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Hawaiian Revolution Essay, Research Paper

In the middle of the the nineteenth century, the Hawaiian Kingdom was a sovereign nation. the Kingdom had a monarchy that dated back to the English explorer Captain Cook’s arrival in the eighteenth century. By the end of the century United States influence would continue to grow, from American influence within the kingdom to active involvment in the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of a new government. The role that the United States played was critical to the study of history during that period in Hawaii.

The relations of the Hawaiian kingdom to the United States, intimate from the arrival in the islands of American missionaries and the first ships of the Pacific whaling fleet in 1820, were drawn immensely closer by the reciprocity treaty of 1875. That treaty, admitting free of duty to each country the principal products of the other and pledging the Hawaiian Government not alienate any port or territory in the kingdom to any other power, virtually made Hawaii an economic colony of the United States. The treaty was thought by many as a step preliminary to the political annexation which had been a subject of negotiation between the two governments

The treaty of 1875 was to run for seven years, terminable by either party at one year?s notice. By a new treaty, negotiated in 1884, and ratified in 1887, the treaty was extended another seven years with one major provision not included in the 1875 treaty. This key provision stated that the US should enjoy the exclusive right to use Pearl Harbor as a coaling station and repairing of its ships. Thus, the ties were drawing closer still.

The reciprocity treaties were a great stimulus to the Hawaiian industry, particularly the production of sugar, and trade between Hawaii and the west coast of the United States. Sugar production increased nearly five fold from 1877 to1887 and doubled again in the next 10 years. Hawaii enjoyed a period of phenomenal prosperity, which was however, largely dependent on the continuance of the favored status enjoyed by Hawaiian sugar in the American market .

The principal beneficiaries of this boom in industry and trade were the sugar planters, most of them of American birth or descent. Nearly all of the better agricultural land had passed largely into the hands of the men of this class. Hawaiian economics came to be typified by large, white owned plantations worked by Asian laborers. In 1887, a constitution, often referred to as the Bayonet Constitution, was reluctantly approved by King Kalakaua which sought to reign in the power of the monarch and increase the political powers of the white land owners .

In 1890 the United States Congress caused a financial panic in Honolulu by passing the McKinley Tariff Act . The tariff bill put raw sugar on the free list for imports and compensated American producers two cents per pound of sugar . The Hawaiian foreign minister Henry A. Carter lobbied Washington to reconsider the bill prior to its passing. In May of 1890, Carter left a memorandum at the State Department that pointed out the injustice of a bill that essentially abrogated the American agreement of reciprocity. The intent of reciprocity was to put Hawaii at a greater advantage as a foreign producer of sugar than other importing countries.

Also omitted from the act was a section that exempted Hawaii from the new duties of other goods imposed on other importing countries. Carter warned U.S. Secretary of State James Blaine that if the error in the law were not corrected, Hawaii would be compelled to abrogate the entire treaty. The United States would lose its exclusive use of Pearl Harbor, and Hawaii would look to Great Britain for reciprocity with Canada or Australia. The error in the bill was corrected. Hawaiian products continued to enter the United States duty free, as had been arranged by the treaties. Hawaii?s chief export had to now compete with all other foreign sugar, including a much more proximal Cuba, and with American grown sugar which enjoyed a bounty of two cents per pound. The effect in the kingdom was serious. Sugar prices in the islands dropped by forty percent, and property values plummeted as well .

King Kalakaua took a much needed trip away from the islands for both his failing health and for pleasure to San Francisco. The king?s sister, Lydia Liliuokalani assumed the royal duties while the King was abroad. Kalakaua?s health did not return though, and on January 20, 1891 the king died . In the meantime, Minister Carter petitioned the United States for a treaty that would be more favorable to the Hawaiians. Carter died in the fall on 1891, and was succeeded by J. Mott Smith. The impatient Hawaiian legislature drafted a proposed treaty, and after a month Blaine and Smith reached an agreement on the wording of the treaty and submitted it to President Harrison for approval. Weeks later, President Harrison announced that he would not submit the treaty to the Senate for approval because it was not consistent with his party?s commitment to protection.

After the Democratic victory of Grover Cleveland in November, Smith was informed by Blaine?s successor, Secretary Foster, that the President would not consider the free trade treaty and that chances would be better under the incoming Democratic administration . Without the knowledge of Mott Smith, events had begun in Honolulu that were more momentous than any free trade treaty.

During these two years of negotiations over a new treaty, almost all diplomatic meetings were in Washington. These meetings of treaty negotiations and trade talks were usually between the Hawaiian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State. The language of the letters between these two groups do suggest that Hawaii would remain anything but equal and sovereign. Carter and Smith both reported that Blaine had no desire to disturb in any way the relations between Hawaii and other nations and that he desired Hawaii to remain independent under a stable government. In December 1891, Smith wrote to Samuel Parker, the Hawaiian minister of foreign affairs that ?? you may be reassured that the United States will not interfere in our affairs except by desire of the Queen, in times of pilikia (domestic disorder), and then only to withdraw when order shall have been restored.??

The correspondence between the Department of State and the American minister in Honolulu was very different though. The role that John Stevens played in the events of the revolution was so critical, that an examination of his actions without an examination of his thoughts prior to these events would not be a complete one. John Stevens, an ardent annexationist, was well liked by the American aristocracy in the islands from the moment he stepped off the ship in September 1890 for obvious reasons. Any friend of the American business in the islands was a friend of the businessmen that grew to control the government as time passed.

The letters of Minister John Stevens in Hawaii to the State department were full of disturbing accounts of domestic strife and foreign meddling in the islands. As the months passed the letter became more and more insistent on annexation to the United States as the only remedy to Hawaii?s troubles. In the meantime Stevens pressed for a stronger American presence in the islands. He requested in August of 1891 that an American man-of-war be placed in the harbor at all times to protect the American interests in the kingdom. The following February, Stevens wrote that annexation sentiments among the businessmen and native population were growing. The political situation was feverish he claimed as well. Revolution against the American-born elected government was imminent Stevens wrote . That annexation sentiments were high among businessman, almost all American, is likely. Among the native population, however, annexation was furthest from their minds. In a letter to Blaine in March 1892, Stevens described in detail what events might occur if a revolution were to take place, and asked Blaine for directions in that event. This letter was apparently in reply to one sent by Blaine asking Stevens what the sentiments were for annexations although the Blaine letter is not on record .

The nation was running into debt. American businessmen saw annexation as the only way to ease the financial troubles created out of the McKinley Bill. Queen Liliuokalani began seeking relief from the economic difficulties placed on Hawaii by the McKinley Tariff Act once again. If the hardships placed on the economy by the free sugar clauses could be eased, annexation sentiment might subside. Published reports in the United States of the political unrest in the islands ended the chances for another treaty. If there was going to be no government, what would be the purpose of a treaty?

Discontent had grown among whites and the natives, whites for economic reasons and the natives for social justice reasons such as property and the right to vote. The elections of 1892 in the Hawaiian legislature gave no one party a clear majority, but the aristocratic Reform party and the Liberal Party now had enough seats to enable them to vote out the monarchy friendly National Reform ministry. The leaders of both the Reform and Liberal parties sought annexation by this time. The Reform leaders hoped to reach their end by an orderly legislative process, while the Liberals were ready for violence.

The Queen, having grown tired of the constraints put on her administration by the Constitution of 1887, began a series of events that would forever change the Kingdom of Hawaii. On Saturday, January 14, 1893, Liliuokalani attempted the unconstitutional act of proclaiming a new constitution by ?royal edict.? The document that was drawn up would have essentially reversed the effects of the 1887 Constitution. The power of the Queen would have been increased, and the power of the white owners of island property would have lessened significantly. Considering the anti-monarchal feelings at the time, nothing could have been more naive. The Queen?s ministers, fearful for their lives, refused to participate. Without their support the Queen feared to continue. She announced that because of the desertion of her ministers she would have to postpone the announcement of the creation of a new constitution.

In the meantime, the Queen?s opponents convened across the street and began to formulate plans to defeat the Queen?s attempt at constitutional abrogation. They had bigger plans in mind though. A committee of safety was formed having thirteen members, and the office was cleared of all but these thirteen. All thirteen were members of the Annexation Club. These members met at various homes on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. An attempt was made to secure the blessing and cooperation of two of the Queen?s cabinet members, John F. Colburn and A. P. Peterson. Lorrin Thurston, the committee leader, informed Colburn and Peterson that the committee was determined to remove the Queen and establish a provisional government. Thurston tried to give some legitimacy to the imminent revolution by securing members of the Queen?s own cabinet to their cause, but the two refused to cooperate.

The momentum of the now very public movement of the Reformers to oust the Queen and establish a new government in favor of annexation to the United States had caused the Queen to retreat publicly as well. Initially the Queen announced that the granting of a new constitution had been postponed for a short time. By Monday morning, however, Liliuokalani issued a statement through her ministers which declared that her measure on Saturday had been taken under great stress from her native subjects, and that any future changes in the constitution would be sought only by methods provided in the constitution. The revolutionary events continued though despite the Queen?s assurances.

On Tuesday, the committee asked for troops to be landed from the USS Boston to protect the ?interests? of American businessmen, but they requested that they not come ashore until the next morning. This was to keep the Queen from requesting Stevens? support her against those seeking to overturn her government. The de facto government had to be existing when the troops landed. Stevens refused to agree to a delay. The troops were ordered to land at five o?clock. The troops marched around the city for a time in a show of force, and were finally ordered to a vacant building across from the Government Building.

On Tuesday, January 17, the committee read from the steps of the Government Building a proclamation announcing the abrogation of the monarchy and the institution of a provisional government to exist until terms of the annexation to the United States had been agreed upon. All officers, except the Queen, her cabinet, and the marshall were requested to continue in the governmental duties. The new government once again asked recognition from the United States minister and other members of the diplomatic corps and invited the members of the Queen?s cabinet to a conference.

In response, the Queen asked Minister Stevens for help in restoring her rule. Stevens did not reply to the Queen that he intended on helping her cause in anyway. A small altercation occurred while revolutionaries collected arms that distracted the attention of the city long enough to take possession of the Government building. Liliuokalani could do very little to stop the revolutionaries who had the support of the United States. Shortly after sundown she surrendered to the ?superior force of the United States? instead of the revolutionaries. She did this because she believed that after the United States government knew the facts of the revolution and its own involvement in them, they would support her return to the thrown with the same authority they had supported her removal thereof. Marshal Wilson handed the police station, the only real armory of the Queen?s supporters, over and the Hawaiian soldiers at the barracks near the palace laid their weapons down. The Hawaiian monarchy had ended.

Immediately a group of annexation commissioners from the new government headed to Washington to plead their case for annexation, and they were followed by a smaller group of royalist sympathizers of Queen Liliuokalani and the Princess Kaiulani, heir to the throne. The Republican President Harrison, while very sympathetic to the annexationists intentions could really do little since he would sone be replaced by President-elect Cleveland in March. Harrison sent a draft of a treaty which authorized territorial status recognition to the Senate on February 14. As soon as Cleveland took office, however, he withdrew the treaty and demanded a secret investigation into the events of the revolution and the United States role in it. Former chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, James Blount, was sent to investigate the situation in Hawaii and report back on the American involvement through diplomats and the military.

Blount did just that, and reported what was not expected, the truth. Blount published a report that stated that Minister Stevens helped to overthrow the monarchy. The treaty of annexation was asked not to be put before the Senate again by Cleveland?s secretary of state, Walter Gresham. Gresham and Blount both recommended the United States help restore the monarchy. A feeble attempt was made, but when Liliuokalani refused amnesty for the revolutionaries and the revolutionary government refused to relinquish control of the government, all hope for a return of the monarchy died.

In 1898 Queen Liliuokalani wrote and had published Hawaii?s Story as a plea to the United States government to restore the monarchy to the throne. In the book the Queen disputed many of the ?facts? of the events that took place surrounding the revolution. The Queen offered a detailed and powerful defense of her actions. The key charge that she disputed was that she had proposed to overthrow the constitution. Queen Lil? claimed that she was acting on the petition of two thirds of the population. Of course most of the two thirds were not voters since suffrage had been severely limited after the Constitution of 1887 was enacted. Queen Lil? sought to right this wrong by limiting the right of suffrage to non-Hawaiians, particularly those who were not even Hawaiian citizens, yet were afforded the right because of their skin color. She intended suffrage be returned to the native born Hawaiian. The brief history of constitutional making in Hawaii was also a brief history in constitutional abrogating by monarchs as well, Queen Lil? pointed out. She stated that she was the only monarch to attempt a constitutional modification with two thirds of the popular vote, and the entire native vote. Queen Lil? had every right to propose amending a constitution that she felt did not serve the people but rather the selfish interest of foreign born business owners.

Queen Liliuokalani also claimed that she had not advocated the death penalty for the revolutionaries as had been reported by the new American Minister during the talks of monarchal restoration. Banishment was initially recommended as a reasonable solution to prevent future insurrections. Queen Lil? even compromised on this issue with the minister and promised complete amnesty if the leaders of the new government would work with hers. The foreign minister however misrepresented her intentions according to Liliuokalani when he reported that she sought the death penalty for her enemies.


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