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Sanford B. Dole and the Republic of Hawai'i

By Mike Gordon 
Advertiser Staff Writer


Advertiser library photo

A missionary son of Hawai'i, Sanford B. Dole was raised in a kingdom that he would one day lead, first as president of a republic, then as governor of a U.S. territory.

He was born in Honolulu in 1844, the son of Punahou School founder Daniel Dole, but spent his formative years in Koloa, Kaua'i. Dole attended Williams College and studied in a Washington, D.C., law firm before returning to Hawai'i as a lawyer.

Dole was a friend of King Kalakaua and Queen Lili'uokalani and pushed for the westernization of Hawaiian society and culture. He is said to have represented plantation laborers at no charge to them.

But his legacy is in politics, and he was a prominent leader during the most turbulent times in Hawai'i's history.

Elected to the kingdom legislature in 1884 — representing Koloa — Dole led a reform movement that forced Kalakaua to sign the "Bayonet Constitution" in 1887. It stripped the king of his power, limited the voting rights of the nobles and Native Hawaiians, and gave more power to the European and American subjects of the kingdom.

On Jan. 17, 1893, with Kalakaua dead and Lili'uokalani on the throne, Lili'uokalani was overthrown by a group of businessmen calling themselves the Committee of Safety.

The committee asked Dole to lead a provisional government while its representatives sought annexation by the United States. Although annexation was nixed at the time — it would not happen until 1898 — Dole said yes to the job and went on to become president of the Republic of Hawai'i on July 4, 1894.

As president, Dole weathered tough times, including a counter-revolution by supporters of the monarchy.

Although U.S. President Grover Cleveland did not support the overthrow, calling it "an act of war," Lili'uokalani and her supporters felt he was not going to help restore her to the throne. That belief helped fuel a counter-revolution in 1895, led by Robert Wilcox and encouraged by Lili'uokalani.

The Royalists, as they were known, secured arms from San Francisco and hid them, along with homemade bombs, throughout the city. Some were hidden in the queen's own garden.

The rebellion was discovered, however, during a chance encounter with police.

Among the 100 people arrested was Lili'uokalani, who was convicted of treason and sentenced to five years at hard labor. Her sentence was commuted to eight months of house arrest.

The annexationists within the republic continued their push, and after the election of U.S. President William McKinley, succeeded in 1898.

McKinley appointed Dole the first governor of the Territory of Hawai'i in 1900. He served in that position until 1903, when he was named a federal court judge, a position he would hold until 1916.

Dole died in 1926.