Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D.
February 4, 2017
Following the Hawaiian revolution of January 17, 1893 that overthrew Hawaii's monarchial system of government, foreign nations that had diplomatic relations with Hawaii's Kingdom government gave the appropriate level of diplomatic recognition to each of the two successor governments of the continuing sovereign independent nation of Hawaii. No nation filed a protest.
Local consulates in Honolulu immediately sent letters granting de facto recognition to Hawaii's temporary, revolutionary Provisional Government. See the contents of those letters as published in the Morgan Report (808-page official report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations) at
Then in July 1894, after a permanent government of the Republic of Hawaii was established, copies of the Republic's Constitution were sent to the heads of state of foreign governments with a request for formal diplomatic recognition.
At least 19 Emperors, Kings, Queens, and Presidents on 4 continents personally signed letters in 11 languages which arrived in Honolulu in Fall 1894, giving full-fledged diplomatic recognition to the Republic government of President Sanford B. Dole. Photos of those letters were taken in the Hawaii state archives, along with accompanying English translations, some accompanying introductory letters from diplomats, and some envelopes; and for each nation, an explanation of the special significance of its documents in light of that nation's previous diplomatic history with the Kingdom of Hawaii and today's Hawaiian sovereignty controversies. Every photograph can be magnified for good readability by clicking the photo once; or a second click will yield a super-magnification. See all those things at
BACKGROUND: Why these letters are important in relation to today's controversies over Hawaiian sovereignty
Today's Hawaiian sovereignty activists often claim that following the Hawaiian revolution of 1893, the Provisional Government and the Republic were merely puppet regimes of the U.S. and had no international recognition.
But in fact the two successor governments of Hawaii were each given the level of diplomatic recognition appropriate to their status and the status of the person giving the recognition. It must be remembered that Hawaii remained an independent nation until annexation to the U.S. in 1898.
Following a revolution a nation remains sovereign and independent, and its treaties with other nations remain in effect unless specifically repudiated. Foreign governments generally choose to recognize the successor government after a successful revolution, although sometimes foreign governments might withhold recognition if they wish to treat the successor government as illegal or illegitimate -- for example the U.S. refused to recognize the Castro government for several decades after the revolution in Cuba; and after the revolution in China the U.S. refused to recognize the Communist government while continuing to recognize the nationalist government which went into exile on the island of Taiwan.
No foreign government protested the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. They all recognized Hawaii's two successor governments -- even monarchs or presidents who had personal friendships with ex-Queen Lili'uokalani, King Kalakaua, Queens Kapi'olani and Emma and others, recognized Hawaii's successor governments and warmly greeted President Dole.
On January 17, 1893 Queen Lili'uokalani, head of the Kingdom of Hawaii, was overthrown. A revolutionary Provisional Government was headed by President Sanford B. Dole., who was native-born in Hawaii on April 23, 1844 at Punahou School (then called O'ahu College) which his missionary father had founded. Sanford Dole served as elected representative from Koloa in the Kingdom legislature; was a member of the royal court; hanai'd a native girl who was probably his biological child and whose descendants include Hokule'a navigator Nainoa Thompson. He served as a Justice of the Kingdom's Supreme Court appointed by King Kalakaua, until he resigned honorably the night before the revolution.
Following the revolution the two successor governments of Hawaii were each given the level of diplomatic recognition appropriate to their status and the status of the person giving the recognition. It must be remembered that Hawaii remained an independent nation until annexation to the U.S. in 1898.
In the two days following the revolution every local consul in Honolulu, representing nations which had treaty relations with Hawaii, sent letters of de facto recognition to President Dole, acknowledging that his government had successfully replaced Lili'uokalani's government. De facto recognition was the best available status, appropriate to the temporary nature of a revolutionary provisional government and to the low diplomatic status of local consuls. It meant that those nations would henceforth do business with the Dole government and no longer with Lili'uokalani's ousted government. In Facebook parlance: those nations were friending President Dole and unfriending ex-queen Lili'uokalani.
Those letters were published in the local Honolulu newspaper, still available on microfilm in the Hawaii Public Library; and their contents are also included in the official 808-page Morgan Report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. See special subpage "Diplomatic Recognition of the Provisional Government" at
The Provisional Government immediately drafted a Treaty of Annexation and sent it to the U.S. Senate with the blessing of Republican President Benjamin Harrison. However, in the U.S. election of November 1892, Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected to replace Harrison. Cleveland was a personal friend of ex-queen Lili'uokalani, and an isolationist. He wanted no part of annexing Hawaii, and he wanted to reverse the Hawaiian revolution. Back then new U.S. presidents were not inaugurated until early March. But the election results were known both in the U.S. and in Hawaii. Congress slowed down to a crawl awaiting the new President. When Cleveland was inaugurated he immediately withdrew the Treaty of Annexation from the Senate and spent the rest of 1893 trying to destabilize the Hawaii Provisional Government. In Summer 1893 Cleveland's Minister to Hawaii Albert Willis, without notifying the Dole government, offered a deal to Lili'uokalani that Dole would step down in return for a promise from Lili'uokalani to pardon the revolutionaries and not confiscate their property; but Lili'uokalani refused and told Willis she would behead them. In December 1893 Cleveland tried to force President Dole to step down, and used gunboat diplomacy to try to intimidate Dole at the same time Minister Willis sent a letter to Dole "ordering" him to step down.
On day 6 of his presidency, in March, Cleveland had sent his political hatchet man James Blount to Honolulu to write a report blaming the U.S. for the overthrow of the monarchy. In December, having failed to oust Dole, Cleveland sent Blount's report to Congress with a request that Congress should figure out what to do (he no doubt hoped Congress would authorize the use of force to oust Dole).
The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, with Democrats in control, held a monthlong public hearing taking testimony under oath and with severe cross-examination, to find out what had happened in Honolulu in January 1893. At the end of February 1894 the committee produced its report, named after committee Chairman John T. Morgan. The Morgan report included sworn testimony that the Blount Report contained lies, and concluded the Hawaiian revolution was not the fault of the U.S. A few weeks later the Democrat-controlled Senate passed resolutions warning foreign nations, and Democrat President Cleveland, to keep hands off Hawaii. That's when Hawaii's Provisional Government realized it would not be threatened any more by the U.S., and decided it needed to write a Constitution for a permanent Republic of Hawaii to hold power at least until President Cleveland's term ended and a new U.S. President might be favorable to annexation.
The Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed in July 1894 through publication of its Constitution. Six Native Hawaiians had served as delegates in the Constitutional Convention, and John Kaulukou, a full-blooded native and former monarchist, became Speaker of the House of Representatives. President Dole sent copies of the Constitution to foreign nations asking them to give full-fledged diplomatic recognition to the now-permanent Republic of Hawaii.
During Fall of 1894, Emperors, Kings, Queens, and Presidents of at least 19 nations on 4 continents personally signed letters in 11 languages giving full-fledged recognition of the Republic as the rightful, lawful successor government of the still-independent nation of Hawaii.
Photos of those letters were taken in the Hawaii state archives, along with accompanying English translations, some accompanying introductory letters from diplomats, and some envelopes. Each nation has a sub-webpage with its own URL containing all the photos of its documents along with Ken Conklin's explanation of the special significance of its documents in light of that nation's history of relations with Hawaii's kings and queens and in light of today's controversies about Hawaiian sovereignty.
Royalists still hoping to put Lili'uokalani back on the throne were no doubt dismayed and angry as news circulated in Honolulu each time another nation's letter arrived formally recognizing the Republic. The royalists began acquiring guns, ammunition and grenades. They staged a bloody attempted counter-revolution in January 1895, led by firebrand half-Hawaiian Robert Wilcox who had military training in Italy courtesy of King Kalakaua. Ex-queen Lili'uokalani conspired with Wilcox -- we know this for two reasons, as disclosed during her trial for misprision of treason. (1) Historian Gavan Daws says ("Shoal of Time" Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1974, pp. 282-283): "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." (2) A search warrant for her home produced letters of appointment for cabinet ministers for her new government which Lili'uokalani had already signed to activate her new government as soon as Wilcox succeeded.
Under threat of captured royalists being sentenced to death, Lili'uokalani made a plea-bargain with approval of her private attorney and her former cabinet ministers who witnessed her signature -- she signed a 5-page letter of abdication and a 1-page oath of loyalty to the Republic of Hawaii on January 24, 1895. Both documents are provided on the same webpage with the letters from heads of state of foreign nations, because Lili'uokalani's two documents are, in effect, a formal letter from the head of state of the Kingdom of Hawaii recognizing the Republic as the lawful government.
Although no letter could be found from the Emperor of Japan recognizing the Republic, there is a photo of an announcement from the Foreign Office of the Republic providing text of a letter personally signed by Emperor Mutsuhito in 1897, addressed to President Dole, elevating Japan's consulate in Honolulu to the status of legation (higher than it had been during Kalakaua's or Lili'uokalani's reigns), and also elevating the status of Japan's minister to Hawaii.
Thus we have 21 subpages on the master webpage: One for each of 19 nations which sent letters recognizing the Republic in Fall of 1894, plus one for Lili'uokalani's abdication and oath of loyalty in January 1895, plus one providing text of the letter from the Emperor of Japan in 1897 indicating an on-going diplomatic relationship with the Republic and raising the status of its office and its minister in Honolulu.
The 19 nations are: Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Chile, China, France, Germany/Prussia, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway/Sweden, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, United States. The people who signed the letters were all Emperors, Kings, Queens, and Presidents of their countries.
See all those things at
Every photograph can be magnified for good readability by clicking the photo once; or you can click again for a super-magnification.
Many thanks to Sandra Puanani Burgess for spending a long day on her feet taking more than a hundred photographs in the archives with assistance from Ken Conklin, and many thanks to Jeremy Krischel for his expertise and hard work in building the small webpages containing photos of each nation's documents, and the master webpage organizing the individual webpages into a simple, elegant display.
A FEW RELATED WEBPAGES
A related webpage explains the historical significance of these letters of recognition, and current political implications. By recognizing the Republic as the legitimate government of Hawaii, the worldwide family of nations effectively condoned the revolution of 1893 as having been “legal” under international law, and acknowledged the right of the Republic to offer a treaty of annexation and to make a deal with the U.S. ceding Hawaii’s public lands in return for paying off Hawaii’s national debt. The webpage provides links and quotes from a secessionist claim that the Republic had no legitimacy under international law and was merely a puppet regime of the United States; and analyzes how the letters of recognition refute that claim.
The "Morgan Report" is today's name for a report to the U.S. Senate by its Committee on Foreign Relations, whose chairman was Senator John T. Morgan, Democrat of Alabama. Senate Report 227 of the 53rd Congress, second session, was dated February 26, 1894. It was an investigation into the events surrounding the Hawaiian Revolution of 1893, and the alleged role of U.S. peacekeepers in the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani. A website contains the entire Morgan Report, providing photographs of every page alongside digitized, searchable text. In addition the website provides summaries of the major testimonies, plus essays commenting on important aspects of the report. The front page is at
A good place to start is the detailed Outline of Topics at
and also be sure to look at
Morgan's Gems -- How the Morgan Report Corrects Historical Revisionism, Speaks to Current Political Hot Topics, and Provides Valuable Historical Information About What Hawaii Was Like in the 1800s
"Was the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy illegal? Was it a theft of a nation owned by kanaka maoli and stolen by non-kanaka maoli?" Webpage includes demographic information about Hawaii's population in 1893, numerous subpages about particular aspects of the the revolution, and full text of numerous current newspaper commentaries showing ongoing controversies.
Thurston Twigg-Smith, "Hawaiian Sovereignty: Do the Facts Matter?" (Honolulu, HI: Goodale Publishing, 1998). This book focuses on the overthrow of the monarchy (1893) and the annexation of Hawai'i to the United States (1898), but other topics are also covered, including the role of the missionaries. Mr Twigg-Smith was grandson of Lorrin A. Thurston, a leader of the overthrow; and his great-great grandparents were Asa and Lucy Thurston who were in the first company of missionaries to arrive in Hawai'i in 1820. Thanks to Mr. Twigg-Smith's permission, his entire 375 page book, including historical photos, can be downloaded free of charge in pdf format by clicking on the following link:
Historical Issues Related to Hawaiian Sovereignty -- Revolution (Overthrow of monarchy), Annexation, Statehood, Indigenous Status, Hawaiian Language Ban, Ceded Lands, Etc.
Hawaii Statehood -- straightening out the history-twisters. A historical narrative defending the legitimacy of the revolution of 1893, the annexation of 1898, and the statehood vote of 1959.
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