Source: American Experience: "Hawaii's Last Queen"
American Experience: "Hawaii's Last Queen"
Additional materials related to the Overthrow can be found at the Bishop Museum's Hawai`i Alive.
Developed by WGBH Educational Foundation in collaboration with the Bishop Museum for the Hawai'i Alive project.
Hawai‘i Alive is a project led by the Bishop Museum and supported by the Native Hawaiian Education Program, United States Department of Education Grant (Award Number S362A050074, CFDA #84.362A).
In this video from American Experience learn about the causes and the aftermath of the coup d'état of January 1893, in which the "Committee of Safety," a secret group organized by white sugar plantation owners, businessmen, and descendants of missionaries, set up a provisional government to replace the Hawaiian monarchy. Defying U.S. President Grover Cleveland, their ultimate goal was to overthrow Queen Lili‘uokalani and seek annexation of the Hawaiian Islands by the United States.
On January 16, 1893, four boatloads of armed United States Marines came ashore in Honolulu, capital of the independent Kingdom of Hawai'i. The Queen of Hawai'i, Lili'uokalani, looked down from her balcony as the troops took up their positions outside her palace.
The following day, she surrendered at gunpoint, yielding her throne to the government of the United States. A provisional government led by wealthy white sugar growers assumed control of Hawaii and petitioned the US for annexation.
Born in 1838, Lili'uokalani was trained by missionaries in Western academic disciplines and the ways of polite American society. She was well travelled and even attended Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. Yet she never forgot her native language, was fiercely proud of Hawaiian traditions and was always loyal to her people. A talented composer, Lili'uokalani wrote more than 165 songs, including "Aloha Oe," probably the most widely recognized Hawaiian song.
In 1881 her brother, King Kalakaua, went on an extended journey around the world, leaving the 43-year-old Princess in charge. Although she had no experience governing, she soon had the chance to display her mettle when an epidemic of smallpox erupted, killing many Hawaiians. The source of the disease was Chinese laborers, brought by ship to work in Hawaii's sugar cane fields, the island's economic mainstay. To protect the Hawaiians, Lili'uokalani immediately closed the port, an act that infuriated the wealthy sugar growers, many of whom were descendants of missionaries from the American mainland.
"The outpouring of protest by the business community was tremendous," says historical researcher Glen Grant. "But she stood her ground. I think she clearly demonstrated that the welfare of her people was far more important than the profits for the business community."
Following her succession to the throne after her brother's death in 1891, Lili'uokalani would work secretly to frame a new constitution that would restore power to native Hawaiians. But two months into her reign, the US government effectively revoked Hawaii's favored position on the American sugar market and Lili'uokalani's kingdom was on the brink of economic collapse. The sugar growers were convinced there was only one way to survive — annexation to the United States.
The clash of interests that ensued drew plantation owners, Native Hawaiians, the US government, and the Queen's cabinet into the fray. Eventually, Lili'uokalani would lose her throne and the Hawaiian people would lose their kingdom. Hawai'i was recognized as part of the United States in 1898 by President William McKinley.
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