New Historian

The End of Monarchy in Hawaii

lolani Palace

<![CDATA[On the 17th January 1893 a group of American sugar plantation owners and business men led by Sanford Ballard Dole overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy of Queen Liliuokalani. The conspirators in the coup were aided by US Marines, despite the overthrow of the monarchy being backed by neither the US Government or the majority of the Hawaiian people. Just over five years later Hawaii would formally become a US territory. Hawaii had only been a kingdom ruled by a monarchy for eighty years when the coup took place. In 1810 Kamehameha I brought all of the islands that make up the modern state of Hawaii under his control. Initially the new kingdom was ruled by Kamehameha's family, with a hereditary system of succession. This system later evolved however, to also allow members of a specifically created noble class a claim to rule. Prior to the coup in 1893, American interests in Hawaii had been growing steadily. Between 1874 and 1891, during the reign of Liliuokalani's predecessor King Kalakaua, sugar planters in Hawaii came to possess four fifths of the island's arable land. American business men and investors had a growing stake in the Hawaiian economy, and this soon manifested itself into a growing concern with the islands' politics. In 1887 Kalakaua was forced to sign a new Hawaiian constitution. This came to be known as the Bayonet Constitution among the Hawaiian population, who believed it had been signed under the threat of military force from a powerful group of foreign investors. The new constitution forced the King to form a new cabinet and greatly reduced his powers. It also established a free-trade agreement between Hawaii and the United States, and made provision for the creation of the Pearl Harbour naval base. Hawaii was still recognised as an independent country, but its eastern neighbour seemed to be moving closer and closer. Liliuokalani succeeded to the Hawaiian throne in 1891, and seemed determined to reverse the growing US influence. She refused to accept the Bayonet Constitution of 1887, and instead replaced it with one built around her own personal authority. Her actions triggered a response from the European and American population on the island, who organised themselves and gained support from the US marines stationed at Pearl Harbour. Two years after Liliuokalani came to power, she was deposed in the bloodless coup. When Grover Cleveland took the US presidency in March he offered some hope to the supporters of the monarchy by ordering an investigation into the coup. It was concluded that the monarchy had been deposed illegally. Aware that the majority of Hawaiians did not support Dole’s new regime, Cleveland sent an ambassador to Hawaii to return the queen to power under the old constitution of 1887. Dole refused to stand down, and Cleveland was reluctant to use force. Hawaii was not annexed to the United States, but Dole was left to rule over a newly independent republic. The breakout of the Spanish American War in 1898 finally pressured the US Congress into officially annexing Hawaii, to ensure the United States kept control of the strategically vital Pearl Harbour. Two years later the islands were officially absorbed into US territory, and in 1959 they finally became the fiftieth State. Hawaii is the only US state to have formerly been an independent country with its own monarchy. During Bill Clinton’s term in office an official apology was issued by the US government, admitting the Hawaiian monarchy had been abolished illegally. Hawaii was the last state to join the USA. The process by which it did proved to be incredibly controversial.]]>

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