Hawai’i President Sanford B. Dole, Letter of December 23, 1893 Refusing United States Demand to Restore Ex-Queen Lili’uokalani to the Throne

The following remarkable and powerful letter from President Sanford B. Dole was hand-delivered at midnight, December 23, 1893 to U.S. President Grover Cleveland’s U. S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Albert S. Willis. This letter can be found in its entirety in Ethel M. Damon’s book “Sanford Ballard Dole and His Hawaii (1957), pp. 274-288. It is also available beginning on page 1276 of the University of Hawai’i webpage on annexation documents:

This letter was a reply to a letter from the United States demanding that President Dole disband his government and restore the ex-queen to the throne. That demand letter, together with a preliminary note from President Dole demanding to know what was happening, can be found at:

Among the important points contained in this remarkable letter are the following:

Here is President Dole’s letter, in its entirety.


Mr. Dole to Mr. Willis.

Department of Foreign Affairs,

Honolulu, December 23, 1893.

Sir : Your excellency's communication of December 19, announcing the conclusion which the President of the United States of America has finally arrived at respecting the application of this Government for a treaty of political union with that country, and referring also to the domestic affairs of these islands, has had the consideration of the Government.

While it is with deep disappointment that we learn that the important proposition which we have submitted to the Government of the United States, and which was at first favorably considered by it, has at length been rejected, we have experienced a sense of relief that we are now favored with the first official information upon the subject that has been received through a period of over nine months.

While we accept the decision of the President of the United States, declining further to consider the annexation proposition, as the final conclusion of the present administration, we do not feel inclined to regard it as the last word of the American Government upon this subject, for the history of the mutual relations of the two countries, of American effort and influence in building up the Christian civilization which has so conspicuously aided in giving this country an honorable place among independent nations, the geographical position of these islands, and the important and, to both countries, profitable reciprocal commercial interests which have long existed, together with our weakness as a sovereign nation, all point with convincing force to political union between the two countries as the necessary logical result from the circumstances mentioned. This conviction is emphasized by the favorable expression, of American statesmen over a long period in favor of annexation, conspicuous among whom are the names of W. L. Marcy, William H. Seward, Hamilton Fish, and James G. Blaine, all former Secretaries of State, and especially so by the action of your last administration in negotiating a treaty of annexation with this Government and sending it to the Senate with a view to its ratification.

We shall therefore continue the project of political union with the United States as a conspicuous feature of our foreign policy, confidently hoping that sooner or later it will be crowned with success, to the lasting benefit of both countries.

The additional portion of your communication referring to our domestic affairs with a view of interfering therein, is a new departure in the relations of the two governments. Your information that the President of the United States expects this Government "to promptly relinquish to her (meaning the ex-Queen) her constitutional authority," with the question "are you willing to abide by the decision of the President?" might well be dismissed in a single word, but for the circumstance that your communication contains, as it appears to me, misstatements and erroneous conclusions based thereon, that are so prejudicial to this Government that I cannot permit them to pass unchallenged; moreover, the importance and menacing character of this proposition make it appropriate for me to discuss somewhat fully the questions raised by it.

We do not recognize the right of the President of the United States to interfere in our domestic affairs. Such right could be conferred upon him by the act of this Government, and by that alone, or it could be acquired by conquest. This I understand to be the American doctrine, conspiciously announced from time to time by the authorities of your Government.

President Jackson said in his message to Congress in 1836: "The uniform policy and practice of the United States is to avoid all interference in disputes which merely relate to the internal government of other nations, and eventually to recognize the authority of the prevailing party, without reference to the merits of the original controversy."

This principle of international law has been consistently recognized during the "whole past intercourse of the two countries, and was recently reaffirmed in the instructions given by Secretary Gresham to Commissioner Blount on March 11, 1893, and by the latter published in the newspapers in Honolulu in a letter of his own to the Hawaiian public. The words of these instructions which I refer to are as follows: "The United States claim no right to interfere in the political or domestic affairs or in the internal conflicts of the Hawaiian Islands other than as herein stated (referring to the protection of American citizens) or for the purpose of maintaining any treaty or other rights which they possess." The treaties between the two countries confer no right of interference.

Upon what, then, Mr. Minister, does the President of the United States base his right of interference? Your communication is without information upon this point, excepting such as maybe contained in the following brief and vague sentences: "She (the ex-Queen) was advised and assured by her ministers and leaders of the movement for the overthrow of her government that if she surrendered under protest her case would afterward be fairly considered by the President of the United States. The Queen finally yielded to the armed forces of the United States, then quartered in Honolulu, relying on the good faith and honor of the President, when informed of what had occurred, to undo the action of the minister and reinstate her and the authority which she claimed as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands." Also, "it becomes my further duty to advise you, sir, the Executive of the Provisional Government, and your ministers, of the President's determination of the question which your action and that of the Queen devolved upon him, and that you are expected to promptly relinquish to her her constitutional authority."

I understand that the first quotation is referred to in the following words of the second, "which your action and that of the Queen devolved upon him" (the President of the United States), and that the President has arrived at his conclusions from Commissioner Blount's report. We have had as yet no opportunity of examining this document, but from extracts published in the papers and for reasons set forth hereafter, we are not disposed to submit the fate of Hawaii to its statements and conclusions. As a matter of fact no member of the executive of the Provisional Government has conferred with the ex-Queen, either verbally or otherwise, from the time the new Government was proclaimed till now, with the exception of one or two notices which were sent to her by myself in regard to her removal from the palace and relating to the guards which the Government first allowed her and perhaps others of a like nature. I infer that a conversation which Mr. Damon, then a member of the advisory council, is reported by Mr. Blount to have had with the ex-Queen on January 17, and which has been quoted in the newspapers, is the basis of this astounding claim of the President of the United States of his authority to adjudicate upon our right as a government to exist.

Mr. Damon, on the occasion mentioned, was allowed to accompany the cabinet of the former Government, who had been in conference with me and my associates, to meet the ex-Queen. He went informally, without instructions and without authority to represent the Government or to assure the ex-Queen "that if she surrendered under protest her case would afterwards be fairly considered by the President of the United States." Our ultimatum had already been given to the members of the ex-cabinet who had been in conference with us. What Mr. Damon said to the ex-Queen he said on his individual responsibility and did not report it to us. Mr. Blount's report of his remarks on that occasion furnish to the Government its first information of the nature of those remarks. Admitting for argument's sake that the Government had authorized such assurances, what was "her case" that was afterwards to "be fairly considered by the President of the United States?"

Was it the question of her right to subvert the Hawaiian constitution and to proclaim a new one to suit herself, or was it her claim to be restored to the sovereignty, or was it her claim against the United States for the alleged unwarrantable acts of Minister Stevens, or was it all these in the alternative; who can say? But if it had been all of these, or any of them, it could not have been more clearly and finally decided by the President of the United States in favor of the Provisional Government than when he recognized it without qualification and received its accredited commissioners, negotiated a treaty of annexation with them, received its accredited envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, and accredited successively two envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary to it; the ex-Queen in the meantime being represented in Washington by her agent who had full access to the Department of State. The whole business of the Government with the President of the United States is set forth in the correspondence between the two governments and the acts and statements of the minister of this Government at Washington and the annexation commissioners accredited to it. If we have submitted our right to exist to the United States, the fact will appear in that correspondence and the acts of our minister and commissioners. Such agreement must be shown as the foundation of the right of your Government to interfere, for an arbitrator can be created only by the act of two parties.

The ex-Queen sent her attorney to Washington to plead her claim for a reinstatement in power, or failing that for a money allowance or damages. This attorney was refused passage on the Government dispatch boat, which was sent to San Francisco with the annexation commissioners and their message. The departure of this vessel was less than two days after the new Government was declared, and the refusal was made promptly upon receiving the request therefor either on the day the Government was declared or on the next day.

If an intention to submit the question of the reinstatement of the ex-Queen had existed, why should her attorney have been refused passage on this boat? The ex-Queen's letter to President Harrison dated January 18, the day after the new Government was proclaimed, makes no allusion to any understanding between her and the Government for arbitration. Her letter is as follows:

"His Excellency Benjamin Harrison,

"President of the United States:

"My Great and Good Friend: It is with deep regret that I address you on this occasion. Some of my subjects aided by aliens, have renounced their loyalty and revolted against the constitutional Government of my Kingdom. They have attempted to depose me and to establish a provisional government in direct conflict with the organic law of this Kingdom. Upon receiving incontestible proof that his excellency the minister plenipotentiary of the United States, aided and abetted their unlawful movements and caused United States troops to be landed for that purpose, I submitted to force, believing that he would not have acted in that manner unless by the authority of the Government which he represents.

" This action on my part was prompted by three reasons: The futility of a conflict with the United States; the desire to avoid violence, bloodshed and the destruction of life and property, and the certainty which I feel that you and your Government will right whatever wrongs may have been inflicted upon us in the promises.

" In due time a statement of the true facts relating to this matter will be laid before you, and I live in the hope that you will judge uprightly and justly between myself and my enemies. This appeal is not made for myself personally, but for my people, who have hitherto always enjoyed the friendship and protection of the United States.

" My opponents have taken the only vessel which could he obtained here for the purpose, and hearing of their intention to send a delegation of their number to present their side of this conflict before you, I requested the favor of sending by the same vessel an envoy to you, to lay before you my statement, as the facts appear to myself and my loyal subjects.

"This request has been refused, and I now ask you that injustice to myself and to my people that no steps be taken by the Government of the United States until my cause can be heard by you. "I shall be able to dispatch an envoy about the 3d of February, as that will be the first available opportunity hence, and he will reach you by every possible haste that there may be no delay in the settlement of this matter.

"I pray you, therefore, my good friend, that you will not allow any conclusions to be reached by you until my envoy arrives.

"I beg to assure you of the continuance of my highest consideration.


"Honolulu, January 18, 1893."

If any understanding had existed at that time between her and the Government to submit the question of her restoration to the United States, some reference to such an understanding would naturally have appeared in this letter, as every reason would have existed for calling the attention of the President to that fact; especially as she then knew that her attorney would be seriously delayed in reaching Washington. But there is not a word from which such an understanding can be predicated. The Government sent its commissioners to Washington for the sole object of procuring the confirmation of the recognition by Minister Stevens of the new Government and to enter into negotiations for political union with the United States. The protest of the ex-Queen, made on January 17, is equally with the letter devoid of evidence of any mutual understanding for a submission of her claim to the throne to the United States. It is very evidently a protest against the alleged action of Minister Stevens as well as the new Government, and contains a notice of her appeal to the United States.

The document was received exactly as it would have been received if it had come through the mail. The indorsement of its receipt upon the paper was made at the request of the individual who brought it as evidence of its safe delivery. As to the ex-Queen's notice of her appeal to the United States, it was a matter of indifference to us. Such an appeal could not have been prevented, as the mail service was in operation as usual.

That such a notice, and our receipt of it without comment, should be made a foundation of a claim that we had submitted our right to exist as a government to the United States had never occurred to us until suggested to us by your Government. The protest is as follows:

"I, Liliuokalani, 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 representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.

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

"Liliuokalani, R.

"Samuel Parker, "Minister of Foreign Affairs.

"William H. Cornwell, "Minister of Finance.

"John F. Colburn, "Minister of the Interior.

"A. P. Peterson, " Attorney-General.

"S. B. Dole, Esq., and others,

"Composing the Provisional Government of the Hawaiian Islands." (Indorsed:) " Received by the hands of the late cabinet this 17th day of January, A. D. 1893. Sanford B. Dole, chairman of executive council of Provisional Government."

You may not be aware, but such is the fact, that at no time until the presentation of the claim of the President of the United States of his right to interfere in the internal affairs of this country, by you on December 19, has this Government been officially informed by the United States Government that any such course was contemplated. And not until the publication of Mr. Gresham's letter to the President of the United States on the Hawaiian question had we any reliable intimation of such a policy. The adherents of the ex-Queen have indeed claimed from time to time that such was the case, but we have never been able to attach serious importance to their rumors to that effect, feeling secure in our perfect diplomatic relations with your country, and relying upon the friendship and fairness of a government whose dealings with us had ever shown full recognition of our independence as a sovereign power, without any tendency to take advantage of the disparity of strength between the two countries.

If your contention that President Cleveland believes that this Government and the ex-Queen have submitted their respective claims to the sovereignty of this country to the adjudication of the United States is correct, then, may I ask, when and where has the President held his court of arbitration ? This Government has had no notice of the sitting of such a tribunal and no opportunity of presenting evidence of its claims. If Mr. Blount's investigations were apart of the proceedings of such a court, this Government did not know it and was never informed of it; indeed, as I have mentioned above, we never knew until the publication of Secretary Gresham's letter to President Cleveland a few weeks ago, that the American Executive had a policy of interference under contemplation. Even if we had known that Mr. Blount was authoritatively acting as a commissioner to take evidence upon the question of the restoration of the ex-Queen, the methods adopted by him in making his investigations were, I submit, unsuitable to such an examination or any examination upon which human interests were to be adjudicated.

As I am reliably informed, he selected his witnesses and examined them in secret, freely using leading questions, giving no opportunity for a cross-examination, and often not permitting such explanations by witnesses themselves as they desired to make of evidence which he had drawn from them. Is it hardly necessary for me to suggest that under such a mode of examination some witnesses would be almost helpless in the hands of an astute lawyer, and might he drawn into saying things winch would be only half-truths, and standing alone would be misleading or even false in effect. Is it likely that an investigation conducted in this manner could result in a fair, full, and truthful statement of the case in point? Surely the destinies of a friendly Government, admitting by way of argument that the right of arbitration exists, may not be disposed of upon an ex parte and secret investigation made without the knowledge of such Government or an opportunity by it to be heard or even to know who the witnesses were.

Mr. Blount came here as a stranger and at once entered upon his duties. He devoted himself to the work of collecting information, both by the examination of witnesses and the collection of statistics and other documentary matter, with great energy and industry, giving up, substantially, his whole time to its prosecution. He was here but a few months, and during that time was so occupied with this work that he had little opportunity left for receiving those impressions of the state of affairs which could best have come to him, incidentally, through a wide social intercourse with the people of the country and a personal acquaintance with its various communities and educational and industrial enterprises. He saw the country from his cottage in the center of Honolulu mainly through the eyes of the witnesses whom he examined. Under these circumstances is it probable that the most earnest of men would be able to form a statement that could safely be relied upon as the basis of a decision upon the question of the standing of a government?

In view, therefore, of all the facts in relation to the question of the President's authority to interfere and concerning which the members of the executive were actors and eye-witnesses, I am able to assure your excellency that by no action of this Government, on the 17th day of January last or since that time, has the authority devolved upon the President of the United States to interfere in the internal affairs of this country through any conscious act or expression of this Government with such an intention.

You state in your communication --

"After a patient examination of Mr. Blount's reports the President is satisfied that the movement against the Queen if not instigated was encouraged and supported by the representative of this Government at Honolulu; that he promised in advance to aid her enemies in an effort to overthrow the Hawaiian Government and set up by force a new government in its place; that he kept his promise by causing a detachment of troops to be landed from the Boston on the 16th of January, 1893, and by recognizing the Provisional Government the next day when it was too feeble to defend itself and the Constitutional Government was able to successfully maintain its authority against any threatening force other than that of the United States already landed."

Without entering into a discussion of the facts I beg to state in reply that I am unable to judge of the correctness of Mr. Blount's report from which the President's conclusions were drawn, as I have had no opportunity of examining such report. But I desire to specifically and emphatically deny the correctness of each and every one of the allegations of fact contained in the above-quoted statement; yet, as the President has arrived at a positive opinion in his own mind in the matter, I will refer to it from his standpoint.

My position, is briefly, this: If the American forces illegally assisted the revolutionists in the establishment of the Provisional Government that Government is not responsible for their wrong-doing. It was purely a private matter for discipline between the United States Government and its own officers. There is, I submit, no precedent in international law for the theory that such action of the American troops has conferred upon the United States authority over the internal affairs of this Government. Should it be true, as you have suggested, that the American Government made itself responsible to the Queen, who, it is alleged lost her throne through such action, that is not a matter for me to discuss, except to submit that if such be the case, it is a matter for the American Government and her to settle between them. This Government, a recognized sovereign power, equal in authority with the United States Government and enjoying diplomatic relations with it, can not be destroyed by it for the sake of discharging its obligations to the ex-Queen.

Upon these grounds, Mr. Minister, in behalf of my Government I respectfully protest against the usurpation of its authority as suggested by the language of your communication. It is difficult for a stranger like yourself, and much more for the President of the United States, with his pressing responsibilities, his crowding cares and his want of familiarity with the condition and history of this country and the inner life of its people, to obtain a clear insight into the real state of affairs and to understand the social currents, the race feelings and the customs and traditions which all contribute to the political outlook. We, who have grown up here or who have adopted this country as our home, are conscious of the difficulty of maintaining a stable government here. A community which is made up of five races, of which the larger part but dimly appreciate the significance and value of representative institutions, offers political problems which may well tax the wisdom of the most experienced statesman.

For long years a large and influential part of this community, including many foreigners and native Hawaiians, have observed with deep regret the retrogressive tendencies of the Hawaiian monarchy, and have honorably striven against them, and have sought through legislative work, the newspapers, and by personal appeal and individual influence to support and emphasize the representative features of the monarchy and to create a public sentiment favorable thereto, and thereby to avert the catastrophe that seemed inevitable if such tendencies were not restrained.

These efforts have been met by the last two sovereigns in a spirit of aggressive hostility. The struggle became at length a well-defined issue between royal prerogative and the right of representative government, and most bitterly and unscrupulously has it been carried on in the interests of the former. The King's privilege of importing goods for his own use without paying the duties thereon was abused to the extent of admitting large quantities of liquors, with which to debauch the electorate. He promoted the election of Government officers, both executive and judicial, to the legislative assembly, and freely appointed to office elected members thereof.

In the legislature of 1886, of which I was a member, the party supporting the Government was largely in the majority, and nearly every member of such majority held some appointment from the Government, and some of them as many as two or three, thereby effectually placing the legislative branch of the Government under the personal and absolute control of the King. The constitutional encroachments, lawless extravagance, and scandalous and open sales of patronage and privilege to the highest bidder by Kalakaua brought in at length the revolution of 1887, which had the full sympathy and moral support of all the diplomatic representatives in Honolulu, including Minister Merrill, who was at that time President Cleveland's minister here.

This revolution was not an annexation movement in any sense, but tended toward an independent republic, but, when it had the monarchy in its power, conservative counsels prevailed, and a new lease of life was allowed that institution on the condition of royal fidelity to the new constitution, which was then promulgated and which greatly curtailed the powers of the sovereign. Kalakaua was not faithful to this compact, and sought as far as possible to evade its stipulations. The insurrection of 1889 was connived at by him, and the household guards under his control were not allowed to take part in suppressing it. The Princess Liliuokalani was in full sympathy with this movement, being a party to it, and furnished her suburban residence to the insurgents for their meetings. The arrangements were there made, and the insurgents marched thence for their attack upon the Government. The affair was suppressed in a few hours of fighting, with some loss of life to the insurgents, by the party which carried through the revolution of 1887.

The ex-Queen's rule was even more reckless and retrogressive than her brother's. Less politic than he, and with less knowledge of affairs, she had more determination and was equally unreliable and deficient in moral principle. She, to all appearance, unhesitatingly took the oath of office to govern according to the constitution, and evidently regarding it merely as a formal ceremony began, according to her own testimony to Mr. Blount, to lay her plans to destroy the constitution and replace it with one of her own creation. With a like disregard of its sanctions, she made the most determined efforts to control all of the appointments to office, both executive and judicial. The session of the legislature of 1892 was the longest that had ever occurred in our history, and was characterized by a most obstinate struggle for personal control of the Government and the legislature on the part of the Queen. This was strenuously resisted by the opposition.

During this contest four ministerial cabinets were appointed and unseated, and the lottery-franchise bill, which had been withdrawn early in the session for want of sufficient support, was at the last moment, when the opposition was weakened by the absence of several of its members, again brought forward and passed through the exercise of improper and illegitimate influences upon the legislators, among which were personal appeals on the part of the Queen to them. The cabinet which represented the opposition and the majority of the legislature which the Queen had been compelled to appoint was unseated by similar means, and with a new cabinet of her own choice the legislature was prorogued. This lottery franchise was of a character corresponding with similar institutions which have been driven out of every State of the American Union by an indignant public sentiment. If it had been established here it would in a brief period have obtained full control of the Government patronage and corrupted the social and political life of the people.

Although the situation at the close of the session was deeply discouraging to the community, it was accepted without any intention of meeting it by other than legal means. The attempted coup d'etat of the Queen followed, and her ministers, threatened with violence, fled to the citizens for assistance and protection; then it was that the uprising against the Queen took place, and, gathering force from day to day, resulted in the proclamation of the Provisional Government and. the abrogation of the monarchy on the third day thereafter.

No man can correctly say that the Queen owed her downfall to the interference of American forces. The revolution was carried through by the representatives, now largely reinforced, of the same public sentiment which forced the monarchy to its knees in 1887, which suppressed the insurrection of 1889, and which for twenty years has been battling for representative government in this country. If the American forces had been absent the revolution would have taken place, for the sufficient causes for it had nothing to do with their presence.

I, therefore, in all friendship of the Government of the United States, which you represent, and desiring to cherish the good will of the great American people, submit the answer of my Government to your proposition, and ask that you will transmit the same to the President of the United States for his consideration.

Though the Provisional Government is far from being "a great power" and could not long resist the forces of the United States in a hostile attack, we deem our position to be impregnable under all legal precedents, under the principles of diplomatic intercourse, and in the forum of conscience. We have done your Government no wrong; no charge of discourtesy is or can be brought against us. Our only issue with your people has been that, because we revered its institutions of civil liberty, we have desired to have them extended to our own distracted country, and because we honor its flag and deeming that its beneficent and authoritative presence would be for the best interests of all of our people, we have stood ready to add our country, a new star, to its glory, and to consummate a union which we believed would be as much for the benefit of your country as ours. If this is an offense, we plead guilty to it.

I am instructed to inform yon, Mr. Minister, that the Provisional Government of the Hawaiian Islands respectfully and unhesitatingly declines to entertain the proposition of the President of the United States that it should surrender its authority to the ex-Queen.

This answer is made not only upon the grounds hereinbefore set forth, but upon our sense of duty and loyalty to the brave men whose commissions we hold, who have faithfully stood by us in the hour of trial, and whose will is the only earthly authority we recognize. We can not betray the sacred trust they have placed in our hands, a trust which represents the cause of Christian civilization in the interests of the whole people of these islands.

With assurances of the highest consideration, I have, etc.,

Sanford B. Dole, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

His Excellency Albert S. Willis,
U. S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary.


You may now








Email: ken_conklin@yahoo.com