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The 1893 Attempted Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom
by Keanu Sai

Interview recorded for the television broadcast Aloha Quest
December 1999

On January 16, 1893, the Hawaiian Kingdom was a fully functional nation. It was internationally recognized. It was a member of the family of nations. And it was actively engaged in commerce and trade. It had over 90 consulates throughout the world with ambassadors and ministers assigned to them.

The Hawaiian Kingdom’s independence was threatened by a few individuals calling themselves the Committee of Safety. The Committee of Safety was comprised of six Hawaiian subjects who were not of the native blood, one German national, a British national and five American citizens, for a total of thirteen people. These were traitors.

They decided to commit the crime of treason by declaring a Provisional Government on January 17, 1893. These individuals made a proclamation that said We are the Provisional Government now and we have taken over the monarchial form of government — a government which was fully constitutional.

They conspired with Minister John Stevens, the ambassador assigned to the Hawaiian islands. They had him land American troops. Now mind you, it's only thirteen people that are doing this. But you have United States naval forces and marines coming off the boats.

American troops were landed under the assumption that American lives were in jeopardy. They were really landed for the protection of these individuals calling themselves the Provisional Government.

With the American troops landing, which was in total violation of international law and Hawaiian Kingdom law, because they had no consent, Lili‘uokalani was put in a precarious situation. She was Hawai‘i's head of state at that time. For her to take out these traitors, which she could have easily done, she would run into a problem with the United States.

If we did not by force resist their final outrage, it was because we could not do so without striking at the military force of the United States.

Queen Lili’uokalani
Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen

She realized that Minister Stevens was going to recognize this Provisional Government as being the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Well, what she needed to do was to insure that that couldn’t happen by a legal process. So she yielded her authority, her executive authority, not to the Provisional Government but to the United States government because they landed troops unlawfully on Hawaiian soil.

And she asked for an investigation to be done, to find out that American troops did land in violation of international law and treaties that Hawai‘i had with the United States and, she stated, to restore herself to her constitutional position as the monarch.

I, Lili’uokalani, by the grace of God and under the Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the constitutional Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a provisional government of and for this Kingdom.

That I yield to the superior force of the United States of America, whose minister plenipotentiary, His Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu, and declared that he would support the said provisional government.

Now, to avoid any collision of armed forces and perhaps the loss of life, I do, under this protest, and impelled by said force, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.

Done at Honolulu, this 17th day of January, A.D. 1893.

Lili‘uokalani, R.
Samuel Parker, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Wm. H. Cornwell, Minister of Finance
J. F. Colburn, Minister of the Interior
A. P. Peterson, Attorney-General
Blount Report: Affairs in Hawaii

That very same day Minister Stevens recognized the Provisional Government. Now that's what gave individuals from this provisional government the go-ahead to travel to the United States. And on February 14, they signed a treaty of annexation in Washington and it was submitted to the United States senate for approval.

The problem was, before it could get approved, President Harrison was defeated in the elections by President Grover Cleveland. Grover Cleveland came into office in March. The first thing he saw was Lili’uokalani's letter of protest. He said definitely we have a problem. American troops have landed and they're not supposed to be involved.

He immediately went to the United States senate and he took the treaty out from the senate. And he said You folks will not look at this because I have evidence that American troops were involved. And that is a gross violation of international law.

He then commissioned an envoy named James Blount to do an investigation into this so-called overthrow. As a result, James Blount came to Hawai‘i. He did a full investigation. And his conclusions were: America was wrong; they were in violation of international law; Minister Stevens was wrong; he acted without the consent of the United States government.

As a result, President Cleveland gave a message to the United States congress of his findings. In his message he stated to the United States congress that the Provisional Government was neither de facto nor de jure. What that means is, they're not a lawful government. He said they were just self-proclaimed. As a result, he said "I will never resubmit this treaty of annexation again."

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I believe that a candid and thorough examination of the facts will force the conviction that the Provisional Government owes its existence to an armed invasion by the United States.

The lawful Government of Hawai'i was overthrown without the drawing of a sword or the firing of a shot by a process every step of which, it may safely be asserted, is directly traceable to and dependent for its success upon the agency of the United States acting through its diplomatic and naval representatives.

But for the landing of the U.S. forces....the committee [of safety] would never have exposed themselves to the pains and penalties of treason...

But for the presence of the U.S. forces in the immediate vicinity...the committee would not have proclaimed the Provisional Government

But for the lawless occupation of Honolulu under false pretexts....the Queen...would never have yielded....

...I shall not again submit the treaty of annexation to the Senate for its consideration…

By an act of war, committed with the participation of a diplomatic representative of the United States and without authority of Congress, the Government of a feeble but friendly and confiding people has been overthrown.

A substantial wrong has thus been done which a due regard for our national character as well as the rights of the injured people requires we should endeavor to repair.

Grover Cleveland
message to the U.S. Congress

December 18, 1893

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See also:

Blount Report: Affairs in Hawaii

Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen

Aloha Betrayed – Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism By Noenoe Silva

bibliography, University of Hawai’i library, Hawai’i Pacific Section

The Morgan Report

Petition filed with U.S. Special Commissioner James Blount
by the Hawaiian Patriotic League, March 2, 1893

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Hawaiian Kingdom

Hawaiian Kingdom Presentation to the Permanent Court of Arbitration – The Hague

Hawaiian Society of Law and Politics

Hawai’i Nation

Hawaiian Independence Blog

Perspectives on Hawaiian Sovereignty


Sovereign Stories – online resources

: : :


We Are Who We Were

Act of War – The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation

Aloha Quest – Part 1

Scenes from the Centennial

The Tribunal

July 4th at the Palace


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