Liliuokalani. Ever heard of her? How about a guy from Hawaii named Dole? Dole pineapples? Now that’s more familiar. Liliuokalani, the name you’ve probably never heard, was queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893. Dole and a bunch of his business buddies wanted her out. You know, because that would be good for business. I guess you can figure out who won this historical tug-of-war. Liliuokalani’s brother, the king before her, had been forced to sign a constitution referred to as the bayonet constitution (because he was said to do it under threat of death) which severely curtailed the powers of the monarchy. When Liliuokalani made plans to restore the monarchy’s power, Dole and his friends (known formally as Citizen’s Committee of Public Safety), backed by United States Government Minister John L. Stevens, decided it was time give Queen Liliuokalani the boot.
The queen was basically shown the door on January 16, 1893, when 162 sailors and U.S. Marines aboard the USS Boston in Honolulu Harbor came ashore under orders of neutrality. The troops were said to be there to protect American citizens and their property as the coup of the queen took place. However, the presence of the troops also had the effect of leaving the queen vulnerable to the takeover. To avoid potential bloodshed, she temporarily handed over her throne to “the superior military forces of the United States”. She fully expected, however, that the throne would be returned to her:
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 any collision of armed forces and perhaps 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.
— Queen Liliʻuokalani, Jan 17, 1893 source: http://www.studenthandouts.com/01-Web-Pages/2012-07/queen-Liliuokalani-hawaii-abdication-statement-january-17-1893.htm
Call her an optimist, or call her naïve to think she would ever regain her role as Queen, but maybe it is just very hard to imagine that a monarchy that had existed for almost 100 years would end on your watch. Whatever the case, Liliuokalani sure underestimated the power of business and imperialism. A provisional government was put in place with Sanford Dole as the leader. Dole was later appointed as president of the Republic of Hawaii, which was in place until Hawaii was officially annexed to the US in 1898 under President McKinley. The Hawaiian monarchy would never be reinstated. During the time between her deposition and the annexation of Hawaii, Liliuokalani petitioned the us government for her throne to be returned, and though President Cleveland agreed that the manner in which she was overthrown was unjust, calling for her reinstatement, congress resisted. It seems to me that once you are petitioning to another government to give you your power back, your power is probably already long gone. Liliuokalani was forced to abdicate the throne in 1895, and was arrested for treason (plotting to retake her kingdom). She served house arrest for 5 years where she, a musician, wrote one of the most famous Hawaiian songs, Aloha ‘Oe (Farewell to Thee).
Does anyone else feel sorry for Liliuokalani? Although it appeared inevitable by the late 19th century that Hawaii would be taken over by some western power, and I certainly understand why it was advantageous for the US to annex the previous kingdom, (an ideal position in the Pacific Ocean, business reasons), there is also something exceedingly sad about the end of anything. Especially a monarchy. Forever history will document that Liliuokalani was the last monarch. The end of the line. The one who failed?
So often in history, it seems that those who were once at the top of a society are suddenly and unceremoniously kicked to the curb, sometimes never really understanding what has happened until it is all over. When Liliuokalani was deposed, the papers implementing the new provisional government were signed with few around to witness it. Years of a kingdom, signed away in moments. She didn’t even find out that the new government had been implemented until the next day. She was a victim of the modern world, politics, and old fashioned business.
But she was also a victim of the human tendency to not recognize that something has ended until long after it is actually over. I mean good and dead. A peaceful person, she believed that her kingdom would be restored to her simply because it was unjustly taken. We all do this from time to time. “It’s not fair!” is a phrase I often her from my children, and although it sounds childish, it is definitely in all of our nature to feel this way, expect change because of it, and have a hard time accepting the reality of our current situation. We do this with relationships, with lost periods of time in our lives, we even do this with fashion (mullets, anyone? They are still out there…). The world has moved on, but we are still frantically trying to salvage something that will never come back. The Hawaiian kingdom was a juicy morsel that many western powers had their sights set on. It was almost a certainty that the kingdom would face a takeover, and soon. And yet, I don’t think Liliuokalani realized this. Things that are important to us end based on the actions or desires of others. People change, times change, priorities change, the world changes, usually resulting in the end for someone or something. This can happen without us understanding it is happening. This happened to Liliuokalani, making her the last Hawaiian monarch. I guess someone always has to be the last.
There is six-foot statue of Liliuakalani that stands in downtown Honolulu today.
When Hawaii finally became a state in 1959, 94.3% voted in favor of statehood.
Photo by Unkown original photographer. Posted by komentador. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/Queen_Liliuokalani.jpg