Gateway to the Classics: Historical Tales, Vol I: American by Charles Morris
Historical Tales, Vol I: American by  Charles Morris

How Hawaii Lost Its Queen and Entered the United States

Up to the year 1898 the United States was confined to the continent of North America. In that year it made a great stride outward over the oceans, adding to its dominion the island of Porto Rico in the West India waters and the archipelagoes of the Philippine and Hawaiian Islands in the far Pacific. Porto Rico and the Philippines were added as a result of the war with Spain. As to how Hawaii was acquired it is our purpose here to tell.

Midway in the North Pacific lies this interesting group of islands, first made known to the world by Captain Cook, the famous English discoverer, in 1778, and annexed to the United States one hundred and twenty years later. Before telling the story of their acquisition a few words as to their prior history will he in place.

Called by Captain Cook the Sandwich Islands, after the English Earl of Sandwich, they afterwards became known as the Hawaiian Islands, from the native name of the largest island of the group, and are now collectively known as Hawaii in their new position as a Territory of the United States.

When Captain Cook visited this locality he found the islands inhabited by a friendly, kind-hearted people, disposed to receive their visitors in a hospitable spirit. But, in the usual way of sailors and discoverers dealing with the primitive races, quarrels soon developed, some of the natives were shot, one of them by Cook himself, and in the fight that followed the great sailor and discoverer lost his life.

At that time each of the islands was governed by a chief, or king if we may call him so, who had absolute authority over his people. Greatest among them was Kamehameha, heir to the throne of Hawaii, who was present when Captain Cook was killed. Bold and ambitious and invested by nature with political genius, this chief conceived the idea of making himself master of all the islands and subjecting their chiefs to his rule.

A shrewd and able man, he was quick to perceive that the strangers who soon began to visit the islands were far superior to the natives in arms and ability and he decided to use them for his ends. In a fight with some American fur traders a schooner, the "Fair American," was taken by the islanders, and two Americans, Isaac Davis and John Young, were made prisoners. With them the new chief obtained the cannon, muskets and ammunition of the "Fair American." Thus equipped, the Napoleon of Hawaii set out on his career of conquest.

Kindly treatment made the two Americans, Davis and Young, his faithful friends and subjects, and they proved his mainstay in the work of conquest. It was no easy matter, even with his cannon and muskets. The chiefs of the other islands resisted him fiercely, and it took many years, with all the stern will and unyielding perseverance of Kamehameha and the ability and courage of his two able lieutenants, to subdue them all. Davis and Young were amply rewarded, with honors and lands, for their services, and some of their descendants still dwell on the islands.

While this work of conquest was going on many vessels visited the islands, missionaries made their way thither, Christianity was introduced and idolatry abolished, and many of the arts of civilization found their way inward. Then settlers other than missionaries came, many of them from America, and a white population was added to the aboriginal. Sugar-cane grew in abundance on the islands and sugar-mills were introduced. Other industries were established. The great fertility of the islands attracted speculators, the lands rose in value, and great fortunes were made. Such is, briefly, the industrial history of these islands.


A Native Grass Hut, Hawaii.

The political history is not without its interest. Five kings of the name of Kamehameha reigned in succession. Of these, Kamehameha III., under American advice, gave up his absolute rule, founded a constitutional government and distributed the lands among the people. After the Kamehamehas came King Lunalio, who ruled but one year, and Kalakaua, who ruled from 1874 to 1891 and showed such a disposition to return to absolutism that the people were in constant dread for their liberties and lands. It was only by a revolt of the people that they regained their rights, forcing him to grant them a new constitution and their former liberties and privileges.

The next and last monarch of Hawaii was a woman, Liliuokalani, the sister of Kalakaua. She was the wife of an Englishman, Mr. J.O. Dominis, and on a visit to London had been entertained by Queen Victoria. Her rearing and education had been under the influence of American missionaries, and the whites of the islands, who had been in constant fear of the late king, hailed her accession to the throne with joy, with the expectation that they would have in her a good friend. They soon found themselves disappointed.

The extravagance and ill rule of Kalakaua had left the country in a wretched state. It was deeply in debt and the much needed public improvements were at a standstill. The country had long been divided between two parties, the missionary and the anti-missionary, the former seeking to save the natives from vice and degradation, the latter encouraging such vicious practices as lotteries and opium sales for their personal benefit.

Under Kalakaua these ill weeds had gained full growth and the new queen soon showed a disposition to encourage them. Her whole nature seemed to change, her former friends were cast aside and new favorites adopted, and though she had a personal income of about $70,000, it was far from sufficing for her needs.

To add to her income the agents of the Louisiana Lottery were encouraged and the opium smugglers found little interference with their nefarious traffic, while the frequent changes of the queen's ministers kept the people in a state of doubt and uneasiness.

At what was called the long term of the legislature laws were passed favoring the lottery and the opium dealers. The session was protracted until the grinding season for the sugar-cane, when a number of the best members were obliged to return to their plantations, and in their absence the lottery and opium bills were rushed through.

Many of the Christian ladies of Honolulu now called on the queen and implored her to veto this pernicious legislation, which would turn their country into a den of gambling and infamy. She wept with them over the situation and the good ladies knelt and prayed that God would help their queen in the terrible ordeal before her. They left the palace feeling sure that the country was safe from the dread affliction—an hour later the queen signed both bills and they became laws.

The passage of these bills created intense indignation. All felt that it was a piece of treachery and fraud, those who gave the queen any credit for good intentions looking upon her as weak and vacillating and utterly under the influence of bad advisers.

As yet, however, no thought of revolution had arisen. It was imagined that the worst stage had been reached. But when the announcement was made the next day that the queen was about to declare a new constitution the most vivid dread and alarm were aroused. Feeling now secure of a revenue from the proceeds of the lottery and the opium trade, Queen Liliuokalani no longer hesitated to show her hand. The proposed new constitution was a scheme for a return to absolute monarchy, one under which every white man on the islands, unless married to a Hawaiian woman, would be deprived of the right to vote.

The act was a fatal one to her reign. It precipitated a revolution which quickly brought her queenship to an end. The steps which led to this result are well worth relating.

The ceremony of proroguing the legislature ended, the queen returned to the palace with the purpose of immediately proclaiming the new constitution. In the procession to the palace the native society called the "Hui Kalaiaina" marched in a double line, its president carrying a large package containing the constitution. A throng of Hawaiians surrounded the palace gates and filled the grounds near the front entrance to the building, the queen's guard being drawn up under arms.

In the throne room the native society which had escorted the queen ranged themselves in regular lines, their president, Alapai, having in his hand an address which he proposed to deliver. Most of the native members of the legislature were also present, some members of the diplomatic corps being with them.

While they waited, the cabinet was assembled in the blue room, to which they had been summoned by the queen. Here a striking scene took place. Liliuokalani placed before them a copy of the new constitution and bade them sign it, saying that she proposed to promulgate it at once. She met with an outspoken opposition.

"Your Majesty, we have not read that constitution," said Mr. Parker, Secretary of Foreign Affairs. "And before we read it we must advise you that this is a revolutionary act. It cannot be done."

An angry reply came from the queen, and an animated discussion followed, in which the cabinet officials said that a meeting had just been held with the foreign representatives and that if she persisted there was danger of an insurrection.

"It is your doing," she replied. "I would not have undertaken this step if you had not encouraged me to do so. You have led me to the brink of a precipice and are now leaving me to take the leap alone. Why not give the people this constitution? You need have no fear. I will bear the brunt of all the blame afterwards."

The cabinet stood firm, Mr. Peterson, the Attorney General, repeating:

"We have not read the constitution."

"How dare you say that," she exclaimed, "when you have had it in your possession for a month."

The dispute grew more violent as it went on. The cabinet declined to resign when asked by her to do so, whereupon she threatened that if they would not accede to her wishes she would go to the palace door and tell the mob outside that she wished to give them a new constitution but that her ministers had prevented her from doing so.

At this threat three of the ministers left the room and escaped from the building. They remembered the fate of certain representatives who fell into the hands of a Hawaiian mob in 1874. Mr. Parker alone had the courage to remain. He feared that if the queen were left alone she would sign the instrument herself, and proclaim it to the people, telling them that her cabinet refused to comply with her wishes and seeking to rouse against them the wrath of the unthinking mob, whose only idea of the situation was that the white men were opposing their queen.

The cabinet stood between two fires, that of the supporters of the queen on the one hand and that of the white people of Honolulu on the other. The report of the fleeing members raised the excitement of the latter to the boiling pitch. A Committee of Safety was at once organized, and held its first meeting with closed doors.

"Gentlemen," said a member of this committee, "we are brought face to face with this question; what shall we do?"

The discussion ended in a motion by the Hon. A.L. Thurston, to the effect that "preliminary steps be taken at once to form a provisional government, with a view to annexation to the United States of America."

Meanwhile a sub-committee had waited on the United States Minister, Mr. John L. Stevens, asking him to give them the support of the United States troops on board the "Boston."

"Gentlemen," he replied, "I have no authority to involve the United States Government in your revolution. I will request to have troops landed to protect American life and property, but for no other purpose."

Left to their own resources, the revolutionary party determined to go on with the enterprise, even if their own lives should be lost in the effort to prevent the tyranny of the queen. The Committee of Safety collected and stored arms in convenient places, finally taking all these arms to the barracks of the committee.

This brought about the first collision. It was shortly after noon on January 17, 1893, that three of the revolutionists, John Good, Edwin Benner and Edward Parris, with a man named Fritz, were taking some arms in a wagon to the barracks. A policeman, who had been watching the store from which the arms were taken, seized the bridle of the horse and cried:


"What shall I do?" asked Benner.

"Go on!" roared Good.

Benner made a cut at the policeman with his whip and tried to drive on. The man let go the bridle and blew his whistle, bringing two other policemen quickly to his aid. One tried to climb into the front of the wagon, but was knocked senseless by Benner, while the other, who attacked in the rear, was roughly handled by Parris and Fritz.

The wagon now drove on, but got entangled in a block of two street cars and a truck. Other policemen came running up and a fight ensued, one of the officers putting his hand into his pocket as if to draw a weapon.

"Look out, he is going to shoot," cried a voice from one of the cars.

Good instantly drew his pistol, and crying, "Benner, it's life or death; if we must, we must," he fired.

The policeman fell, with a ball in his shoulder. The wagon by this time had got loose from the block and was driven furiously away, reaching the barracks without further trouble.

That wounded policeman constituted the sole list of dead and wounded in the revolution. Men were rapidly gathering about the barracks, two companies of armed men soon marched up, and a proclamation was read to the following effect:

"The Hawaiian monarchical system of government is hereby abrogated.

"A provisional government for the control and management of public affairs and the protection of the public is hereby established, to exist until terms of union with the United States of America have been negotiated and agreed upon."

These were the essential clauses of the proclamation that overthrew the Hawaiian government, the armed insurgents now marching to the palace, where they found no one but a highly indignant woman, the queen, deserted by all and in a violent state of excitement. Her soldiers, who were in the police station, made no effort to help her, and the only thing needed to complete the work of the revolution was the capture of this station. This was done without a blow being struck and the revolution was complete. In this easy way a government more than a century old was overturned and a new one installed in its place.

But the end was not yet. The United States had still to be heard from. Minister Stevens and Captain Wiltse of the "Boston" had landed troops to protect the interests of American citizens and from this incident trouble arose. The revolution in Hawaii took place January 17, 1893, when President Harrison, then in office, had little more than six weeks to serve. Harrison favored annexation of the new ocean republic, a treaty was prepared and sent to the Senate, but before it could be acted upon the 4th of March arrived and a new man, with new views, came in to fill the Presidential chair.

President Cleveland's views were startlingly new. He believed that the success of the revolution was due to the act of Minister Stevens and Captain Wiltse in landing troops, that the queen had been illegally removed, and sent the Hon. Albert S. Willis to Honolulu to unseat President Dole of the new republic and restore Queen Liliuokalani to the throne.

This would undoubtedly have been done but for the dethroned queen herself, who showed a sanguinary spirit that put poor Mr. Willis, a man of kindly nature and humane sympathies, in an embarrassing situation. The President expected the queen, if restored, to show a spirit of forgiveness to the revolutionists and his agent was decidedly taken aback by her answers to his questions.

"Should you be restored to the throne," he asked, "would you grant full amnesty as to life and property to all those persons who have been or who are now in the provisional government?"

The queen's answer, slowly and hesitatingly given, was:

"There are certain laws of my government by which I shall abide. My decision would be, as the law directs, that such persons should be beheaded and their property confiscated."

Here was a mediŠval decision with a vengeance. In spite of all that Willis could plead, the savagely inclined queen stuck to her ultimatum. The utmost she would yield was that these persons "must be exiled or otherwise punished, and their property confiscated."

The tidings of this ultimatum put President Cleveland in an awkward dilemma. The beheading idea was too much for him and the affair dragged on until the following December, when the ex-queen generously consented to let Dole and his friends keep their heads, on condition of leaving the country and losing their property. Finally, when told that she could not have the throne on any such conditions, she experienced a change of heart and agreed to grant full amnesty.

When news of what was in view reached Honolulu there was intense excitement. It was expected that marines would be landed from the warship "Philadelphia" and "Adams" to restore the queen and a determination to resist them arose. The capital was entrenched with sand-bag breastworks, the batteries were manned and armed, and men were stationed to fight. As for President Dole and his cabinet, they were in a quandary. It was finally decided to make only a show of opposition to the landing of the marines, but after they had restored the queen and retired, to capture her again and resume business as a republic.

Their alarm had no real foundation. There had never been an intention to land the marines. The President knew well that he had no authority to land marines for such a purpose, and in his message referred the whole matter to Congress—where it slept.

Yet the ex-queen and her supporters did not sleep. Finding that there was no hope of bringing the United States into the squabble, they organized a counter-revolution of their own, smuggled arms into the country, and in January, 1895, the new insurrection broke out. Great secrecy was maintained. The night of Sunday, January 5, was fixed for the outbreak. In the evening President Dole and his cabinet and many other officials of the republic would be at the service in the Central Union Church and it would be easy to blow up the whole government with a bomb.

Unluckily for the conspirators, their first capture was that of some whiskey, and inspired by this they began celebrating their victory in advance. Yelling and shooting on Sunday afternoon alarmed the authorities and suspicion of something wrong was aroused. An attempt to search a suspected house for arms led to a fight in which one man was killed and others wounded. News of the insurrection were taken to the church and whispered to the members of the National Guard and the government, who slipped quietly out. The pastor, oblivious to this circumstance, went on with his sermon, but uneasiness arose in the congregation, and when at last the clatter of cavalry and the roll of artillery were heard passing the church all order was at an end. The worshippers rushed into the street in a mass, the preacher following. Within ten minutes a state of peace had been changed into one of war.

The most intense excitement prevailed. No one knew anything of the numbers or location of the enemy. They were at length found, in large force, in the hollow basin or crater of Diamond Head, so strongly posted that they could not be dislodged from the side of the land. A tug was therefore sent, with a howitzer, to shell them from the sea, while a fierce land attack was kept up, and before night on Monday they were driven out of their stronghold and in full flight.

Another fight took place at Punchbowl Hill, in the rear of Honolulu, lasting an hour, though with little loss. Tuesday was spent in searching for the enemy and on Wednesday another sharp fight took place, they being again defeated. Before the end of the week the affair was at an end, and the ex-queen arrested as one of the conspirators. Her premises were found to be a regular magazine of arms and artillery.

Lilioukalani now found Hawaii too hot to hold her and sought a new home in the United States, and the republic went on peaceably until 1898, when, the war with Spain then being in progress and a new President in the chair, a new and successful effort for its annexation was made. The bill for its admission was signed by President McKinley on July 7, and the Hawaiian group became an outlying possession of the United States. It was made an American Territory in 1900.

The End.

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