Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii (September 2, 1838 – November 11, 1917), originally named Lydia Kamakaeha, also known as Lydia Kamakaeha Paki, had the royal name of Liliuokalani given to her by her brother, King Kalakaua when he declared her his heir apparent. Later, after she was deposed, she was required to revert back to her Christian married name, Lydia K. Dominis.
Although her reign was only two years, it would prove to be eventful. She was the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii as Hawaii was then known. Her reign marked an important crossroads for Hawaii when it was annexed and later made a territory and then granted statehood. Although Queen Liliuokalani strongly resisted these developments, her actions would prove to be important in setting the direction of growth that the newly sewn seeds of democracy would take.
Hawaii’s last sovereign queen was born on September 2, 1838, in Honolulu. She was born to High Chief Caesar Kapa’akea and High Chiefess Keohokalole. Her Christian name given at her baptism was “Lydia.” She became a hanai child when she was offered to High Chief Paki and H.C. Konia (a grand daughter of King Kamehameha I). Hanai is a tradition whereby a child is adopted into a royal family in order to secure a higher rank for that child. The hanai tradition also served to bond the families of chiefs to one another. Liliuokalani’s childhood years were spent studying and playing with Bernice Pauahi, the Paki’s natural daughter, who she considered her hanai sister. Liliuokalani was educated at the Royal School, a boarding school run by Christian missionaries. Although she was unhappy about leaving home, she excelled in her studies and became fluent in English. She also demonstrated a gift for piano and singing—talents that would be important to her throughout life. She enjoyed studying the Greek myths because she could easily relate them to her own knowledge of Hawaiian legends.
On September 16, 1862, at the age of 24, she married John Owen Dominis, who became Governor of Oahu and Maui. They had no children together but later she was given three hanai children. When her younger brother Prince William Pitt Leleiohoku died, Liluokalani was made heir apparent by her older brother, then the reigning king, thus becoming “Princess Liliuokalani,” a role that she took seriously. Her own heir apparent for several years was her niece Victoria Kaiulani, although Kaiulani ended up predeceasing her. In 1877 she visited all of the Hawaiian islands including the leper colony on Molokai where Father Damien lived and worked with those suffering from the highly contagious disease of leprosy. In 1881 she was credited with helping to contain a small pox epidemic on the island of Oahu by ordering government ministers to stop travel between the islands.
She served as regent when her brother, King Kalākaua was away on royal business and in that same year she served as an interpreter when she visited Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee with the Hawaiian royal delegation. It was while in England, that the seeds were sewn for the controversial Bayonet Constitution which would limit the power of the monarchy in Hawaii. There were many residents of Hawaii who wished to see a monarchy that was more similar to a Constitutional Monarchy, one that gave less power to reigning heads of state and more authority to a cabinet and legislature. Liluokalani did not agree with her brother’s signing of this agreement after his visit to England and later would attempt to reverse its affects.
When King Kalakaua suddently died, Liliuokalani inherited the throne and was coronated on January 17, 1891. Seven months later her husband, who had been very supportive companion, died as well.
Bayonet Constitution and the sugar trade
Shortly after she gained power she tried to abrogate the “Bayonet Constitution” and draft a new constitution that would restore power to the monarchy. In her new constitution she stipulated that only naturalized or native male Hawaiians could vote. Many Hawaiian subjects, both European and Native, viewed this as a threat to progress.
Additionally, the McKinley Act, which eliminated foreign tariffs, created havoc with Hawaii’s favored status in regards to the sugar industry. The Reciprocity Agreement, a free trade agreement between Hawaii and the United States, helped create a profitable and monopolistic sugar market for Hawaii. Now other countries shared the same tax free privilege and could compete more readily with Hawaii. The struggling economy in Hawaii bolstered the idea of annexation. A group of businessmen and government leaders who supported annexation formed the Committee of Safety. To accomplish their goals they conspired in secret to overthrow the Queen. On January 17, 1893, aided by John L. Stevens, the American minister in Hawaii, who ordered troops from the U.S.S. Boston ashore, the Queen was deposed and a new provisional government was established.
Republic of Hawaii is established
President Grover Cleveland, who was sympathetic with the Queen, commissioned the Blount Report. Aided by its findings he concluded that the overthrow of Liliuokalani was done illegally. On November 16, 1893 he offered to give the throne back to Liliuokalani if she would grant amnesty to everyone involved (She initially refused). The United States House of Representatives agreed with the President but the Senate did not support him. While this process was underway representatives from Hawaii’s new provisional government continued to lobby the federal government for annexation.
Congress responded to President Cleveland’s appeals with another investigation and submitted the Morgan Report, compiled by the United States Senate on February 26, 1894. This report exonerated both Minister Stevens and the U.S. troops from any responsibility for the overthrow. On July 4, 1894, the Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed and Sanford B. Dole became its first president (In 1900 he would become Hawaii’s territorial governor). The Republic of Hawaii was recognized immediately by the United States government, although Walter Q. Gresham, Cleveland’s Secretary of State, remained antagonistic towards the new government.
Liliuokalani was arrested on January 16, 1895 (several days after a failed rebellion by Robert Wilcox) when firearms were found in the gardens of her home. She denied any involvement or prior knowledge of the firearms. She was sentenced to five years of hard labor in prison and fined $5000, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment in an upstairs bedroom of Iolani Palace.
After eight months she abdicated her throne in return for the release of her jailed supporters. Failing to regain her throne after her appeals to the American government, she unsuccessfully entered claims against the federal government totaling $450,000 for property and other losses, and made personal claim to the crown lands. The territorial legislature of Hawaii finally voted her an annual pension of $4,000 and permitted her to receive the income from a sugar plantation of 6,000 acres (24 km²). She went home to Washington Place, where she lived as a private citizen until her death in 1917. She died due to complications from a stroke. She was 79 years old. She is interred at the Manuma’ala Royal Mausoleum in Nu’uanu.
On July 7, 1898 President William McKinley signed the Annexation Treaty. Liliuokalani visited Washington D.C. to protest, even though it seemed that annexation was inevitable. Although ordered to revert to the name of Lydia Dominis, she was still regarded as “Queen” by the people of Hawaii. She and her supporters refused to attend Annexation Day on August 12th of that year.
Hawaii was annexed at the same time as Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, the former colonies of Spain taken over by the U.S. after the Spanish-American War. Cuba, however, where the precipitating event of the war occurred (the explosion of the battleship USS Maine in Havana), was never annexed by the United States.
In 1900, under President Theodore Roosevelt, Hawaii became an official Territory of the United States. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill granting Hawaii statehood. Hawaii formally became the 50th state of the Union on August 21, 1959. In 1993, 100 years after the overthrow, President Bill Clinton sighed a Congressional resolution (Public Law 103-150) in which the United States government formally apologized to the Native Hawaiian people.
In 1897 Liliuokalani wrote Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, in which she gives her account of Hawaiian history including the overthrow of the monarchy.
Queen Lili`uokalani was a talented musician and accomplished composer. She wrote approximately 165 songs, including Ke Aloha O Ka Haku — The Queen’s Prayer, which was written during her imprisonment. Her best known composition was the popular and lasting favorite Aloha `Oe. Additionally, she translated many Hawaiian stories into English.
Before her death she established a trust fund for orphaned Hawaiian children. The social service agency, “Queen Liliuokalani’s Children Center,” which is still in existence today, was created by her trust to help orphaned and economically disadvantaged Hawaiian children.