On Jan. 17, 1893, Hawaii’s monarchy was overthrown when a group of businessmen and sugar planters forced Queen Liliuokalani to abdicate. The coup led to the dissolving of the Kingdom of Hawaii two years later, its annexation as a U.S. territory and eventual admission as the 50th state in the union.
The first European contact with Hawaii was made in 1778 by Capt. James Cook. In the 19th century, traders and missionaries came to the islands from Europe and the United States. They often opposed the Hawaiian monarchy, favoring instead a British-style constitutional monarchy where the monarch held little power.
In 1874, David Kalakaua became king and sought to reduce the power of the white Missionary Party (later Reform Party) in the government. In 1887, angered by King Kalakaua’s extravagant spending and his attempts to dilute their power, a small group of Missionary Party members, known as the Hawaiian League, struck back against the king.
Led by Lorrin A. Thurston and Sanford B. Dole, the Hawaiian League drafted a new constitution that reduced the power of the king and increased the power of the cabinet and Legislature. It also extended voting rights to wealthy noncitizens, while excluding Asians and restricting access for native Hawaiians through land-owning and literacy provisions. Backed by a militia, the group used the threat of violence to force King Kalakaua to sign the constitution, which became known as the Bayonet Constitution.
King Kalakaua died in 1891 and was succeeded by his sister, Liliuokalani, who proposed a new constitution that would restore powers of the monarchy and extend voting rights for native Hawaiians. The queen’s actions angered many of Hawaii’s white businessmen, who formed a 13-member Committee of Safety with the goal of overthrowing the monarchy and seeking annexation by the United States.
The Jan. 17, 1893 edition of The New York Times recounted the events of the coup. On Jan. 16, Hawaiian Marshal Charles B. Wilson attempted to arrest the committee members and declare martial law, but his attempts were turned down by other government officials who feared violence. The next day, after a police officer was shot and wounded trying to halt the distribution of weapons to the Committee of Safety’s militia, the committee decided to put its coup into action. Near the queen’s ʻIolani Palace in Honolulu, the committee’s militia gathered and were joined by 162 U.S. Marines and Navy sailors who were ordered by John L. Stevens, U.S. Minister to Hawaii, to protect the committee. The queen surrendered peacefully to avoid violence.
The Committee of Safety established a provisional government headed by Mr. Dole. U.S. President Grover Cleveland opposed the provisional government and called for the queen to be restored to power, but the Committee of Safety established the Republic of Hawaii and refused to cede power. In 1895, Hawaiian royalists began a coup against the republic, but it did not succeed. Queen Liliuokalani was arrested for her alleged role in the coup and convicted of treason; while under house arrest, the queen agreed to formally abdicate and dissolve the monarchy.
In 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii. Hawaii was administered as a U.S. territory until 1959, when it became the 50th state.
This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 17, 2012
An earlier version of this post read “The next day, after a police officer was killed trying to halt the distribution of weapons to the Committee of Safety’s militia, the committee decided to put its coup into action. Near the queen’s ʻIolani Palace in Honolulu, the committee’s militia gathered and were joined by about 300 U.S. Marines and Navy sailors who were ordered by John L. Stevens, U.S. Minister to Hawaii, to protect the committee.”
The police officer was shot and wounded, not killed. Though the Times article from Jan. 17, 1893, reported the number of U.S. Marines and sailors at around 300, the official number given by U.S. government investigations is 162. The post has been amended to reflect those changes.