The Coup Against Sovereignty

Queen Liliuokalani

Queen Liliuokalani

The history of the Hawaiian holocaust begins in 1778 with Cook’s voyages, his death at Kealakekua Bay, and the British reprisal.  Protestant missionaries from New England arrived in 1820, filling a cultural vacuum created by the breaking of the pre-contact religion’s Kapu system in 1819. The missionaries ended up as a merchant and landowning class.

By the 1880′s, the conflict between the ascendancy of the oligarchy of largely American missionary-descended merchants and planters and native aspirations – exacerbated by US economic and military interests – erupts into violence. King Kalakaua tries unifying Polynesia into a confederacy of isles and further angers the Caucasian oligarchy with his nativist revival of traditional culture, such as hula, and a “Merry Monarch” lifestyle the puritans perceived as debauched and profligate.

The US military demands exclusive rights in 1886 to Pearl Harbor as a condition for renewing the Reciprocity Treaty, which gave Hawaii planters tariff-free access to US markets; the King and grass roots Hawaiians strongly opposed territorial cession. In January 1887, Lorrin Thurston, Sanford Dole and other oligarchs form a pro-annexationist secret society, the Hawaiian League.

Triggered by a May 1887 opium scandal, the Hawaiian League and the para-military, all-Hoale Honolulu Rifles confront King Kalakaua and impose the “Bayonet Constitution” allowing Kalakua to reign but not rule. A new Cabinet is formed with Thurston as Interior Minister, Pearl Harbor is ceded to Washington, and the Reciprocity Treaty is renewed.

King Kalakaua

King Kalakaua

But the sovereignty struggle continues. Kalakaua insists on using his last political prerogative – veto power. On July 30, 1889 Hawaiian nationalist Robert Wilcox and his “Redshirts” stage an armed revolt against the Bayonet Constitution, which is put down; troops from the USS Adams patrol Honolulu. The following year Wilcox turned to the electoral process – his Hawaiian Political Association joined forces with working class whites in the Merchanics’ and Workingmen’s Political Protective Association. Their National Reform Party wins half of the legislature’s seats, weakening the Bayonet Constitution’s cabinet, amidst talk of a constitutional convention. Suffering from ill health, King Kalakaua dies on January 20, 1891 at San Francisco.

His younger sister Liliuokalani accedes to the throne determined to revive royal power. The McKinley Act removes the tariff on raw sugar entering America and gives a two-cent per pound bounty for domestic sugar, undermining the Reciprocity Treaty, threatening to destroy Hawaii’s planter-ocracy. Thurston forms another cabal – the Annexation Club.

In January 1893, the missionary descendants oppose opium and lottery bills as sugar’s depression deepens. On January 14 Queen Liliuokalani prorogues the legislature and prepares for an incendiary act.

Her Majesty attempts promulgating a new constitution which two-thirds of the Hawaiians petitioned for that would reverse the Bayonet Constitution and reinvest political power in the monarchy and native electorate. Deeming her plan to be “revolutionary”, Thurston forms the Committee of Safety – 12 of its original 1 members are Annexation Club members. The pro-annexationist, anti-indigenous tone of US President Harrison and Minister Stevens stimulated the high treason.

How did the coup d’etat and American take-over of Hawaii happen?

Monday, January 16, 1893

9.00am-12.00pm: The Committee of Public Safety, mainly of businessmen with American backgrounds, meet at the Honolulu law office of Lorrin Thurston. The Co-conspirators arrange a mass meeting and sign a letter to US Minister John Stevens: “. . . the public safety is menaced and lives and property are in peril, and we appeal to you and the United States forces at your command for assistance . . . we pray for the protection of the United States forces” upon “a further request received from the committee.”

11.00am: American attorney and committee member Henry Cooper goes to Honolulu Harbour to notify USS Boston Captain Wiltse of the committee’s request – but Wiltse, anticipating the request, had already ordered his troops to prepare for landing.

5.00pm:  After their early supper, Lt. Commander Swinburne lands 162 Marines with Gatling (machine) guns, Howitzer cannons, double cartridge belts filled with ammunition, and carbines on four boats at Nuuanu Avenue. The troops march up Fort Street to Merchant Street, rifles pointing in the direction of Iolani Place, seat of the Hawaiian monarchy. Some blue-jackets are posted the US consulate and legation. The Marines march past Iolani Place on King Street, halting across from Kawaiahao Church. Shortly afterwards, the invaders halt at the Atherton estate at King and Alapai Streets.

8.00pm:  The Committee of Safety set up a Provisional Government (PG) and select Sanford Dole as president.

Tuesday, January 17, 1893

Early morning:  Thurston dictates a proclamation deposing the queen, annulling the monarchy, and creating a Provisional Government until America annexes Hawaii.

9.00am:   Aware of the Committee of Safety’s activities, Queen Liliuokalani meets with Samuel Damon, a businessman close to her. Her Majesty advises him to join the committee’s advisory council, in order to influence them.

10.00am:  Dole gives Minister Stevens a letter announcing the establishment of the PG and asking for US recognition. Stevens responds: “I think you have a great opportunity”.

2.00pm:  The Queen’s cabinet ministers go to the US legation. As Stevens claims to be sick, he meets briefly with Foreign Minister Parker and Attorney-General Peterson. The A-G says Stevens refuses to assist the Queen and threatens the Marines will intervene if royalist forces fight the committee. Stevens also reportedly asserts he will recognize a Provisional Government if it is set up.

2.30pm:   Committee members sign Thurston’s proclamation at Smith’s office. The committee prepares to go to Government House. A native policemen grabs the reins of a horse pulling a wagon full of ammunition leaving E.O. Hall & Son’s King Street store, delayed by a tram. The insurgents’ ordinance officer, Captain John Good, shoots the policeman. The bullet enters Lialoha’s arm and left breast. In the confusion, the Committee of Safety quickly goes unobserved to the Government Building.

There at nearly empty Ali’iolani Hale, American Henry Cooper – who had come to Hawaii in 1892 and is not a citizen of the Kingdom – reads Thurston’s proclamation abrogating the monarchy and establishing a “Provisional Government. . . until terms of a union with the United States have been negotiated and agreed upon.”

The Provisional Government puts ammunition in the hall, declares martial law, closes saloons, proclaims the “death penalty for an act of treason”, and notifies the diplomatic corps of the take over. Committee member C.L. Carter takes a note by Dole to Minister Stevens announcing the insurrection.

2.45pm:   At the police station – which Marshal Wilson refuses to surrender without written orders from the Queen and her ministers – the Cabinet writes to Minister Stevens a note asking if he has recognized the PG “and, if not . . . respectfully request the assistance of your government in preserving the peace of the country.” Charles Hopkins delivers the note to the US legation. Hopkins insists upon an immediate reply when Stevens’ daughter requests an hour delay on account of her father’s illness.

3.10pm:   Hopkins returns to the police station with a note for Foreign Minister Parker. [NOTE: There is dispute on this point and it's timing.] The Cabinet is ready to repress the uprising until receiving Minister Stevens’ response, leading them “to surrender, and yield to America.”

4.00-5.00pm:   Stevens send a note to the Cabinet, recognizing the PG. Minister Stevens’ note to Dole announcing: “A Provisional Government. . . being in full possession of the Government Building, the Archives, and the treasury and in control of the capital of the Hawaiian Islands, I hereby recognize de facto Government of the Hawaiian Islands.”

5.00pm:   The Cabinet meets with Liliuokalani. Supporters of the PG led by the Queen’s trusted adviser Damon meet with Her Majesty at Iolani Palace. Damon warns, “If you resist, there will be bloodshed and a great many killed. You will probably be killed. Joseph Carter and Damon tell Liliuokalani they would help her formulate any desired protest. Attorney Paul Neumann cleverly drafts the protest:

“. . .I yield to the superior force of the United States of America whose Minister Plenipotentiary, His Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused the United States troops to be landed at Honolulu an declaring he would support such provisional government. Now to avoid collision of armed forces and perhaps loss of life, I do, under this protest and impelled by such forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.”

7.00pm:   Dole accepts without reading the queen’s carefully crafted statement, which Dole endorses. Marshal Wilson finally surrenders the police station. Captain Samuel Nowlein’s 272-man Queen’s Royal Guard surrender.

8.00pm:  The PG executive and advisory councils undertake the day’s final act, deciding to send three commissioners – Thurston Wilder, and Castle – to Washington to negotiate annexation by the United States.

The independent Kingdom of Hawaii is overthrown.

Published by the LA Progressive on January 17, 2012
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About Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell was named after legendary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. Rampell is a L.A.-based film critic/historian and author. Michael Moore is on the cover of Rampell’s book Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.