Liliuokalani (1838–1917)

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Liliuokalani (1838–1917)

Queen of Hawaii and last sovereign of the Islands, whose monarchy, despite the support of her people, was illegally overthrown by white settlers prior to Hawaii's annexation by the United States. Name variations: Lili'uokalani or Lili'uokalani; Lili'uokalani Lydia Kamekaha; Mme. Aorena; named Liliu Loloku Walania Kamakaeha at birth, commonly called Liliu, later christened Lydia and known as Lydia Kamakaeha Paki or Lidia Kamakhaeha Paki; renamed Lili'uokalani by her brother Kalakaua; sometimes referred to as Lily of Kilarney by Americans who could not pronounce her name. Pronunciation: Lee-lee-ew-kah-lah-nee. Born on September 2, 1838, in Honolulu, Hawaii; died of a stroke in Honolulu on November 11, 1917; daughter of the high chief, Kapaakea, and the chiefess, Keohokalole, a councilor to King Kamehameha III; sister of Kalakaua (1836–1891), king of Hawaii (r. 1874–1891); according to the Hawaiian custom of hanai, she was adopted at birth by Abner Paki and his wife Konia, granddaughterof Kamehameha I; educated at the High Chiefs Children's School and Oahu College; married John Owen Dominis, in 1862; children: no natural children; was hanai mother to Lydia, John Dominis Aimoku, and Joseph Kaipo Aea.

Named Princess Liliuokalani when her brother was elected king (1874); named heir apparent (1877); served as regent while king was abroad (1881); adopted first of three children (1882); began Liliuokalani Educational Society for young girls (1886); attended Queen Victoria's jubilee (1887); succeeded brother as the queen of the Hawaiian Islands (1891); overthrown (1893); accused of treason, forced to sign an act of abdication and imprisoned for eight months (1895); protested annexation of Hawaiian Islands by the United States (1897); established the Liliuokalani Trust for the benefit of orphaned and destitute children of Hawaiian blood (early 1900s). Author of over 200 songs, including the Hawaiian National Anthem, "He Mele Lahui Hawaii," "The Queen's Prayer," and the romantic "Aloha Oe."

When Liliuokalani succeeded her brother to the throne in January 1891, Hawaii was already ripe for revolt by its haole (foreign) residents, whose visions for Hawaii's future differed dramatically from those of the Hawaiians. The first permanent American and European settlers had been in the islands for less than 75 years, but their influence had permeated nearly every facet of island life. Most historians agree that by the time Liliuokalani assumed the throne, there was little she could have done to change the direction in which her homeland was moving. On January 24, 1895, Queen Liliuokalani, under pressure from the provisional government, signed an act of abdication and formally ended the hereditary monarchy in Hawaii. She had been queen for two years.

I could not turn back the time for the political change, but there is still time to save our heritage. You must remember never to cease to act because you fear you may fail.


Liliu grew up with strong Hawaiian sentiments that were in conflict with the lessons she received in school. Born in 1838 into the alii (chief class) and a chiefess in her own right, Liliu was elevated to an even higher status by her hanai (adoptive) parents, Abner and Konia Paki . The practice of hanai, in which a child is given to another family to raise as their own, was an old Hawaiian custom that grew out of the desire to cement ties between clans and rulers and was considered a mark of high esteem, great trust and affection. The bond between a child and her or his hanai parents was often stronger than the child's ties to her or his natural parents.

At the age of four, Liliu began to attend the missionary school for children of the island chiefs. There she learned math and to read and write English, a language which was still new to the islands and not heard in most Hawaiian homes during the 1800s. Liliu was a capable student with an enquiring mind who expanded her knowledge to include music, becoming one of few Hawaiians who could read or write music at the time. This love of music stayed with her throughout her life and prompted her to produce over 200 pieces of music, including the Hawaiian national anthem and the romantic "Aloha Oe." Liliu's desire to learn never dimmed; in her late 20s, she used her considerable powers of persuasion to convince the Oahu College, which was restricted to males, to accept her as an informal student.

Liliu's early years in the missionary school, where she was taught strict, narrow views of morality and propriety that strongly contrasted with the warm easygoing ways of her own people, had a profound impact on her. She noted in later years that she grew up listening during the day to the missionaries stress the correctness of marrying a haole (European or American), and listening in the evening to her father, a staunch believer in Hawaii for Hawaiians, railing against the increasing influence of the haoles.

Both Abner and Konia Paki died during 1857, and Liliu was sent to live with her cousin, Bernice Pauahi Bishop . Bernice, another hanai daughter of the Pakis, had strong ties to the reigning monarch Kamehameha IV and, through her, Liliu spent the next several years steeped in the life of the Hawaiian court. She experienced firsthand the king's power when Kamehameha IV shot and killed his private secretary over a breach in etiquette. Such summary executions were understood and accepted, but incidents like this reinforced the young girl's feelings about the responsibility vested in the Hawaiian monarch.

Although she was not then in the line of succession to the throne, Liliu's parentage, both natural and adoptive, made her an attractive prospective bride. She was courted by many young men, both Hawaiian and haole. Chief among these was Prince Lunalilo, a personable fun-lover who had been selected by Kamehameha IV to marry his sister, Princess Victoria . Victoria was strong-willed and, although very fond of Lunalilo, was determined to marry Liliu's brother, David Kalakaua. Victoria and David eventually became engaged, leaving Prince Lunalilo free to court Liliu. Victoria was unstable, however, and within a few months she called off her engagement to David and declared that she would marry Lunalilo after all. The following day, disregarding Victoria's pronouncement, Lunalilo asked Liliu to marry him, and they became publicly engaged. During Liliu's engagement to Lunalilo, Victoria's instability became more pronounced, and she turned to alcohol and sorcery. Liliu permanently replaced her at court. Known for her compassion toward others, Liliu had an overriding and often misplaced sense of responsibility for their happiness. Contemporaries described her as one who took the blame for failure upon herself, whether or not it was rightly hers. Within weeks, she called off her engagement to Lunalilo, expecting him to return to Victoria. But the gesture was futile; neither Victoria nor Lunalilo ever married, and both lost their health to alcoholism.

In 1859, Liliu was reintroduced to John Owen Dominis, a good friend of the bishop's

and, as the son of a retired British sea captain, a former student with her at the missionary school. They became engaged in 1860 and were married in 1862, despite the objections of Dominis' mother, who so disapproved of her son marrying a Hawaiian that she refused to attend the ceremony. Unfortunately for Liliu, immediately after the wedding she and her husband moved into her mother-in-law's residence at Washington Place, Honolulu.

According to Liliu's friends, the marriage was far from ideal. Liliu felt that she was an interloper in her mother-in-law's home. Mrs. Dominis refused to allow any Hawaiian foods into her house, banishing Hawaiian delicacies, as well as poi and fish, in favor of baked beans. To avoid conflict with her mother-in-law, Liliu was reduced to receiving Hawaiian visitors in a small cottage on the grounds of the main house. The Dominises, mother and son, had strong ideas about most things that often conflicted with Liliu's opinions, and Dominis consistently took his mother's side against his wife. He criticized her handwriting, her use of English, and her Hawaiian-style generosity toward family and friends. Years later, when several of his infidelities became public, he accused Liliu of having absorbed too much of the missionaries' attitudes toward sexuality and pronounced her frigid.

In 1863, Prince Lot came to the Hawaiian throne as Kamehameha V, and—in a stunning challenge to the increasingly strong control of the haoles—he refused to take the oath to maintain the existing Hawaiian constitution, which had been drafted in 1852 under the supervision of the missionaries. Instead, he called a constitutional convention. The convention delegates, mired in conflicting interests, failed to produce anything useful. Disgusted with the process, Kamehameha V dissolved the convention, dismissed the delegates, and publicly abrogated the 1852 constitution, replacing it with one of his own that was to last for 23 years.

Liliu's personal life continued to deteriorate, due primarily to her failed relationship with her mother-in-law. Whatever private strife there was between Liliu and her husband, she never ceased to campaign for governmental roles for him. Kamehameha V was persuaded to appoint Dominis as his private secretary and, in later years, governor of the island of Oahu. The extent of their disaffection became obvious, however, in 1868, when Liliu inherited land containing two houses in Waikiki. It was the first property that Liliu had ever owned in her own right, and it meant freedom to do as she wished. She moved out of Washington Place and into the main house at Waikiki. Dominis elected to stay with his mother.

In December 1872, Kamehameha V died and was succeeded by Lunalilo, now a dissolute pawn of the haoles, who was reduced to receiving a living allowance from his guardian, an American banker. Lunalilo died of dissipation in 1874 without leaving an heir. The choice of the next Hawaiian monarch was left up to the legislature, which was split between those favoring David Kalakaua, Liliu's brother, and those favoring the widow of Kamehameha IV, Queen Emma . Support for both factions was strong and divisive. The populace generally supported Queen Emma's claim, but the largely American legislature was afraid of her pro-British sympathies and backed Kalakaua. When Kalakaua was finally elected king, the populace rioted. Kalakaua responded by permitting troops to be landed from two American warships anchored in the harbor, as well as from the British man-of-war Tenedos. The dissention caused by both warring factions divided the Hawaiian people into two political camps and permanently weakened their ability to hold the haole interests at bay.

Upon David Kalakaua's accession to the throne, his sister Liliu's status changed from chiefess to princess. Along with the new title came a new name conferred by the king: Liliuokalani. In 1877, Prince Leleiiohoku, the heir apparent, died. In a bid for power, the boy's hanai mother, Princess Ruth (Ruth Keelikolani ), declared that she was now next in line to the throne. Kalakaua countered Ruth's move by officially declaring Princess Liliuokalani the heir apparent.

In 1881, Kalakaua made a trip around the world. The original plans, put forward by what Liliuokalani referred to as "the missionary party" which controlled Kalakaua's Cabinet, were for her to remain behind as regent, supervised by a council of regency. Although she would be head of this council, she would be prohibited from taking any action without its approval. Interpreting this as an example of the party's efforts to undermine the constitutional rulers of the Hawaiian people, Liliuokalani argued the arrangement with Kalakaua, stating that if there was need for a council, then there was no need for a regent. Her arguments won Kalakaua over, and before he left Liliuokalani was named sole regent.

Her regency was a success, although it proved a precursor for future conflicts with Kalakaua's Cabinet ministers. While the king was gone, smallpox broke out in Honolulu. In direct opposition to the Cabinet (which feared loss of trade and damage to ongoing commerce), Liliuokalani stopped communication between the islands, prohibited vessels from taking passengers, and instituted a strict quarantine. The measures worked, and the disease remained confined to the city with reduced loss of life.

King Kalakaua had gone to the United States to formalize the lease of Pearl Harbor to the Americans in exchange for a reciprocity treaty which would give the islands trade benefits. Liliuokalani was strongly opposed to the lease, fearing it would be the first step toward annexation by the Americans. From the States, Kalakaua traveled to Japan, China, Siam (now Thailand), and India to negotiate for contract laborers for the sugar plantations. According to Liliuokalani, Kalakaua's solution to the problem of labor gave the sugar planters:

the opportunity to raise sugar at an enormous profit; and he thus devoted the earlier part of his reign to the aggrandizement of the very persons who, as soon as they had become rich and powerful, forgot his generosity, and plotted a subversion of his authority and an overthrow of the constitution under which the kingdom had been happily governed for nearly a quarter of a century.

Liliuokalani remained childless and was thwarted in her attempts to become hanai to a child by both her husband and his mother, who disapproved of the practice. In 1882, however, she learned that her husband was the father of an illegitimate child born to a half-Hawaiian woman. With this information, Liliuokalani was able to break the resistance against her taking a child as hanai. The boy became known as John Dominis Aimoku. Shortly thereafter, Liliuokalani took in a little girl she named Lydia and another male child, Joseph Kaipo Aea. Always interested in the welfare of children, Liliuokalani organized an education society in 1886. This society was created to interest Hawaiian women in the proper training of young girls of their own race, whose parents were unable to prepare them for the duties of life. This was the beginning of the Liliuokalani Educational Society.

In 1887, Liliuokalani and her husband traveled to England with Queen Kapiolani for Queen Victoria 's grand jubilee. They first sailed to San Francisco and then traveled overland to Washington, D.C., where they dined with President Grover Cleveland before boarding a steamer for London. The power and the grandeur of the British court deeply impressed Liliuokalani, as did the cordiality and respect they received from the British. Fresh from this triumph, they returned to Honolulu to find that the annexationist Reform Party had forced a new Cabinet on Kalakaua and prevailed upon him to sign a constitution of their own preparation. This document decreed that a foreigner, even without naturalization, was eligible to vote, but required all voters to be able to read and write in Hawaiian, English or some other European language, effectively disenfranchising 90% of the native population. The document became known as "The Bayonet Constitution." King Kalakaua maintained that he had signed the document because he feared for his life at the hands of his Cabinet ministers. The advent of the Bayonet Constitution brought a steady shift of power from the monarch to the hands of his ministers.

In 1889, Kalakaua traveled to the United States for a meeting with the Hawaiian minister to discuss the McKinley Bill, which placed a stiff tariff on imported sugar. Once again, he placed Liliuokalani in charge as regent. Kalakaua died

on the trip home, and official notification of his death was received in January 1891. Even before the funeral could be held, the ministers and councilors drew together, summoned Liliuokalani to appear before them and prevailed upon her to take the oath of office. They informed her, as they had Kalakaua, that she could make no changes in the Cabinet except by legislative approval. Immediately upon her assumption of the throne, Prime Minister John L. Stevens met with Liliuokalani and laid down the guidelines under which she would rule. In a complicated move which backfired, he urged her to give the Cabinet new commissions under her royal seal. Liliuokalani replied that before she could do so they would have to tender their resignations. Once the resignations were in her hand, she shrewdly appealed to Supreme Court Judge Samuel Dole, who upheld her right to dismiss the Cabinet. Liliuokalani quickly installed a new Cabinet made up of men whom she believed would support her monarchy.

Liliuokalani, described by Hawaiian and American newspapers as "well educated, tactful, a woman of state craft and even handsome," began her reign with the nation in debt and a financially crippling civil list. Kalakaua had reduced crown income by selling off large tracts of crown property to pay both his personal debts and some incurred by the country. In an attempt to economize, Liliuokalani reduced the allowances given to herself and the other royals. This move prompted angry rumors among the legislators that she also intended to reduce the monies paid to the ministers from $10,000 to $8,000.

During 1891, American businessmen in Hawaii were losing vast sums of money due to the McKinley Tariff and were, therefore, pushing for annexation. Prime Minister Stevens noted that Hawaii lost $12 million in revenue due to the tariff. He believed that annexation was necessary, if for no other reason than to protect the sugar interests, which were primarily owned by Americans. Recognizing the danger, Liliuokalani attempted to ameliorate the loss of trade due to the McKinley Tariff by instituting another reciprocity treaty. The U.S. angered her by refusing to respond, and her Cabinet began to fear that Liliuokalani, who was known to favor the English and had several part-British advisors, would put American interests aside in favor of the English. Following Kamehameha V's example, she sent emissaries to talk to her people and ascertain what they wanted from their monarch: the answer was a strong monarchy they could understand, a stronger place for themselves, and no annexation by a foreign power. All of this ran counter to the annexation spirations of the Reform Party.

In August 1891, John Dominis died. Although their personal life had been strained, Liliuokalani valued his judgment and had relied upon him for advice. His death left her alone to battle the opposition. Between May 1892 and January 1893, seven motions of no confidence in her Cabinet ministries were introduced; four succeeded. Liliuokalani turned to one of the few people she trusted, the British ambassador. He told her he believed she had the right to choose her Cabinet from her personal favorites. Liliuokalani compromised; she appointed one of her staunchest opponents, G.N. Wilcox, as premier and minister of interior and filled the rest of the Cabinet with her supporters. The House accepted the new Cabinet.

On January 4, 1893, the legislature passed two controversial bills. One was a lottery bill designed to generate funds that would be used to finance public works to benefit the Hawaiians. The other was a law regulating the traffic in opium, which they had given up trying to suppress. Liliuokalani signed the two bills on January 13, 1893, despite heavy opposition from the right. Prime Minister Stevens saw the queen's act as an affront, and the next day her Cabinet was subjected to another no-confidence vote. The queen retaliated by officially ending the session of the legislature.

Liliuokalani now believed that the only way to save her small country from "being given away by 'guests' was to change the form of government to a strong monarchy by promulgating a new constitution." Her proposed constitution contained three major changes: it increased the franchise to her people by restricting the vote to Hawaiian-born or naturalized citizens; it restricted the terms of justices of the supreme court to six years rather than life; and it increased the power of the queen by requiring Cabinet ministers to serve at the queen's pleasure, in addition to being subject to removal by legislative want of confidence. Additionally, Article 78 of the 1887 constitution, stating that "all official acts of the sovereign [are] to be performed with the advice and consent of the Cabinet," was to be removed. The ministers refused to sign it, and its contents were leaked to the press.

The local paper, which was decidedly in favor of annexation, declared that the queen had violated her oath by dissolving the legislature and putting forth a new constitution and, by violating her oath, "had absolved her subjects from allegiance; therefore the throne was vacant." This doctrine of self-abdication by violation of her oath became the official justification of the provisional government for overthrowing the monarchy. Sanford Dole, Hawaii's first president, said later, "The Queen was an insurgent. She had rebelled against her own government."

At 5 pm on January 16, 1893, 162 American troops marched fully armed through the streets of Honolulu and took control of the consulate, the legation, and the government building. The climax occurred the next day, January 17, when a lengthy proclamation deposing the queen was printed and broadcast. It called for absolute abolition of the monarchy, establishment of a provisional government until annexation by the United States, and details for the composition of a new government.

The queen's advisors cautioned her against any demonstration that would precipitate bloodshed, and, always mindful of the welfare of her people, she was persuaded to surrender under protest without a shot being fired.

Liliuokalani sent her protests to President Benjamin Harrison and his successor, Grover Cleveland (who was serving his second term, having skipped four years). Neither were really interested in annexing the islands. Cleveland believed that Stevens had plotted for overthrow and annexation for his own interests and requested an investigation. It concluded that the queen had been illegally overthrown with the aid of American naval forces and that John L. Stevens had been prominent in the overthrow.

In November, a new commissioner met with the queen and forwarded Cleveland's regret that she had been overthrown. He asked her to grant full amnesty of life and property to those instrumental in the overthrow, in return for her restoration to the throne. Liliuokalani replied that she would expect permanent banishment of all revolutionists and their families, but she later agreed to yield on the point of banishment. After Liliuokalani complied with Cleveland's requests, she expected the United States to reinstate the monarchy, but the strength of the provisional government surprised everyone. Hawaii's President Dole refused to abide by the decision of President Cleveland, stating that the provisional government did not recognize the right of the United States to interfere in its affairs.

Liliuokalani retired to private life, splitting her time between Honolulu and California, until, in January 1895, a band of Royalists tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the provisional government. Liliuokalani was arrested and confined at Iolani Palace. Her house at Washington Place was searched, and bombs, rifles and cartridge belts were found buried in her garden. Her private papers were confiscated along with those of her deceased husband, and the provisional government seized the house.

On the fourth day of her confinement, she was told that she and six others had been condemned to be shot for treason. On January 24, 1895, she was forced to sign an act of abdication. Once this document was signed, the charge of treason was changed to misprision (misconduct or neglect of duty), the death sentence was dropped, and she was fined $5,000 and sentenced to five years' hard labor. The sentence was never enforced, and she spent the following months confined to two rooms in the Iolani Palace.

Eight months after her arrest, Liliuokalani was paroled to her house. When a pardon followed in December, she sailed for San Francisco, Boston, and then Washington, D.C., where she met with President Cleveland and stayed for William McKinley's inauguration. When, in June 1897, McKinley sent the annexation treaty to the Senate, Liliuokalani protested the theft of her country to the Department of State. Her protests went unanswered, and in August 1898, in the midst of the Spanish-American War, the Hawaiian Islands were annexed by the U.S. as a territory. Liliuokalani continued to protest to the U.S. government through 1909 regarding the disposition of crown lands, some 911,888 acres valued at $22 each in 1908 that had been confiscated by the provisional government. In 1912, the Territorial government began to pay Liliuokalani approximately $12,000 a year, ostensibly in reparations for the crown properties.

Liliuokalani spent the remainder of her life traveling between California and Hawaii. In her later years, she used her lands to establish the Liliuokalani Trust for the benefit of orphaned and destitute children of Hawaiian blood. This trust was later challenged by her nephew, Kuhio Kalanianaole, who charged that she was mentally incompetent and that the lands should pass to him as her only surviving relative. The suit was decided in her favor, and the trust remains active.

While crowds of Hawaiians gathered in her Honolulu gardens to chant softly for their queen, Liliuokalani died of a stroke, at the age of 79, in 1917. She was honored and buried with the old customs of her people, her head crowned with the royal diadem she had not worn in 25 years.


Allen, Helen G. The Betrayal of Lili'uokalani Last Queen of Hawaii. Glendale, CA: Arthur H. Clark, 1982.

Daws, Gavan. Shoal of Time. Honolulu, HI: University Press of Hawaii, 1968.

Irwin, Bernice Piilani. I Knew Queen Liliuokalani. Honolulu, HI: Distributed by South Sea Sales, 1960.

Liliuokalani. Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle, 1964.

Russ, William Adam, Jr. The Hawaiian Revolution (1893–94). Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1959.

Paula Steib , freelance writer, Kaneohe, Hawaii