Statehood Day and Queen's Birthday, 2006 -- Which Is More Appropriate To Celebrate At Iolani Palace (Or At All)?

On Saturday September 2, 2006 the Queen's birthday was celebrated on the grounds of Iolani palace with ceremonies, music, and speeches.

On Friday August 18, 2006 the 47th anniversary of Hawaii statehood was celebrated on the grounds of Iolani palace.

It's worth commenting on some notable differences between those two events.

The Statehood Day celebration on August 18 was disrupted by protesters who arrived an hour early, strung anti-American banners from the trees, and set up a sound system. They did not plan a peaceful protest -- on the contrary, their clear intent was to disrupt and prevent the celebration. Their sound system loudly played Jawaiian reggae. Their bullhorns warned the children in the Kalani High School band that "You should put down your instruments and leave now because we cannot guarantee your safety," and some protesters walked right up to band members to intimidate them. The children's parents and band leader responded to the threats by packing up and leaving. Individual protesters or small groups of them then singled out individual celebrants, walked right up to within inches of them, and spent lengthy periods of time yelling directly into their faces, cursing, spitting, and jabbing fingers so close to noses and eyes that the fingers could have been bitten without taking a step. This was no peaceful protest or exercise of first-amendment rights. This was an assault by a gang of thugs to prevent the Statehood Day celebrants from using their official permit to exercise their right to celebrate a government holiday on the historic location where annexation and statehood took place. For a compilation of news reports and commentary about Statehood Day 2006, see:

By contrast, Queen Liliuokalani's birthday was celebrated at Iolani Palace on September 2. Food was prepared for 2500, but fewer than 400 showed up. If there were any protesters they remained respectful and did not disrupt the event -- there were no banners proclaiming "Hooray for the overthrow" or "Liliuokalani corrupt"; there was no loud competing music, no bullhorns, no rushing the speakers, no screaming in people's faces. But such sentiments of opposition to Liliuokalani would certainly be historically appropriate (see below).

Here are some things to think about.

Where is the right place to hold these celebrations?

Protesters at Statehood Day told celebrants and reporters that Statehood Day celebrations do not belong at the Palace, but rather at the new state Capitol building -- even though the new building was not yet built or planned at the time of Statehood in 1959.

Iolani Palace was the Capitol of the Republic of Hawaii, the Territory of Hawaii, and the State of Hawaii, from 1893 to 1968 when the new Capitol building was completed. The U.S. flag flew proudly there for 70 years (1898 to 1968). The Great Statehood Petition of 1954 had 120,000 signatures gathered in two weeks -- it was given a huge sendoff in February 1954 from Iolani Palace, with performances by Hawaiian chanters, Hawaiian hula dancers, Hawaiian torch-bearers, the Royal Hawaiian Band, the presence of several kahili, and speeches by politicians. See:

In 1898 Hawaii President Sanford B. Dole exchanged documents with a representative of the U.S. government in a public ceremony at Iolani Palace marking annexation. See:

The Territorial and State Legislatures met in Iolani palace, and the Governor's office was there. In 1959 President Eisenhower's proclamation of statehood was read from the steps of Iolani Palace before a huge crowd of celebrating Hawaiians. All governors of the Territory and State (except Linda Lingle) have taken their oaths in public ceremonies at the Palace. For example, here is the recently republished photo of Governor Quinn taking the oath of office there:

Is it appropriate to celebrate Liliuokalani's birthday at Iolani Palace?

Liliuokalani was Queen for less than two years. Her home was Washington Place. She moved into Washington Place upon marrying John Owen Dominis in 1862, and lived at Washington Place continuously until her death in 1917. Thus, she celebrated at least 53 birthdays at Washington Place, and no more than two at Iolani Palace.

Is it appropriate to celebrate Liliuokalani at all?

Her brother Kalakaua, who preceded her on the throne, was outrageously corrupt, and Liliuokalani continued on that path. Kalakaua built Iolani palace at a cost of $360,000, which back then was about half of the annual budget of the Kingdom. He took a trip around the world -- imagine the cost of chartering a yacht to do that today. He gambled, drank, and whored. Meanwhile impoverished Hawaiians were dying of starvation and untreated disease, while Japanese and Chinese plantation workers lived in brutal poverty sweating under the hot sun to produce the wealth he squandered.

Liliuokalani made an attempt at a coup against her brother in 1889, not to stop the corruption but to take power for herself. The coup plotters met several times at Liliuokalani's home. Although it is unclear whether she personally attended those meetings, she certainly knew about them. Her coup plot provoked the Wilcox rebellion of 1889 during which seven men were killed. Dynamite bombs lobbed over the 8-foot-high wall toward the Palace by Wilcox' men landed on the roof and blew a huge hole in it. Some fascinating details about dueling coup plots between Kalakaua and Liliuokalani, and the trial of Robert Wilcox in 1889, can be found in an excerpt from the Morgan Report (U.S. Senate, 1894, ) "Wilcox Rebellion 1889 and Dueling Palace Coup Plots" at

Liliuokalani inherited the corrupt government of her bother in 1891, and showed every sign of making the corruption even worse. in January of 1893 she bribed and manipulated the Legislature to pass three highly controversial bills for a lottery, a distillery, and an opium franchise; each of which would generate enormous revenue for the Queen. The victims of those bills, of course, would be the Hawaiians and Asians who loved to drink, gamble, and smoke opium. She waited until the Legislature adjourned permanently in January 1893 to announce that she would proclaim a new Constitution giving the monarch dictatorial powers and (according to some newspapers at that time) taking away voting rights from all persons lacking native blood. She actually held a ceremony in the Throne Room in which the new Constitution was ceremonially brought forward to her on a velvet cushion. The corruption, three outrageous bills in a bribed and manipulated legislature, and intent to unilaterally proclaim a new Constitution giving her dictatorial powers -- those are the events that sparked the revolution.

In 1895 Liliuokalani once again allowed her home to be used by Robert Wilcox to prepare for a violent revolution. During the Wilcox attempted counter-revolution in 1895, guns and dynamite bombs were found buried in Liliuokalani's flower garden at Washington Place. As in the Wilcox rebellion of 1889, it could not be proved that Liliuokalani herself personally participated in the planning, but the evidence clearly showed she knew what was going on. She was convicted by a military tribunal of "misprision of treason" and spent several months imprisoned in a huge room at Iolani Palace with her accompanying maidservant and lots of sewing and writing supplies.

The following year her friend, Hawaii President Sanford B. Dole, pardoned her, and even gave her permission to travel. She used her freedom to organize a petition drive against annexation and traveled to Washington D.C. to personally lobby the Senate.

There are two good reasons to celebrate Liliuokalani (although the celebrations should take place at her home, Washington Place): (1) She had the good sense to give up without a fight during the revolution of 1893; (2) In later years she mellowed and "got over it" -- she came to accept the fact that annexation was the best outcome for "her people." Those activists who today celebrate her memory would do well to follow her lead and get over it too.

Here are two quotes from Liliuokalani. Today's radical sovereigntists have a very hard time accepting that these quotes are accurate. The second quote was the subject of heated debate in the Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Weekly during a six month period in 2003, ending with proof of its authenticity being provided by a well-known ethnic Hawaiian archivist whose courage and respect for historical truth deserves great praise.

(1) Shortly after annexation, ex-queen Liliuokalani confided to then Senator George Hoar (R. Mass.) that, "The best thing for [Native Hawaiians] that could have happened was to belong to the United States."

Senator Hoar wrote his own autobiography in 1903 (14 years before the ex-queen died) which included that quote. "Autobiography of Seventy Years" by George Frisbie Hoar (C. Scribner's Sons, 1903). To find that quote from Liliuokalani, look for "Lili'uokalani" in the index to Hoar's book. Hoar's book is not easy to get hold of. However, another book by a reputable historian, William Russ, also contains the quote as having been taken by Russ from Hoar's book. See: William Adam Russ, "The Hawaiian Republic" (1894-98) (Associated University Press, London and Toronto 1992). On page 331, Russ quotes Senator Hoar as quoting those words of Liliuokalani. Russ took his quote directly from Senator Hoar's own autobiography.

(2) Liliuokalani's diary entry for her birthday, September 2, 1900 includes this: "Tho' for a moment it [the overthrow] cost me a pang of pain for my people it was only momentary, for the present has a hope for the future of my people"

That quote was published on January 22, 2003 in a Honolulu Advertiser letter-to-editor by Earl Arakaki, saying the overthrow was a good thing. Hawaiian activists responded that the quote must be wrong. Thurston Twigg-Smith replied that he put that quote in his book ("Hawaiian Sovereignty: Do the Facts Matter?") after having seen it on a page of Liliuokalani's diary in the archives. Activists shrilly challenged whether Twigg-Smith was telling the truth. In the Honolulu Weekly of May 28-June 3, DeSoto Brown, a highly respected researcher at Bishop Museum (and ethnic Hawaiian) published a note saying he was unable to find the Queen's diary for 1900 and the archives had issued a statement saying it never had that year's diary. But then the following week DeSoto Brown published a followup in the Honolulu weekly for June 4-10, 2003, with the headline "Thurston was right." Mr. DeSoto Brown wrote:

"A further search there [archives], however, turned up a photostatic copy (probably made in the 1930s) of a single page of this diary, in Lili‘uokalanis handwriting, which did contain the contested quote. The full text of the photostat:

"How sad and yet I gave my consent to have the old Royal Hawaiian Band who are now the Government U.S. band come and serenade me on this the occasion of my 62nd birthday. My consent is the healing over of ill will of all great differences caused by the overthrow of my throne and the deprivation of my people of their rights. Tho’ for a moment it cost me a pang of pain for my people — it was only momentary, for the present has a hope for the future for my people. 10 a.m. Went out to Kahala with Mr & Mrs Mana [?] and children. Mr & Mrs Auld, Kaipo, Myra Aimoku Kalahiki. Wakeki Paoakalani J. Aea Mahiai Robinson."


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(c) Copyright 2006 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved