23)
"Aloha Oe" did not give Lili'uokalani all of her fame. What did, of course, was the fact that she became a queen. The monarchy began with Kamehameha's conquering and uniting of all the Hawaiian Islands (Guzzetti 10). After Kamehameha's death in 1819, his son, Liholiho assumed the title Kamehameha II. During a trip to London to visit the King of England in the summer of 1824, Kamehameha II and his wife, Queen Kamamalu contracted the measles and both died. Kamehameha II's younger, nine year-old brother was proclaimed Kamehameha III. When he died in 1854, after a thirty-year reign, from an illness, his nephew Alexander Liholiho became Kamehameha IV. Kamehameha IV committed suicide in 1863 after his son died and having to deal with the accidental shooting of an American friend of his at the age of twenty-nine. Because his son died, he had no successor, so his older brother Lot was proclaimed Kamehameha V in November of 1863. When he died in December of 1872, he did not name anyone to be his successor, so a new king or queen would have to be elected by the Hawaiian legislature. (Tabrah 34, 41-42, 64, 66, 71, 74, 77)
His widow, Emma, thought that she would most definitely win the election against Lili'uokalani's brother (Tabrah 83), Kalakaua, who was a high chief at the time. (Daws 26) Much to her surprise, however, Kalakaua won by a landslide vote in the legislature of 39 to 6. (Tabrah 83) Kalakaua was later forced to sign a constitution "that relegated him to a figurehead," (Tabrah 95) much like the present day monarch in the United Kingdom. In 1891 he died in San Francisco on his last trip to California. (Tabrah 98) Queen Lili'uokalani assumed her title as queen in 1891. (Daws 27)
The events that led up to Queen Lili'uokalani's reign greatly affected the way she would rule. Her older brother, Kalakaua, was very responsible for how things turned out during his reign. One of the major accomplishments of Kalakaua was "the conclusion of a reciprocity treaty with the United States" in 1876. Many sugarcane plantation owners at the time petitioned that unless a treaty was made, economic ruin was eminent. Kalakaua was quick to get the petition passed in the legislature, and an act was established for the advance of foreign negotiations. Kalakaua and some men, including his brother-in-law and Governor of Oahu, John O. Dominis set sail to the United States with the hopes of making a treaty with the United States. A treaty was drafted, and without much hindrance, gained approval of both the United States Congress and the Hawaiian legislature. This treaty enabled virtually all unrefined goods produced in Hawaii, such as sugarcane and rice to enter the United States duty-free. In return, the United States gained the exclusive right to use Pearl Harbor as a naval coaling and service station. (Day, Hawaii: A History 149-151)
Although Kalakaua helped the Hawaiian economy out by making the reciprocity treaty with the United States, he spent much of the government's money lavishly. In 1882, "he made an expensive round-the-world tour becoming the first king to be a circumnavigator." (Daws 26) Iolani Palace was also built under his rule (Day, Hawaii: Fiftieth Star 143), which as of today is the only palace standing on American soil (Guzzetti 40). His foolhardy spending of the government's money caused Hawaii's national debt to soar from "$388,900 in 1880 to $2,600,000 in 1890." (Daws 26).
Kalakaua also did not look favorably upon the whites, most notably the wealthy sugarcane planters. Being major taxpayers, they ended up being "forced to finance the ruin of the islands." Eventually, many businessmen and other professionals in Honolulu became fed up with the way things were going, and came to the conclusion that "Kalakaua's regime was ill-advised and corrupt." Because of this, an attorney by the name of Lorrin A. Thurston led the major taxpaying whites to form "a political and military organization called the Hawaiian League." The Hawaiian League's purpose was to dismiss the most dominating of Kalakaua's advisors, Walter Murray Gibson, from the cabinet. Another part of their plan was to lessen the king's power with a new constitution. In the same year, 1887, the Hawaiian League was armed and ready for a revolution. (Daws 26)
With arms at hand, the Hawaiian League presented Kalakaua the "Bayonet Constitution" on June 30, 1887 (Daws 26-27). "With the stroke of his royal pen, he signed away his powers." (Guzzetti 31). This constitution limited the power of the monarch severely. It also "imposed a narrow franchise based on property, thus excluding perhaps three out of every four native Hawaiians from the vote." (Daws 27) Lili'uokalani was in London at the time her brother, Kalakaua, signed away his powers and she "swore, that had she been home, Kalakaua would never have signed away his high powers." (Day, Hawaii and Its People 209) In 1891, Kalakaua died in San Francisco and Queen Lili'uokalani was to be his successor. (Day, Hawaii: Fiftieth Star 146)
"The Salt Air of Heaven," as her name means in English, "[Queen Lili'uokalani] ascended to the throne on January 29, 1891" at the age of fifty-two. (Day, Hawaii: Fiftieth Star 147) What met her at the throne was not at all from a fairytale. Hawaii was in an economic depression and Lili'uokalani inherited her brother's political controversies, which were still unresolved. (Day, Hawaii: A History 174) She also inherited the fact that she was a queen only in name. For her to have any effects in the politics of Hawaii, Lili'uokalani would have to reclaim her rightful powers, and "return Hawaii to the Hawaiian people." (Guzzetti 32)
Queen Lili'uokalani had all the features of someone destined to rule: a strong appearance, big dark eyes, streaks of grey in her hair, a very songlike voice, and eloquence in both English and Hawaiian. Both Lili'uokalani and her brother were "adopted by the parents of Bernice Pauahi, whom Kamehameha V had asked to succeed him on the throne, and [they] had been brought up as part of the social circle around the throne." Being the monarch wasn't entirely new to Queen Lili'uokalani because while her brother, Kalakaua, was abroad, she was his regent, assuming the powers of the monarchy in his absence. (Day, Hawaii: Fiftieth Star 147)
Queen Lili'uokalani had married a European sea captain by the name of John Dominis. He, at one point in his life was the governor of the island of Oahu, "but his wise counsel was lost to her when he died only seven months after she took the throne." (Day, Hawaii: Fiftieth Star 147) Out of all of Lili'uokalani's growing problems at the time, the biggest one was the McKinley Tariff of 1890 that eradicated the advantage of Hawaii being the major supplier of sugarcane for the United States, and allowed other countries the same amount of competition in the sugarcane business. (Day, Hawaii and Its People 213)
As if the McKinley Tariff of 1890 wasn't bad enough, even worse was that it had a printing error that imposed duties on many other Hawaiian goods, which had been declared duty-free in the reciprocity treaty. This was likely to obliterate any advantage that Hawaii had with trading with the United States. (Pratt 43)
To make matters worse, a resolution was introduced in Congress for the appropriation of $500,000 for establishing a coaling and repair station at Pearl Harbor, suggesting that the united states while destroying the value of the treaty to Hawaii, would claim all its own privileges under the same. (Pratt 44)
If the error in the tariff was not to be fixed, it was possible that Hawaii would be inclined to nullify the deal they had with the United States for the exclusive right for the use of Pearl Harbor. Another fear the United States had was that Hawaii might lean towards a treaty with Great Britain or Australia for the exclusive use of Pearl Harbor, therefore diminishing the presence of the United States military in the Hawaiian Islands. Congress eventually approved an act in early March of 1891 asserting that "nothing in the tariff act should be held to repeal or impair the provisions of the conventions of 1875 and 1887 respecting commercial reciprocity with the Hawaiian Islands." (Pratt 44)
The severe economic instability, along with political unrest in the nation of Hawaii led to a much more revolutionary view towards the future of the Hawaiian Islands, the annexation to the United States of America. (Day, Hawaii: A History 174) In 1892 an underground Annexationist League was founded by Lorrin A. Thurston, and Sanford B. Dole, who were both descendants of the early Protestant missionaries. Sanford Dole would one day be world famous for his Dole brand pineapples that still exist today. The Americans and Queen Lili'uokalani "were clearly heading for a collision." Lili'uokalani firmly believed it was her duty reinstate the powers of the monarchy, but the whites "were equally determined to see that this never happened." (Daws 28)
At this point in time, the legislature was divided three ways. The three parties were the Reform Party, the National Reform Party, and the Liberal Party. The National Reform Party defended Queen Lili'uokalani and her ideals. The Liberal Party on the other hand "opposed the queen and apparently favored changes that would give them a place in the government." Queen Lili'uokalani's cabinet, whom she appointed, was made up of members of the National Reform Party. In 1892 the Reform and Liberal Parties of the legislature created a coalition and succeeded in voting out the ministry. Lili'uokalani resisted this by appointing new members of her own cabinet to the ministry, which once again got voted out by the coalition government. (Day, Hawaii: A History 176)
On November 8, to everyone's surprise, Lili'uokalani called in a cabinet comprised exclusively of Reform Party members. At first it looked as if she was admitting defeat, but in actuality it was a plan to split up the coalition. Because the members of the Reform Party were admitted into Lili'uokalani's cabinet, the Liberal Party became vexed at the fact they were left out of her cabinet. Some Liberals even turned against the Reform Party, joined up with the National Reformists, and voted out Queen Lili'uokalani's cabinet. Lili'uokalani appointed a new cabinet made up of members from her own party. She then abandoned, as she coined it, the "Bayonet Constitution" of 1887, despite her oath to maintain it. This ultimately led to the downfall of the Hawaiian monarchy. (Day, Hawaii: A History 176)
Queen Lili'uokalani's cabinet was approved by the legislature which was controlled by the Reform Party. She started to prepare a new constitution, but rumors began making their way around that it would exclude all whites living on Hawaii from voting unless they were married to a Hawaiian. On January 14, 1893 Lili'uokalani announced that her new constitution would "restore actual rule of the kingdom to her as sovereign and return to all citizens the privilege of franchise and candidacy." (Tabrah 99)
This led the leaders of the Reform Party, who happened to be native-born Americans, to establish a "Committee of Safety." This committee claimed that Queen Lili'uokalani's actions were revolutionary, and the next day they made steps in setting up a provisional government in opposition to Lili'uokalani's vision of Hawaii's political future. The Committee of Safety nominated Judge Sanford B. Dole, a respected man by the Hawaiian people, to be the provisional government's leader. In the beginning, he wanted to see a more modest approach taken. He wanted "that the queen be asked to abdicate in favor of Princess Kaiulani and the monarchy thus preserved." But that same evening on January 15, 1893, he was persuaded to accept the presidency of the provisional government. (Tabrah 99-100)
In just three days, the revolution was brought about, despite Queen Lili'uokalani's last ditch effort by announcing she would put all constitutional reforms on hold. The government takeover went without a hitch, with the exception of "Marshal Wilson at the police station, who refused to yield his headquarters until he received orders to do so from the queen." Only one fatality was a result of the revolution, and he was a policeman shot in the shoulder when he tried to stop an ammunitions wagon. At six o'clock that evening, the revolution was final. Marshal Wilson had given up his police headquarters and Queen Lili'uokalani was under house arrest at the Iolani Palace. As of January 17, 1893, Queen Lili'uokalani had become the last Hawaiian monarch. (Tabrah 100-101)
The provisional government, although mainly concerned with relations with the United States, also set up a National Guard, and more importantly, passing and act for a constitutional convention which "paved the way for the birth of the Republic of Hawaii." An uprising, the Revolution of 1895, occurred in early January, which came to be the grimmest conflict since Kamehameha I's conquest of the Hawaiian Islands more than one hundred years before. (Day, Hawaii and Its People 218)
More than two hundred people were arrested, and tried for treason. (Day, Hawaii and Its People 220) The government made Lili'uokalani the scapegoat, putting the blame of the uprising on her, and she was imprisoned in the Iolani Palace. Down the road she would say, "That first night of my imprisonment was the longest night I have ever passed in my life." She was tried and sentenced to five years of labor and a fine of five thousand dollars for crimes she did not commit. However, Sanford Dole never carried her sentence out, claiming it to be too severe. (Guzzetti 34, 36) Although many were sentenced to death, all of the rebels were eventually acquitted of their crimes. Lili'uokalani also signed a formal abdication during her imprisonment, thereafter becoming Mrs. Dominis, taking an oath of allegiance to the Republic of Hawaii. All hopes for a reinstatement of the Hawaiian monarchy were lost. (Day, Hawaii and Its People 220-221)
In the United States, with knowledge of the Republic of Hawaii, Congress was debating the annexation of Hawaii. The United States had forever been connected by land since the early colonial days, thus "the acquisition of territories in distant places was a momentous step, not to be taken lightly." Republicans were in favor of expanding beyond the natural borders of the United States, and with Republican President McKinley in office, this dream became a reality when Hawaii was admitted as a territory on August 12, 1898. When new laws took effect in 1900, the previous President of the Republic of Hawaii, Sanford B. Dole, became the first Governor of the Territory of Hawaii. (Daws 28)
Years later, in May of 1917, the United States entered the war that was supposed to end all wars, World War I. Many Hawaiians had joined the armed forces and were sent off to Europe. "When five Hawaiian sailors died in battle, Lili'uokalani was stirred." She had new feelings about patriotism. However, it was not solely for Hawaii, but for the United States of America. As Lili'uokalani had ordered, the Hawaiian flag was lowered over her residence, Washington Place as "she watched with pride." The Star-Spangled Banner was hoisted in place, in noble show of support for the American troops. (Guzzetti 38-39)
Not long after, Lili'uokalani died at the age of seventy-nine, leaving behind her a legacy that was never be forgotten by her Hawaiian people. Washington Place was to become the home of the Governors of Hawaii all the way up to today. (Guzzetti 39-40) Although Queen Lili'uokalani did not fulfill her dream of restoring the monarchy, she tried her hardest despite the fact that all odds were against her. She was not at fault for being deposed from the throne of quite possibly one of the most beautiful lands in the world. The actions of her predecessors and the legislature-controlling, foreign-born whites would eventually decide her fate. Queen Lili'uokalani fought for Hawaii, for her people, but most of all, not for herself.
Daws, Gavan. The Illustrated Atlas of Hawaii. Honolulu: Island Heritage, 1970.
Day, A. Grove. Hawaii: Fiftieth Star. New York: Meredith Press, 1969.
Day, A. Grove. Hawaii and Its People. New York: Meredith Press, 1968.
Day, A. Grove and Ralph S. Kuykendall. Hawaii: A History. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1961.
Guzzetti, Paula. The Last Hawaiian Queen: Liliuokalani. New York: Benchmark Books, 1997.
Pratt, Julius W. Expansionists of 1898. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1964.
Ruth M. Hawaii: A Bicentennial History. New York: W.
W. Norton & Company, 1980.
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