Ancient Hawaii

European Contact - Kingdom of Hawaii


From Republic to State

Sovereignty Movement

Bibliography and Image credits

Revolution of 1887

King Kalakaua (1836-1891)

On July 1, 1887 the Hawaiian League, a group of mostly haole (white person of foreign origin, most often American) men with the purpose of trying to halt what they thought to be recklessness and irresponsibility on the part of the current leader of the Kingdom of Hawaii, King Kalakaua, kidnapped his appointed prime minister Walter Murray Gibson and Gibson's son in law. The King, knowing his own guard was mainly ceremonial and no match for the heavily armed Hawaiian league, signed the "Bayonet" Constitution, which reduced him to a figurehead and required a high property ownership qualification for the members of the new legislature. It was also demanded that the King's cabinet be replaced, which it was by a new all-haole cabinet. Although nothing outwardly changed, the stage was set for a new political future, one in which the haole minority was in control of where Hawaii was headed.

On the night of July 30, 1889, Robert Wilcox, a young native Hawaiian educated at an Italian military academy, led an counter-revolutionary attack on Iolani Palace. It was a complete disaster for the group. United States marines came ashore from the U.S.S. Adams, and they were soon joined by the Honolulu Rifles (a group whose membership mainly composed the Hawaiian League). Almost immediately six of Wilcox's men were killed, and it was all over by the following afternoon. Even the King himself did not seem to support the attempt.

Queen Lili'uokalani and the Committee of Safety

The Committee of Safety members one day before the overthrow (Jan 16, 1893)

Soon after the 1889 incident, Kalakaua died in San Francisco, and his sister Lili'uokalani ascended the throne (January 29, 1891). She bided her time and did not act for two years until she had a cabinet willing to change the despised 1887 Constitution, but who were also approved of by the reform-party legislature. On January 14, 1893 she finally announced her intention to introduce a new constitution that would restore the power of the monarchy, and once again allow all citizens the right of candidacy. However, almost immediately, the leaders of the reform party created what they called the "Committee of Safety," with the claim that the Queen's actions were revolutionary. Soon after their formation the committee approved a motion by one Lorrin A. Thurston to declare a provisional government the main goal of which was to secure the United States' annexation of Hawaii.

On the following morning of January 15th, the commitee nominated Judge Sanford Ballard Dole to the presidency of their proposed provisional government. It was reported that the USS Boston which had recently returned from Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, was willing to support the committee with troops and arms. Early the next day, troops from the Boston were marched through Honolulu, and the Queen, in a final desperate attempt to halt the impending overthrow, revoked her earlier announcement of constitutional change. It was too late however, and on Janurary 17th, the revolution that had only been three days in planning was carried out seamlessly. Worried about needless bloodshed, the Queen's supporters mostly withdrew from her side with ease. Only one casuality resulted from this revolution, and by six o'clock, three hours after the proclamation of the provincial government was read, it was over, and the committee, under the impression that Hawaii would be annexed immediately, had the American flag raised over the post office.