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Was Liliuokalani Really Like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi? What really happened in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy?


(c) Copyright 2007 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

On January 16, 2007 the East-West Center in Honolulu hosted a gala bash. The $12 ticket included a panel discussion and pupus (hors d'oeuvres). The purpose was to crown Hawaii's Queen Liliuokalani as a hero in the pantheon of non-violent resistance. The cover of a fancy brochure featured three photos: Queen Liliuokalani, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi.[1]

The event was orchestrated by Hawaiian sovereignty zealots. Also participating were leftwing leaders of the Hawaii chapter of the NAACP, and "peace studies" activists.

For several years the Hawaiian sovereignty folks have collaborated with the NAACP to jointly celebrate the Martin Luther King holiday (this year January 15) and the anniversary of the January 17, 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani.

Of course the word "celebrate" applies only to MLK. It would be politically incorrect to celebrate the overthrow of a corrupt and ineffective monarch who nowadays is an icon of racial pride and resistance to U.S. imperialism. Her statue stands overlooking the Hawaii state capitol building. 365 days a year Hawaiian activists stop by to place fresh flowers in her hand, around her neck, or at her feet; often accompanied by prayers. On important political occasions red-shirted Hawaiian sovereignty zealots stage mass marches (10,000-20,000 strong) from her tomb about two miles away to Iolani Palace (right behind her statue).[2]

First let's briefly review what happened 114 years ago that gives today's activists an excuse for saying she practiced non-violence. Then we'll review two other events showing that she did indeed participate in violence, and was nothing like Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi.

All factual information below about the events of 1893 (including comments about the Blount appointment and Blount Report) is documented in the Morgan Report. This was the 808-page report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1894, which is now easily available on the internet.[3] The committee held hearings for two months, in open session, taking testimony under oath with cross-examination.

On January 17, 1893 a local militia of several hundred armed men took over the Government Building of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and other important buildings in Honolulu. They proclaimed the end of the monarchy, and set up a Provisional Government which later became the Republic of Hawaii. They acted on behalf of a mass meeting of 1500 local men a few days before. Most of them had also been involved in a previous quasi-revolution in 1887 which forced then-King Kalakaua to proclaim a new Constitution reducing him to figurehead status. This time they finally abolished the monarchy once and for all. Within two days the Provisional Government was recognized by the local consuls of all the foreign nations which had diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Hawaii. Later, after the Republic of Hawaii was created with a Constitution and elected legislature, formal dipomatic recognitions came from the capitols. No nation ever protested the overthrow to either the government of Hawaii or the government of the United States.

The excuse for comparing Liliuokalani with Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi is this. As the revolution unfolded in 1893, the Queen made a decision not to fight. She had few men with military training, and much of her arms and ammunition had already been captured where they were previously stored in the Government Building. She surrendered. There was only one minor injury when a royalist policeman was shot while trying to stop a wagonload of rifles headed for the Government Building (the following day leaders of the revolution visited him in the hospital to apologize and wish him well).

The Queen's document of surrender was a carefully written piece of political shrewdness. Rather than surrender to the local militia who had actually defeated her, she wrote: "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 representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands." But interestingly, she ordered her "temporary" surrender letter to be delivered to the Provisional Government rather than to U.S. Minister Stevens. She clearly knew who had defeated her. She hoped to buy time to appeal to a friendly nation far away which might undo the revolution, rather than surrender permanently to her close-up opponents.

Why did she surrender to the U.S.? Who were the United States troops she was referring to?

For several days before January 17 there had been great political upheaval. The Queen had used bribery and threats to push several highly controversial bills through the legislature (lottery, distillery, and opium licensing). She then permanently adjourned the legislature. Immediately thereafter she announced she would unilaterally proclaim a new Constitution. A mass meeting of 1500 revolutionaries at the armory competed against a mass meeting of about half that many royalists at the Palace. There were rumors of impending riots and arson to be directed by ethnic Hawaiians against the homes, businesses and families of the revolutionaries. The anticipated violence had a racial character because most of the revolutionaries were Caucasians of European and American ancestry (many of whom were locally born or naturalized subjects of the Hawaiian Kingdom with full voting rights).

On several occasions of political upheaval in previous years, U.S. and British navy personnel had come ashore as peacekeepers (as was recently done in Liberia, for example). This time the only ship in Honolulu harbor was the USS Boston. Residents of American and European ancestry pleaded with Minister Stevens to land peacekeepers. He sent ashore 162 armed sailors. On their way to a suburban location to spend the night they passed by the Palace and dipped their flag in respect to the Queen. Some royalists assumed the peacekeepers would help them suppress the revolution. Some revolutionists assumed the peacekeepers would help them overthrow the monarchy. Minister Stevens gave orders they were to be strictly neutral; and indeed they were. Unable to stay in the suburb where they were headed, they ended up spending the night in a building in Honolulu on a side street out of sight of both the Palace and the Government Building. They stayed there throughout the revolution.

It turned out the U.S. peacekeepers were not needed because the local militia was strong and the Queen chose not to fight. The peacekeepers did not fire a shot. They did not take over any building or arrest the Queen. They did not surround the Palace or Government Building. They did not patrol the streets. But their presence gave the Queen the excuse she needed to blame the revolution on the U.S., to surrender allegedly to the U.S., and to appeal to President Grover Cleveland to restore her to the throne.

President Cleveland was a personal friend of the Queen. He came into office shortly after the revolution. He immediately sent a political hatchet-man, James Blount, to Honolulu as "Minister Plenipotentiary with paramount powers," but Cleveland never submitted Blount's appointment to the Senate for confirmation. Blount had secret instructions to destabilize the Provisional Government and to write a one-sided report which Cleveland could use in a political effort to stop annexation. After Blount left town Cleveland sent another diplomat, who "ordered" the Provisional Government to step down and restore the Queen. They refused. Cleveland submitted the matter to Congress, probably hoping Congress might authorize troops to put the Queen back on the throne. The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs held hearings in open session with sworn testimony under cross examination. The resulting 808-page "Morgan Report" thoroughly discredited the Blount Report, and confirmed that the Hawaiian revolution had been done by the local militia. The Senate then passed two resolutions saying that neither the U.S. (i.e., Grover Cleveland) nor any other nation should interfere with Hawaii's internal affairs.

Liliuokalani did not meet the fate of other monarchs who were overthrown. The French aristocracy got their heads chopped off by guillotine, while the Russian Tsar and his entire family were shot. Instead, Liliuokalani was escorted to her private home a block from the Palace. The Provisional Government paid her (former) Royal Guard to protect her from possible assassination. Later she showed her gratitude by conspiring in the Wilcox attempted counter-revolution, and then by going to Washington to lobby against the treaty of annexation offered by the Republic of Hawaii in 1897. She lived in that same private home a block from her former Palace until 1917. Meanwhile the Palace became the Capitol of the Territory of Hawaii and then the State of Hawaii until 1968, with the legislature meeting in the former throne room while the U.S. flag flew proudly over the building.

Today Liliuokalani is the poster-girl for Hawaiian sovereignty activists. There are also those who claim the U.S. is an evil empire whose history of armed invasion and occupation of other nations for the purpose of "regime change" got started in Hawaii in 1893.[4]

In 1993 the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution of sentiment apologizing to ethnic Hawaiians for the U.S. role in the overthrow of "their" monarchy (but the Kingdom government and its people were multiracial!). The apology resolution is filled with factual errors, tremendous distortions, and overblown rhetoric.[5] It is being used today as the core rationale behind the Akaka bill -- a bill that has been in Congress since 2000, seeking to authorize creation of a racially exclusionary government for ethnic Hawaiians.[6] Many regard the Akaka bill as a pathway to total independence -- the secession of the entire State of Hawaii from the United States[7] and establishment of a Nation of Hawaii that would be racial supremacist under a theory of indigenous rights. Poster-girl Liliuokalani is the figurehead on the sovereignty ship.

Now let's briefly compare Liliuokalani, King, and Gandhi on the issue of non-violent resistance, to show that King and Gandhi do not deserve to have their reputations smeared by association with her.

The only thing Liliuokalani, King, and Gandhi share is being imprisoned by governments headed by Caucasians.

In 1889 Liliuokalani had conspired with Robert Wilcox in a coup attempt against her brother, King Kalakaua. Seven men were killed and the Palace bungalow was blown up.[8] Was that non-violence?

In the 1893 revolution Liliuokalani surrendered without a fight as a cynical strategic move. She wanted to buy time in hopes her friend Grover Cleveland, who would become President a few weeks later, would use U.S. power to put her back on the throne. A Queen sitting in her Palace giving up without a fight in the face of an armed revolution does not make her a practitioner of non-violent resistance or satyagraha.

During the Summer and Fall of 1893 President Cleveland's emissary to Hawaii tried hard to persuade Liliuokalani to agree to pardon the revolutionaries if they would step down and restore her to the throne. But she reportedly said she would behead them. Her repeated insistence on bloodthirsty revenge caused Cleveland's emissary to back away from making further suggestions to her. In a last-ditch effort in December he "ordered" Provisional Government President Dole to step down and restore the Queen, but Dole (understadably!) refused. Liliuokalani's insistence on bloodthirsty revenge, even to the extent of destroying efforts at mediation, is certainly not the way a practitioner of nonviolence should behave.

Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi both put their lives on the line numerous times in the face of violence directed against them close-up-and-personal. King and Gandhi understood a profound spiritual principle that allowed them to harness the inner core of goodness found buried deep inside even the worst racist. They walked in front of their enemies, knowing they would be beaten and abused; but also knowing that their enemies' inner core would rise to the surface and eventually convert them (or at least convert onlookers) to friends.

In 1895 Liliuokalani again conspired with Wilcox in the 1895 attempted counter-revolution. Guns and bombs were hidden in the flower-bed at her home (Washington Place). She had already written letters of appointment for cabinet ministers and department heads in her anticipated new government. Historian Gavan Daws describes it this way: "The grounds of her home at Washington Place were searched, and in the garden the searchers found what they were looking for -- a regular ammunition dump; twenty-one bombs, some of them made with coconut shells; more than thirty rifles; thirty-eight cartridge belts and about a thousand rounds of ammunition; and some pistols and swords."[9] For that violent crime, and to provide deterrence for royalists who might try it again, she was justifiably sentenced to prison. Martin Luther King's "crime" was parading without a permit. Gandhi's "crime" was going to the ocean to gather salt. Neither of them had guns and bombs at home or anywhere else.

Martin Luther King's prison was a small dirty dungeon with bars and snarling guard dogs. Liliuokalani's "prison" was a huge room at 'Iolani Palace, larger than most peoples' two bedroom apartments today. In her Palace room she had a full-time maidservant. She also had lots of arts and crafts supplies to pursue her hobbies -- she made a quilt containing royalist political symbols, and composed songs with political double-meanings. The quilt today is displayed with reverence right where she sewed it, and the songs are played at sovereignty rallies.

Liliuokalani was head of a multiracial government, but she used her great political power primarily to pursue racial supremacy. She tried to proclaim a new Constitution to grab near-dictatorial powers for herself. There were reports that her new Constitution would allow voting rights only for ethnic Hawaiians.[10] She used the phrase "my people" to refer to her race rather than her multiracial subjects. King and Gandhi never held government power, and did not seek it. Most importantly, King and Gandhi created lofty universal principles of multiracial unity and equality; and they harnessed a profound spiritual power which Liliuokalani never imagined.

Shame on Hawaiian sovereignty zealots for debasing the memories of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi by comparing them to Liliuokalani. Shame on Hawaiian sovereigntists for trying to gather public support for Liliuokalani as a way of pushing racial supremacy either through the Akaka bill or through secession. And shame on the Hawaiian independence activists who speak with forked tongue, on one side glorifying non-violence while on the other side threatening violence to intimidate school children and adults at the Hawaii Statehood Day celebration on August 18, 2006.[11]

For a collection of commentaries and letters to editor in 2006 and previous years regarding the comparison of Liliuokalani with Martin Luther King, see: "Dr. Martin Luther King Vs. Queen Lili'uokalani" at:
http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/drkingqueenlil.html

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NOTES

1. http://www.angelfire.com/planet/bigfiles40/MLK-Liliu011607EWcentrFlyer.jpg

2. http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/redshirtsept2004.html

3. http://morganreport.org/
See also "Was the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy illegal?" at
http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/overthrow.html

4. Stephen Kinzer, "Overthrow : America's century of regime change from Hawaii to Iraq" (New York: Times Books, 2006).

5. It would require a book to describe and document the errors in the apology resolution. The beginnings of such a discrediting can be found in Chapter 10 of Thurston Twigg-Smith's book "Hawaiian Sovereignty: Do the Facts Matter?". That book can be downloaded free of charge in pdf format at
http://www.hawaiimatters.com/book/HawnSov.pdf
In June 2005 Bruce Fein published a booklet under the auspices of the Grassroot Hawai'i think-tank: "Hawaii Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand." Mr. Fein's essay is of special interest to scholars because of his analysis of the apology resolution of 1993 as well as the provisions of the Akaka bill. It can be downloaded in pdf format here:
http://www.angelfire.com/hi5/bigfiles3/AkakaHawaiiDividedFeinJune2005.pdf
Senator Kyl (R, AZ) obtained unanimous consent to print Mr. Fein's essay in the Congressional Record in three installments on three consecutive days: June 14, 15, and 16 of 2005. Each installment was introduced by brief remarks by Senator Kyl. The relevant portions of the Congressional Record are copied here:
http://www.angelfire.com/hi5/bigfiles3/AkakaFeinCongRec061405.htm
A very interesting repudiation of the apology resolution is found in an article in the Wall Street Journal of August 16, 2005. Slade Gorton and Hank Brown, two former Senators who had fought against the apology resolution in 1993, published "E Pluribus Unum? Not in Hawaii." They reminded a nationwide audience about some of the historical falsehoods and alerted readers to the fact that the apology resolution is being abused to support the Akaka bill. In 1993 Gorton and Brown had warned their Senate colleagues that the apology resolution would be used to demand race-based government handouts and to support a secessionist movement. Senator Inouye had promised his colleagues, on the floor of the Senate, that the resolution would never be used in any such way. Now 12 years later Senators Gorton and Brown were saying "See, we told you so."
http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB112415838738514082,00.html?mod=opinion%5Fmain%5Fcommentaries

6. "WHY ALL AMERICA SHOULD OPPOSE THE HAWAIIAN GOVERNMENT REORGANIZATION BILL, ALSO KNOWN AS THE AKAKA BILL"
http://www.angelfire.com/planet/bigfiles40/AkakaNationalSummary.html

7. The Akaka Bill And Secession: The Hawaiian Government Reorganization bill (Akaka bill) is seen by its supporters as a step toward total independence for all of Hawai'i
http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/AkakaSecession.html

8. Some court testimony regarding the Wilcox rebellion of 1889 is found in the Morgan Report. See especially the "Morgan's gem" #5 "Wilcox Rebellion 1889 and Dueling Palace Coup Plots" at
http://morganreport.org/mediawiki/index.php?title=Morgan%27s _Gems#Wilcox_Rebellion_1889_and_Dueling_Palace_Coup_Plots

See also Ernest Andrade, Jr., "Unconquerable Rebel: Robert W. Wilcox and Hawaiian Politics, 1880-1903 (University Press of Colorado, 1996). 299 pages including extensive footnotes. ISBN: 0-87081-417-6. Ken Conklin's extensive notes on that book are at
http://www.angelfire.com/planet/bigfiles40/wilcoxandrade.html

9. Gavan Daws, "Shoal of Time" (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974), pp. 282-283
See also the Andrade book, above.

10. For example, portions of the alleged new Constitution proposed by Liliuokalani were published in a royalist newspaper Ka Makaainana: Vol. 1, No. 21 (21 May 1894): page 4. Article 62 seems to set forth a racial restriction of voting for ethnic Hawaiians exclusively: "Pauku 62. O na kupa wale no ke hiki ke koho balota, a hoemiia mai hoi ke ana waiwai e kupono ai o na poe koho."

11. For a compilation of news reports and commentaries about the disruption of the Hawaii Statehood Day celebration on August 18, 2006, see:
http://www.angelfire.com/planet/bigfiles40/statehoodday2006.html


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