Why Did The Queen Not Fight Back?

Queen Lili`uokalani, being well educated, well read, knowing English fluently, and having previously travelled to the USA as a member of the royal court, must have been well aware about the Genocide committed against the Native Americans (Indians) from coast to coast by Europeans and the US Army. The genocide had largely been completed in 1890 with the atrocities committed by the Army at the massacre at Wounded Knee with the help of four gattling guns (manually operated machine guns), the theft of the remaining Indian lands, and the corralling of the remaining surviving Indians into reservations (de facto concentration camps).

Knowing this, she must have realized early on that if members of the American military or US citizens would be killed by Hawaiians it could trigger the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and at the same time inhuman punishment may be unleashed against her native Hawaiian race as a punishment.

When facing her overthrow she may have reflected on the History of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the many injustices encountered, and the attempts over the years to keep the independence of the kingdom and to keep the Hawaiian culture and heritage alive while facing the world powers that wanted to claim the kingdom as their own. She was a woman in a man’s world and had been insulted as one along with racism against her subjects such as the speech by George Wilcox on May 5, 1892: “I do not wish to be governed by dolls. I believe no woman ought to reign. They have no brains. They are generally weak.” Racial slurs were also directed against her ministers, calling them half-breeds. However, as a queen, she also had a somewhat protected status in European countries such as Great Britain where she attended Queen Elizabeth’s 50th jubilee on the throne in 1887. While she was in Europe the white, largely US business elite forced the “Bayonet Constitution” onto her brother King Kalakaua which largely reduced him to a figurehead king and disenfranchised her subjects inclusive of removing their voting rights.

On January 14th, 1893 she tried to correct the injustices of the 1887 “Bayonet Constitution” with a proclamation for a new constitution that would restore the lost rights to Native Hawaiians, the kingdom’s citizens at large as well as the crown. Asked to back down by her supporters because of the fear of violence, the queen and her cabinet members subsequently released a statement that “any changes desired in the fundamental laws of the land will be sought only by the methods provided by the constitution itself.”

However, the group of 13 white conspirators, led by Thurston, a grandson of Protestant American missionaries and also a drafter of the 1887 “Bayonet Constitution,” did not back down. They consisted of largely US and European businessmen that were American and European citizens as well as Kingdom subjects. The conspirators included legislators, government officers, and a Supreme Court Justice that could reap financial gains and also greater power for committing such treason. The previous year they had sent a secret delegation to Washington that received assurances from the cabinet of the US president that they favored annexation if the kingdom could be overthrown.

Ambassador Stevens had promised to assist in the overthrow by landing troops from the American ironclad warship USS Boston anchored in Honolulu harbor under the guise of protecting the lives and property of Americans. On January 16th, Instigated by the conspirators, a mob of about 1,500 vocal supporters that included many of the recently disbanded all-white Honolulu Rifles Militia then gathered in an apparent attempt to intimidate a much smaller group of native and non-native Hawaiian supporters of the queen.

What were the queen’s options? Around 5:00 pm on January 16, 1893 US Ambassador Stevens gave the order for Captain Gilbert Wilse, who was eagerly waiting at the Boston, to land his well-armed troops in support of the overthrow. Instead of marching the troops to protect the property of Americans as claimed, they were marched to the Hawaiian government building and palace. Towards evening Queen Lili`uokalani then watched from the royal palace windows as over 120 marines and sailors from the Boston marched past the palace and were stationed a few hundred yards away, thereby also surrounding the government building. The troops were bringing with them and positioning Hotchkiss- type rapid-firing Gatling guns which were revolving multi-barrel machine guns that could fire 700-1,000 rounds per minute with 2,000-yard accuracy. (These types of guns were the key weapon used by the US Army in the final 1890 genocidal massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee that had disarmed under a white flag of truce, and were the weapons of choice of western nations in colonizing new countries.) The guns were extremely intimidating. Since Stevens had requested the captain of the Boston to assist the conspirators with the overthrow of the queen, another 40 men marched to his house to protect it.

Foreign diplomats advised the queen not to resist by force as they realized that her position was hopeless and that a massacre may occur because of the presence of the machine guns. Realizing that her own, more poorly equipped and trained troops were no match for the American military and its devastating fire power and in order to avoid bloodshed and expecting to be reinstated and justice to prevail, Queen Lili`uokalani started her brilliant political counterattack to save the kingdom through diplomacy by stating:
“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 Provisional Government. Now to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do this under protest and impelled by said force yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon 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.”

She then continued her diplomatic campaign with the help of her loyal Hawaiian subjects to regain the kingdom, which kept the hawks and warmongers in Washington at bay for another five years and initially resulted in the Blout Report that documented the illegal overthrow for posterity and called for the reinstatement of the queen. However, while she was well aware that backstage attempts to overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom and illegal annexation to the United States had been ongoing since before the 1987 Bayonet Revolution, she could not have foreseen nor fully understood the ongoing events based on politics, greed, and deception leading to the Plotting of the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom nor the events of US colonization and war that undermined its justifiable reinstatement.

As with the genocide committed against the Native Americans (Indians) and slavery and mistreatments of blacks, the illegal overthrow and theft of the Hawaiian Kingdom has undermined the moral authority of the US to this date. However, might seems to make right in the eyes of many even today. Can truth and justice prevail?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *