Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Waiania Kamakaʻeha, better known as Queen Liliʻuokalani, was the Hawaiian Kingdom’s first queen and last monarch before the eventual overthrowing of the sovereign state by the U.S government. Queen Liliʻuokalani is remembered for her defining leadership and her deep love for her land and its people, as well as her fight to protect them and their sovereignty.
Liliʻuokalani was born, one of 15 children, on September 2, 1838 to High Chiefess Analea Keohokālole and High Chief Caesar Kaluaiku Kapaʻakea. Her family aswell as her were born into Hawai’i’s aliʻi class, meaning they were apart of a hereditary line of Hawaiian rulers.
During Liliuokalani’s early life, foreign businessmen from Europe and the United States strengthened their hold on Hawai’i and its land. In the mid-1800’s, the Monarchy established private land ownership and allowed foreign citizens to own land, which in turn allowed foreign businessmen to form large sugar and pineapple plantations that dominated the kingdom’s economy. By the late 1800’s, foreign landowners, primarily from the United States, had acquired large portions of Hawai’i gaining more and more of its influence.
In 1874 the King of Hawai’i, Kamehameha V died without a successor and the government’s legislature elected David Kalākaua, Liliuokalani’s brother to serve as king. As a newly appointed princess, Liliuokalani traveled and met with foreign diplomats such as the Queen of England in London as well as U.S President Grover Cleveland in Washington, D.C. Liliuokalani also worked with charitable organizations, with one of those charities being the Liliuokalani Educational Society, which provided schooling for impoverished Hawaiian girls. It was in this position that her passion and love for her land and its people blossomed and led her to become a pivotal figure in the kingdom’s royal family.
During this time into King Kalākaua’s reign, a small but powerful group of European and American landowners began to plot against the Hawaiian monarchy. The group wanted more political power in order to change Hawaiian laws to help their businesses. In 1887, a group of white foreigners known as the Hawaiian League attempted a coup. The coup failed but they group did manage to force the king to sign a new constitution that gave foreign landowners more power in Hawai’i, known as the “Bayonet Constitution.” Many saw this as a step toward overthrowing the kingdom and to the eventual annexation of Hawai’i into the United States.
Also during this time King Kalākaua’s health had been declining, and in 1891 while on a tour in California the king suffered a stroke in Santa Barbara and later died two days later in San Francisco on January 20, 1891. When the news of the monarch’s death reached back to Hawai’i on January 29, 1891, Liliʻuokalani took the oath of office to uphold the constitution, and became the first and only female monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Queen Liliʻuokalani began working right away for the Hawaiian people, and one of her first actions being to annul the constitution that had been previously forced upon her people by the white man under her brother. She started writing a new constitution that would restore the veto power to the monarchy, strengthening it and providing voting rights to economically disenfranchised native Hawaiians and Asians.
Also during her tenure as queen, Liliʻuokalani presided over the Hawaiian Kingdom during the time of it’s greatest economic growth the kingdom had ever seen. Additionally, she also presided when Hawaiʻi legislation flourished, including universal suffrage, universal health care, state neutrality, and a 95 percent literacy rate, the second highest in the world. Queen Liliʻuokalani upheld the values that were dear to the heart of Hawai’i and the hearts of its people.
American and European businessmen and residents began to grow bitter of the queen’s reign and started organizing to overthrow her. They wanted Hawaii annexed to the United States so that their businesses could thrive under the American economy. On January 16, 1893, sailors and marines overthrew the Kingdom of Hawai’i under orders of neutrality. Liliʻuokalani believed in peaceful resistance. She did not want the blood of Hawaiian people to be shed. Hoping that the U.S. would eventually restore Hawaii’s sovereignty to the rightful holder, the Queen temporarily relinquished her throne to the superior military forces of the United States
The annexation of Hawaii was delayed however by two petitions with over 38,000 signatures representing 95% of the Native Hawaiian population, and the Queen went to Washington D.C. herself to petition for her cause.
Liliʻuokalani was eventually arrested on January 16, 1895, accused of being involved in a failed 1895 counter-revolution. She was put under house imprisonment for a year, until in 1896 when the Republic of Hawaiʻi gave her a full pardon and restored her civil rights.
The annexation ceremony was held on August 12, 1898. The flag of the Republic of Hawaii was lowered and the flag of the United States was raised in its place. Liliʻuokalani and her family members boycotted the event as well as many native Hawaiians and royalists who followed suit and refused to attend the ceremony.
In the years that followed, Liliʻuokalani continued fighting for Hawaiian sovereignty with multiple trips between Hawaii and Washington, D.C., where she worked to seek indemnity from the United States. But after many failed attempts to free the islands from the United State’s grasp, Liliʻuokalani began to instead focus her time and resources toward the betterment of the Hawaiian people while they were under new rule.
A force to be reckoned with, Liliʻuokalani protected her country, people, and role as sovereign until her eventual passing on the morning of November 11, 1917. Liliʻuokalani died at the age of 79 at her residence at Washington Place. Liliʻuokalani dictated in her will that all of her possessions to be sold and the money raised would go to the Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Trust to help poor and orphaned children. The Queen Liliʻuokalani Trust Fund still exists today helping impoverished Hawaiian girls to realize and harness their full potential.
The cause of Hawai’i and independence is larger and dearer than the life of any man connected with it. Love of country is deep-seated in the breast of every Hawaiian, whatever his station.Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawai’i