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Queen Lili'uokalani

By Will Hoover 
Advertiser Staff Writer

In early 1891, Hawai'i's first female monarch and last Hawaiian ruler inherited a royal order under siege.

Lydia Kamaka'eha, younger sister of Kalakaua, became Queen Lili'uokalani on Jan. 29 — the day the body of the king was returned to Hawai'i from San Francisco, where Kalakaua had died nine days earlier.


Lili'uokalani, a resolute woman who firmly believed in the power of the royalty, expressed an unbending determination to restore the authority her brother had subordinated when he signed, under pressure, the so-called "Bayonet Constitution" in 1887.

Hawai'i by this time had become locked in a political struggle between people of Hawaiian blood, whose numbers had dwindled to a mere 35,000, and an increasingly influential group of non-Hawaiian reformists convinced that the Islands' royalty had outlived their usefulness.

At issue was whether the monarch would reign but not rule — in essence, be a figurehead. That's the position the king had placed himself in when he signed papers that revised the Constitution of 1864.

However, Kalakaua rebounded, arguing that his powers had been unconstitutionally usurped under threat of force by reformists.

By November 1890, the Reform Cabinet forced on the king had been ousted, and measures to undo the Bayonet Constitution were in place.

Soon, however, the king was dead and a new queen faced a government in turmoil. Her ambition to resurrect royal powers was outmatched by the reality of the crown's weakened constituency and authority.

Seven months after her accession, John Owen Dominis, her husband of three decades who might have urged her to proceed cautiously, died.

When Lili'uokalani went forward with plans to draw up a new constitution in the face of ever-decreasing support from the Cabinet, her opponents formed a provisional government to replace the monarchy, seemingly backed by American troops that had landed on O'ahu to maintain order.

The queen was deposed on Jan. 17, 1893, but the messy wrangling over the legalities of provisional government and America's role in the conflict continued for months.

An ill-fated counterrevolution in 1895 took a momentous turn when a cache of arms was discovered buried at the queen's residence, Washington Place. Implicated in the attempted coup,

Lili'uokalani was arrested on Jan. 16, 1895, and confined in an apartment at 'Iolani Palace.

Eight days later, she signed a document renouncing any claim to the throne and recognizing the legitimacy of the new republic — bringing an end to the hopes of her followers for restoration of the Hawaiian monarchy.