Thursday, January 13, 2011

Twilight of Royal Hawaii

It was on this day in 1893 that American Marines from the USS Boston landed in Honolulu in order to prevent HM Queen Liliuokalani from abrogating the "bayonet constitution". This military intervention was the first step in the United States taking direct control of the Hawaiian islands. The "bayonet" constitution of 1887 had been forced on HM King David Kalakaua after an armed uprising led by prominent American businessmen on the islands such as Sanford B. Dole. The King asked for help from the ambassadors of foreign countries on Hawaii but they advised the King to comply with the demands of the rebels. Left without hope of aid the King had no choice but to sign the new constitution into law which greatly reduced the power of the Hawaiian monarchy. Although, on paper, the new constitution seemed to bring with it greater democracy and restrictions on "royal tyranny", as is so often the case this was actually far from the reality of the situation. Actually, the new constitution brought with it a very restricted franchise which effectively allowed only the very wealthy landowners to have political power. Since, by this time, most native Hawaiians had very little and almost all the land belonged to the wealthy foreign businessmen the new constitution meant that, from then on, the American population would rule the islands.

The monarchy, even by that point, had become the only guardians of the rights and welfare of the Hawaiian people and by the terms of the "bayonet constitution" the monarch was made almost totally powerless. On January 14th the Americans formed a Committee of Public Safety (a name that should make any monarchist recoil in horror) with the intention of overthrowing Queen Liliuokalani and seeing Hawaii annexed to the United States. The Queen was suspected (rightly) of wishing to abrogate the constitution and replacing it with one that would allow for greater representation by the native Hawaiians. The U.S. Marines were then called to the legation supposedly to protect American lives and property in a neutral capacity but the effect was that the Queen could take no action against the American rebels who were openly advocating treason against the Hawaiian kingdom. Seeing no other option, on January 17 the Queen reluctantly abdicated to "the superior military forces of the United States".

The Queen had hoped that the U.S. government, once made aware of the situation, would see justice done and her throne restored. That was what had happened in the past with the British but it would not be the case this time. Too many people in power in the States had already decided that America had to have Hawaii, not only for the business interests on the islands but also for their strategic value in the Pacific so that no other power would take control of them later. The Queen would never be restored and on July 4, 1894 (the symbolism of the date being obvious) the "independence" of the Republic of Hawaii was declared with Sanford Dole chosen as the president. It was, of course, a complete farce and everyone knew it. Hawaii at once became an American protectorate and later a U.S. territory before finally being admitted as a state in the Union.


  1. You know I am the friend of America but this was very unfortunate. Belgium once had an interest in the Hawaii, maybe would have been better for them if they had become a Belgian territory instead. No, I am not being nationalistic, only to say that America could have had a protectorate over the islands for legitimate necessity without overthrowing the Queen and moving over so many foreigners to outnumber the Hawaiian people. Because of that last policy they probably will never have a change back to independent kingdom.

  2. Of course I would prefer that the monarchy have been maintained but in the context of the US Constitution, which requires all states to have a republican form of government and forbids all hereditary titles, I do not see how it could have been possible. Independence would have been the only option and the US was not prepared to allow Hawaii to remain independent and sooner or later would have grabbed the islands for fear of someone else (such as the Japanese) getting to them first. Even if some other country, such as Belgium, had established some sort of political ties with them I doubt it would have made a difference. The US would still have feared someone like Japan taking them over.

  3. I’ve always wondered, why not Amend the US Constitution to allow Independent States to be Monarchies if they so wish? Of curse we all now the Answer lies in the Anti-Monarchism that rests in the very Fabric of what it means to be An American, with the stories of how Great Americas Founders were, and how the Evil Tyrant who oppressed them was King George the Third, and how all Monarchies are evil oppressive Tyrannies just like his, and men in America are FREE!

    Americans have a Knee Jerk reaction to Monarchy, and the same basically happened to Veit Nam, only the US didn’t try to take it over as a Territory and then turn it into a State.

    To many Americans, only one form of Monarchy exists, and this is an Absolute one, and to them all Kings are simply Dictators. His justifies them overthrowing a Monarchy to establish a Republic (Now Democracy) because all power rightly belongs to the people of a Nation, not some guy… of course Politicians, not “We, the people” rule in America but no one seems to notice.

    Americans also have an odd blind spot, and fail to see any wrong in their Countries policies. Often this is centred on the Right in America, but sometimes even the Left makes its excuses.

    When I first stared learning History, every book I read about this or that in America had already been rewritten by political Correctness, so admitted that forcing he Indians off their Land and treating them as Savages was wrong, but the general feel was that the Indians should have just been allowed to remain in their Land which would then be annexed into the United States with them as Citizens. The actual expansion used to force he Indians off he Land was not the problem.

    Hawaii is equally glossed over. Few Americans realise that what happened in Hawaii was just a Military Conquest. Americans pride themselves on never colonising anywhere or just taking over like the Europeans did, but hat did happen in most of Americas History.

    One even told me he saw firsthand the damage Colonialism did when he visited Africa and it gave him greater appreciation of what Americas Founders lived through! I wanted to ask him if he thought Washington was Cherokee or Iroquois, but didn’t get the chance.

    At any event, America grew mainly by forcing its will onto large territories, and carving out its Empire, and often did so in a way far worse than what the British Empire did.

    But, I must ask, I seem to recall one President was actually bothered by this and did try to Help, I want to say James A. Garfield. I know one President, upon hearing the details of the event, tried to rectify it, but was blocked by Congress; or perhaps I am misremembering?

  4. I wish that were possible though Hawaii would probably be the only state with a chance of having a state monarchy. As for the president (and you can look up a past post on presidents and their record with monarchy) the one I think you refer to is Grover Cleveland. He was against annexing Hawaii, he was anti-imperialist but he also opposed taking any action to restore the overthrown Queen (he also took the US to the brink of war with Britain over a border dispute in South America -thank you Monroe Doctrine) so there were good points and bad points with him.

  5. I do wonder, with its Ties to Britain, had America not Conquered by force of Arms Hawaii, or had it sooner decided, what woudl have happeend if it had become a British Protectorate and part of the British Empire?

  6. That's hard to tell. It may well have made no difference at all. Had the Queen resisted efforts to enforce British control as she did American control she may well have ended up in the same sad state. Although a monarchy, and in general tolerant of them within the empire, the British were not beyond tearing down native monarchs that stood in their path either. The late kings of Burma come to mind.


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