Liliuokalani’s Fight for Hawaii

By Kim Andrews ::

Queen Liliuokalani. Photograph around 1891. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

January 17, 1893 marks the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani. This was a moment of American imperialism that had an enormous impact on the lives and livelihoods of the Hawaiian people. However, this story of Hawaiian Annexation is also a personal one. I want to highlight how the reigning monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, tried to fight against the expansionist nature of the nineteenth-century United States government and the impact of imperialism on indigenous peoples of the Hawaiian Islands.

The US government wanted Hawaii for several reasons. These islands offered the US a position to control a major part of the Pacific Ocean, shipping, and trade of sugar and rice. The government also wanted to secure the marine transit of these products and financial independence of the indigenous Hawaiians.

In addition to the economic power exuded by the American government, Congress believed that Hawaii was as an access point for the Japanese invasion. Many U.S. military leaders feared that this increase in Asian populations would lead to a Japanese occupation of the island, so they pushed for a strategic naval base to protect their interests.

As a result of combined pressures,  Congress passed annexation legislation. At the same time, the Hawaiian throne passed to Queen Liliuokalani, who believed the root of Hawaii’s problems was foreign interference. She also searched for a way to undermine Congress’s legislation.

Together, these events lead to a great confrontation over the control of Hawaii. Sanford Dole stated, “I found the office […], thronged with persons apprehensive of the trouble from the events occurring at the Palace.” Eventually, a “Committee of Safety,” organized by Dole, his fellow businessmen, and the American government overthrew Queen Liliuokalani. By early January 1893, Queen Liliuokalani and her forces were outmaneuvered and outgunned by American revolutionaries.

On January 14, 1893 Queen Liliuokalani drafted a new constitution. This new draft was not Kingdom law, but it was her first major attempt to regain sovereignty. However, this constitutional attempt failed and forced Queen Liliuokalani to abdicate her throne. Still, she remained undaunted and continued to protest, advocating for Hawaiian sovereignty through an open letter, “I, Liliuokalani, […] 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.” She also asked President Harrison for his help to restore her thrown, but Congress blocked it. With few guns and no army, these letters represented her last viable form of protest.

On February 1, 1893 the United States Minister John Stevens recognized a new constitutional Hawaiian government. This declaration further cemented American power within the Hawaiian Islands and defeat of Queen Liliuokalani.  His recognition signified that Hawaii was a U.S. property regardless of the Hawaiian people’s ideas or beliefs.

In effect, the US forced the Hawaiian queen to give up her control over the islands, her people, and their resources. Hawaii became a part of the United States imperialistic expansions without the consent of the governed and denied the indigenous peoples a political voice. Ultimately, the American annexation of Hawaii was the ultimate subversion of democracy despite the efforts of Queen Liliuokalani.

Want to Learn More? Check Out:

  • Chock, Jennifer.  “One Hundred Years of Illegitimacy: International Legal Analysis of the Illegal Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy, Hawaii’s Annexation, and Possible Reparations.”  University of Hawai’i Law Review, 1995, 463-512.  Accessed October 10, 2016.  

Music Used

“Feasting on the Flowers” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers


Kim Andrews, Project Manager
Jeff Stone, Contributor
Tanya Monthey, Fact Checker