On This Day

Queen Liliuokalani, hawaii Queen Liliuokalani
Queen Liliuokalani

On This Day: Hawaiian Monarchy Overthrown

January 17, 2012 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Jan. 17, 1893, a small group comprised primarily of American businessmen overthrew Hawaii's monarchy. The coup led to the end of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the annexation of Hawaii by the United States in the ensuing years.

The End of the Hawaiian Kingdom

The first European contact with Hawaii was made in 1778 by Capt. James Cook. In the 19th century, traders and missionaries came to the islands from Europe and America. This small but powerful white population often stood opposed to the Hawaiian monarchy, favoring instead a British-style constitutional monarchy where the monarch held little power.

In 1874, David Kalakaua became king and sought to reduce the power of the white Missionary Party (later Reform Party) in the government. In 1887, angered by Kalakaua’s extravagant spending and his attempts to dilute their power, a small group of Missionary Party members, known as the Hawaiian League, struck back against the king.

Led by Lorrin A. Thurston and Sanford B. Dole, the Hawaiian League drafted a new constitution that reduced the power of the king and increased the power of the cabinet and legislature. It also extended voting rights to wealthy non-citizens, while excluding Asians and restricting access for natives through land-owning and literacy provisions. Backed by a militia, the group used the threat of violence to force King Kalakaua to sign the constitution, which became known as the Bayonet Constitution.

Kalakaua died in 1891 and was replaced by his sister, Liliuokalani, who proposed a new constitution that would restore powers of the monarchy and extend voting rights for natives. The queen’s actions angered many of Hawaii’s white businessmen, who formed a 13-member Committee of Safety with the goal of overthrowing the monarchy and seeking annexation by the United States.

On Jan. 14, the queen intended to announce her new constitution, but was dissuaded by cabinet members who knew it would cause a backlash. On Jan. 16, Hawaiian Marshal Charles B. Wilson attempted to arrest the committee members and declare martial law, but his attempts were turned down by other government officials who feared violence.

The next day, after a policeman was killed trying to halt the distribution of weapons to the Committee of Safety’s militia, the committee decided to put its coup into action by stationing the militia across from the Queen’s ʻIolani Palace in Honolulu. It received assistance from about 300 U.S. Marines and Navy sailors who were ordered to protect the committee by U.S. Minister to Hawaii John L. Stevens. The queen surrendered peacefully to avoid violence.

The Committee of Safety established a provisional government headed by Dole. U.S. president Grover Cleveland opposed the provisional government and called for the queen to be restored to power, but the Committee of Safety established the Republic of Hawaii and refused to cede power. In 1895, Hawaiian royalists launched a failed coup against the republic. Queen Liliuokalani was arrested for her alleged role in the coup and convicted of treason; while under house arrest, the queen agreed to formally abdicate and dissolve the monarchy.

In 1898, with William McKinley having replaced the anti-imperialist Cleveland, the United States annexed Hawaii. Hawaii was administered as a U.S. territory until 1959, when it was admitted to the union as the 50th state.

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