World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii

Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom
Part of the Hawaiian Rebellions (1887–95)

The USS Boston's landing force on duty at the Arlington Hotel, Honolulu, at the time of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, January 1893. Lieutenant Lucien Young, USN, commanded the detachment, and is presumably the officer at right.[1]
Date January 17, 1893
Location Honolulu, Hawaii
Result Hawaiian League / United States victory
  • Hawaiian Kingdom surrender.
  • Queen Liliuokalani relinquishes power.
  • Provisional Government established.
  • Hawaii organized into a territory, then a state of the United States.
  • 50th, and last, territory granted Statehood (in August 21, 1959).
Hawaiian League
 United States
Kingdom of Hawaii
Commanders and leaders
Lorrin A. Thurston
John L. Stevens
Samuel Nowlein
Charles B. Wilson
Honolulu Rifles
1,500 Militiamen
United States
1 cruiser, USS Boston
496 troops[2]

(several) Volunteers
85–110 Police
322–337 Royal Guard

Casualties and losses
None 1 wounded

The overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii refers to a coup d'état on January 17, 1893, in which anti-monarchical insurgents within the Kingdom of Hawaii, composed largely of United States citizens, engineered the overthrow of its native monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani. Hawaii was initially reconstituted as an independent republic, but the ultimate goal of the revolutionaries was the annexation of the islands to the United States, which was finally accomplished in 1898.


  • Summary of the event 1
  • Liliuokalani's constitution 2
  • Overthrow 3
  • Aftermath 4
  • Response 5
    • United States 5.1
    • International 5.2
  • Provisional Government and Republic of Hawaii 6
  • Counter-Revolution 7
  • Annexation 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10

Summary of the event

On July 6, 1846, U.S. Secretary of State John C. Calhoun, on behalf of President Tyler, afforded formal recognition of Hawaiian independence. As a result of the recognition of Hawaiian independence, the Hawaiian Kingdom entered into treaties with the major nations of the world and established over ninety legations and consulates in multiple seaports and cities.[4] Though there were threats to Hawaii's sovereignty throughout the Kingdom's history, it was not until the signing of the Bayonet Constitution in 1887 that this threat began to be realized. On January 17, 1893, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Queen Lili'uokalani, was deposed in a coup d'état led by seven non-native subjects of the Hawaiian Kingdom, five American nationals, one English national, and one German national,[5] all who were living and doing business in Hawaii and opposed to her attempt to establish a new Constitution.

The coup efforts were supported by American minister to Hawaii John L. Stevens and an invasion of U.S. Marines, who came ashore at the request of the conspirators. The coup left the queen imprisoned at Iolani Palace under house arrest. It briefly became the Republic of Hawaii, before eventual annexation by the United States in 1898.

The overthrow was led by Lorrin A. Thurston, a grandson of American missionaries, who derived his support primarily from the American and European business class residing in Hawaii and other supporters of the Reform Party of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Most of the leaders of the Committee of Safety that deposed the queen were American and European citizens who were also Kingdom subjects. They included legislators, government officers, and a Supreme Court Justice of the Hawaiian Kingdom.[6]

According to the Queen's Book, her friend and minister J.S. Walker "came and told me 'that he had come on a painful duty, that the opposition party had requested that I should abdicate." After consulting with her ministers, including Walker, the Queen concluded that "since the troops of the United States had been landed to support the revolutionists, by the order of the American minister, it would be impossible for us to make any resistance." Due to the Queen's desire "to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life" for her subjects and after some deliberation, at the urging of advisers and friends, the Queen ordered her forces to surrender. Despite repeated claims that the overthrow was "bloodless", the Queen's Book notes that Lili'uokalani received "friends [who] expressed their sympathy in person; amongst these Mrs. J. S. Walker, who had lost her husband by the treatment he received from the hands of the insurgents. He was one of many who from persecution had succumbed to death."

Immediate annexation was prevented by the speech given by President Grover Cleveland to Congress at this time, in which he stated that:

"... the military demonstration upon the soil of Honolulu was of itself an act of war; unless made either with the consent of the government of Hawaii or for the bona fide purpose of protecting the imperiled lives and property of citizens of the United States. But there is no pretense of any such consent on the part of the government of the queen... the existing government, instead of requesting the presence of an armed force, protested against it. There is as little basis for the pretense that forces were landed for the security of American life and property. If so, they would have been stationed in the vicinity of such property and so as to protect it, instead of at a distance and so as to command the Hawaiian Government Building and palace.... When these armed men were landed, the city of Honolulu was in its customary orderly and peaceful condition.... "[7]

The Republic of Hawaii was nonetheless declared in 1894 by the same parties which had established the Provisional Government. Among them were Lorrin A. Thurston, a drafter of the Bayonet Constitution, and Sanford Dole who appointed himself President of the forcibly instated Republic on July 4, 1894.

The Bayonet Constitution allowed the monarch to appoint cabinet ministers, but had stripped him of the power to dismiss them without approval from the Legislature. Eligibility to vote was also altered, stipulating Property Value, defined in non-traditional terms, as a condition of voting eligibility. One result of this was the disenfranchisement of poor native Hawaiians and other ethnic groups who had previously had the right to vote. This guaranteed a voting monopoly by the landed aristocracy. Asians, who comprised a large proportion of the population, were stripped of their voting rights as many Japanese and Chinese members of the population who had previously become naturalized as subjects of the Kingdom, subsequently lost all voting rights. Many Americans and wealthy Europeans, in contrast, acquired full voting rights at this time, without the need for Hawaiian citizenship.

Liliuokalani's constitution

In 1891, Kalākaua died and his sister Liliʻuokalani assumed the throne in the middle of an economic crisis. The McKinley Act had crippled the Hawaiian sugar industry by reducing duties on imports from other countries, eliminating the previous Hawaiian advantage due to the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. Many Hawaii businesses and citizens felt pressure from the loss of revenue; in response Liliʻuokalani proposed a lottery system to raise money for her government. Also proposed was a controversial opium licensing bill. Her ministers, and closest friends, were all opposed to this plan; they unsuccessfully tried to dissuade her from pursuing these initiatives, both of which came to be used against her in the brewing constitutional crisis.

Liliʻuokalani's chief desire was to restore power to the monarch by abrogating the 1887 Bayonet Constitution and promulgating a new one, an idea that seems to have been broadly supported by the Hawaiian population.[8] The 1893 Constitution would have reduced suffrage by reducing some property requirements, and eliminated the voting privileges extended to European and American residents. It would have disfranchised many resident European and American businessmen who were not citizens of Hawaii. The Queen toured several of the islands on horseback, talking to the people about her ideas and receiving overwhelming support, including a lengthy petition in support of a new constitution. However, when the Queen informed her cabinet of her plans, they withheld their support due to an understanding of what her opponent's likely response to these plans would be.[9]

Besides the threatened loss of financial and political gain for European and American residents of Hawaii, business interests within the Kingdom were concerned about the removal of foreign tariffs in the American sugar trade due to the McKinley Act (which effectively eliminated the favored status of Hawaiian sugar due to the Reciprocity Treaty). Annexation to the United States would provide Hawaii with the same sugar bounties as domestic producers, which would be a welcome side effect of ending the monarchy. One of the Queen's opponents who had been set on the goal of annexation to the United States for years before the coup was Lorrin Thurston, who led a small but powerful group.


The precipitating event[10] leading to the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 was the attempt by Queen Liliʻuokalani to promulgate a new constitution that would have strengthened the power of the monarch relative to the legislature, where Euro-American business elites held disproportionate power. This political situation had resulted from the so-called 1887 Bayonet Constitution. The stated goals of the conspirators, who were non-native Hawaiian Kingdom subjects (five American nationals, one English national, and one German national)[5] were to depose the queen, overthrow the monarchy, and seek Hawaii's annexation to the United States.[11][12]

On January 16, the Marshal of the Kingdom, Charles B. Wilson was tipped off by detectives to the imminent planned coup. Wilson requested warrants to arrest the 13 member council, of the Committee of Safety, and put the Kingdom under martial law. Because the members had strong political ties with United States Government Minister John L. Stevens, the requests were repeatedly denied by Attorney General Arthur P. Peterson and the Queen’s cabinet, fearing if approved, the arrests would escalate the situation. After a failed negotiation with Thurston,[13] Wilson began to collect his men for the confrontation. Wilson and Captain of the Royal Household Guard, Samuel Nowlein, had rallied a force of 496 men who were kept at hand to protect the Queen.[2]

The overthrow ignited on January 17 when a policeman was shot and wounded while trying to stop a wagon carrying weapons to the Honolulu Rifles made of about 1,500 armed local (non-native) men under their leadership, intending to depose Queen Liliʻuokalani. The Rifles garrisoned Ali'iolani Hale across the street from ʻIolani Palace and waited for the Queen’s response.

John L. Stevens, an American diplomat, conspired to overthrow the Kingdom of Hawaii.

As these events were unfolding, the Committee of Safety expressed concern for the safety and property of American residents in Honolulu.[14] United States Government Minister John L. Stevens, advised about these supposed threats to non-combatant American lives and property[15] by the Committee of Safety, obliged their request and summoned a company of uniformed U.S. Marines from the USS Boston and two companies of U.S. sailors to land on the Kingdom and take up positions at the U.S. Legation, Consulate, and Arion Hall on the afternoon of January 16, 1893. 162 sailors and Marines aboard the USS Boston in Honolulu Harbor came ashore well-armed but under orders of neutrality. The sailors and Marines did not enter the Palace grounds or take over any buildings, and never fired a shot, but their presence served effectively in intimidating royalist defenders. Historian William Russ states, "the injunction to prevent fighting of any kind made it impossible for the monarchy to protect itself."[16] Due to the Queen's desire "to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life" for her subjects and after some deliberation, at the urging of advisers and friends, the Queen ordered her forces to surrender. The Honolulu Rifles took over government buildings, disarmed the Royal Guard, and declared a Provisional Government.


Provisional government cabinet (left to right) James A. King, Sanford B. Dole, W. O. Smith and Peter C. Jones
John Harris Soper reads the "The Authority" notice after the surrender while Samuel Nowlein slouches with indignation

A provisional government was set up with the strong support of the Honolulu Rifles, a militia group who had defended the system of government promulgated by the Bayonet Constitution against the [12]

The Queen's statement yielding authority, on January 17, 1893, protested the overthrow:

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 Provisional Government.
Now to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do this under protest and impelled by said force yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.


United States

Newly inaugurated President Grover Cleveland called for an investigation into the overthrow. This investigation was conducted by former Congressman James Henderson Blount. Blount concluded in his report on July 17, 1893, "United States diplomatic and military representatives had abused their authority and were responsible for the change in government." Minister Stevens was recalled, and the military commander of forces in Hawaiʻi was forced to resign his commission. President Cleveland stated, "Substantial wrong has thus been done which a due regard for our national character as well as the rights of the injured people requires we should endeavor to repair the monarchy." Cleveland further stated in his 1893 State of the Union Address that, "Upon the facts developed it seemed to me the only honorable course for our Government to pursue was to undo the wrong that had been done by those representing us and to restore as far as practicable the status existing at the time of our forcible intervention." The matter was referred by Cleveland to Congress on December 18, 1893 after the Queen refused to accept amnesty for the traitors as a condition of reinstatement. Hawaii President Sanford Dole was presented a demand for reinstatement by Minister Willis, who had not realized Cleveland had already sent the matter to Congress—Dole flatly refused Cleveland's demands to reinstate the Queen.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator Republic of Hawaii which followed.[17][18]

The Native Hawaiian Study Commission of the United States Congress in its 1983 final report found no historical, legal, or moral obligation for the U.S. government to provide reparations, assistance, or group rights to Native Hawaiians.[19]

In 1993, the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Congress passed a resolution, which President Bill Clinton signed into law, offering an apology to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for its involvement in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. This law is known as the Apology Resolution.


Every government with a diplomatic presence in Hawaii recognized the Provisional Government within 48 hours of the overthrow via their consulates, including the United States, although the recognition by the United States government and its further response is detailed in the section above on "American Response". Countries recognizing the new Provisional Government included Chile, Austria-Hungary, Mexico, Russia, the Netherlands, Imperial Germany, Sweden, Spain, Imperial Japan,[20] Italy, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium, China, Peru, and France.[21] When the Republic of Hawaii was declared on July 4, 1894, immediate de facto recognition was given by every nation with diplomatic relations with Hawaii, except for Britain, whose response came in November 1894.[22]

Provisional Government and Republic of Hawaii

Several pro-royalist groups submitted petitions against annexation in 1898. In 1900 those groups disbanded and formed the Hawaiian Independent Party, under the leadership of Robert Wilcox, the first Congressional Representative from the Territory of Hawaii

Sanford Dole and his committee declared itself the Provisional Government of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi on July 17, 1893, removing only the Queen, her cabinet, and her marshal from office. On July 4, 1894 the Republic of Hawaiiʻi was proclaimed. Dole was president of both governments. As a republic, it was the intention of the government to campaign for annexation with the United States of America. The rationale behind annexation included a strong economic component—Hawaiian goods and services exported to the mainland would not be subject to American tariffs, and would benefit from domestic bounties, if Hawaii was part of the United States. This was especially important to the Hawaiian economy after the McKinley Act of 1890 reduced the effectiveness of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 by raising tariffs on all foreign sugar, and eliminating Hawaii's previous advantage.


A four day uprising between January 6 and 9, 1895, began with an attempted coup d'état to restore the monarchy, and included battles between Royalists and the republican rebels. Later, after a weapons cache was found on the palace grounds after the attempted rebellion in 1895, Queen Liliʻuokalani was placed under arrest, tried by a military tribunal of the Republic of Hawaiʻi, convicted of misprision of treason and imprisoned in her own home.


In 1897, William McKinley succeeded Cleveland as president. A year later he signed the Newlands Resolution, which provided for the annexation of Hawaii on July 7, 1898. The formal ceremony marking the annexation was held at Iolani Palace on August 12, 1898. Almost no Native Hawaiians attended, and those few who were on the streets wore royalist ilima blossoms in their hats or hair, and, on their breasts Hawaiian flags with the motto: Kuu Hae Aloha ("my beloved flag").[23] Most of the 40,000 Native Hawaiians, including Liliʻuokalani and the royal family, shuttered themselves in their homes, protesting what they considered an illegal transaction. "When the news of Annexation came it was bitterer than death to me", Liliuokalani's niece, Princess Ka'iulani, told the San Francisco Chronicle.[24] "It was bad enough to lose the throne, but infinitely worse to have the flag go down." The Hawaiian flag was lowered for the last time while the Royal Hawaiian Band played the Hawaiian national anthem, Hawaiʻi Ponoʻi.

The Hawaiian Islands became the Territory of Hawaii, a United States territory, with a new government established on February 22, 1900. Sanford Dole was appointed as the first governor. ʻIolani Palace served as the capitol of the Hawaiian government until 1969.

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Navy History site. (2005-03-22). Retrieved on 2011-07-06.
  2. ^ a b  
  3. ^  
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b The Blount Report, p588
  6. ^ Andrade, Jr., Ernest (1996). Unconquerable Rebel: Robert W. Wilcox and Hawaiian Politics, 1880–1903. University Press of Colorado. p. 130.  
  7. ^ President Cleveland'S Message. Retrieved on 2011-07-06.
  8. ^ Russ, The Hawaiian Revolution, p. 67: "She ... defended her act[ions] by showing that, out of a possible 9,500 native voters in 1892, 6,500 asked for a new Constitution."
  9. ^ Daws, Shoal of Time, p271: The Queen's new cabinet "had been in office less than a week, and whatever they thought about the need for a new constitution... they knew enough about the temper of the queen's opponents to realize that they would endure the chance to challenge her, and no minister of the crown could look forward... to that confrontation."
  10. ^  
  11. ^   From Kuykendall, p. 587-588: "W.D. Alexander (History of Later Years of the Hawaiian Monarchy and the Revolution of 1893, p. 37) gives the following as the wording of Thurston's motion [to launch the coup]: 'That preliminary steps be taken at once to form and declare a Provisional Government with a view to annexation to the United States.' Thurston later wrote that his motion was 'substantially as follows: "I move that it is the sense of this meeting that the solution of the present situation is annexation to the United States."'(Memoirs, p. 250) Lt. Lucien Young (The Boston at Hawaii, p. 175) gives the following version of the motion: 'Resolved, That it is the sense of this committee that in view of the present unsatisfactory state of affairs, the proper course to pursue is to abolish the monarchy and apply for annexation to the United States.'"
  12. ^ a b  
  13. ^  
  14. ^ The Morgan Report, p808-809, "At the request of many citizens, whose wives and families were helpless and in terror of an expected uprising of the mob, which would burn and destroy, a request was made and signed by all of the committee, addressed to Minister Stevens, that troops might be landed to protect houses and private property.
  15. ^ Kinzer, S. (2006) America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. p. 30. [Minister Stevens] "certainly overstepped his authority when he brought troops ashore, especially since he knew that the 'general alarm and terror' of which the Committee of Safety had complained was a fiction."
  16. ^  
  17. ^ The Blount Report, p1342, "In reply to the direct question from Mr. Parker as to whether this was the final decision of the Senate, I said that in my opinion it was final."
  18. ^ Grover Cleveland's 2nd Annual Message, December 3, 1894 – "Since communicating the voluminous correspondence in regard to Hawaii and the action taken by the Senate and House of Representatives on certain questions submitted to the judgment and wider discretion of Congress the organization of a government in place of the provisional arrangement which followed the deposition of the Queen has been announced, with evidence of its effective operation. The recognition usual in such cases has been accorded the new Government."
  19. ^ Native Hawaiian Study Commission: See Conclusions and Recommendations p.27 and also Existing Law, Native Hawaiians, and Compensation, pgs 333–339 and pgs 341–345. Retrieved on 2011-07-06.
  20. ^ During the overthrow, the Japanese Imperial Navy gunboat Naniwa was docked at Pearl Harbor. The gunboat's commander, Heihachiro Togo, who later commanded the Japanese battleship fleet at Tsushima, refused to accede to the Provisional Government's demands that he strike the colors of the Kingdom, but later lowered the colors on order of the Japanese Government. Along with every other international legations in Honolulu, the Japanese Consulate-General, Suburo Fujii, quickly recognized the Provisional Government as the "de facto" legitimate successor to the monarchy.
  21. ^ The Morgan Report, p 1103-1111. (2006-02-11). Retrieved on 2011-07-06.
  22. ^   The provisional government, with all its faults, had major difficulties in obtaining recognition, especially from Cleveland, and it was not considered likely that the republic would have any foreign problems. Recognition albeit de facto came about even more quickly than it had in 1893, for at least there was no question of a overthrow having taken place or of the government's control of the domestic situation.
  23. ^ Robert W. Brockway. Hawaii "Hawai'i: America's Ally". The Spanish American War Centennial web site. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  24. ^ Associated Press. by Michael Tighe, 1998-08-09.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.