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Liliuokalani Describes the Coup of 1887

It is necessary now to briefly review the events which had taken place in our absence of about three months abroad. We arrived in Honolulu on the twenty-sixth day of July, 1887. A conspiracy against the peace of the Hawaiian Kingdom had been taking shape since early spring. By the 15th of June, prior to our return, it had assumed a no less definite shape than the overthrow of the monarchy.

For many years our sovereigns had welcomed the advice of, and given full representations in their government and councils to, American residents who had cast in their lot with our people, and established industries on the Islands. As they became wealthy, and acquired titles to lands through the simplicity of our people and their ignorance of values and of the new land laws, their greed and their love of power proportionately increased; and schemes for aggrandizing themselves still further, or for avoiding the obligations which they had incurred to us, began to occupy their minds. So the mercantile element, as embodied in the Chamber of Commerce, the sugar planters, and the proprietors of the "missionary" stores, formed a distinct political party, called the "down-town" party, whose purpose was to minimize or entirely subvert other interests, and especially the prerogatives of the crown, which, based upon ancient custom and the authority of the island chiefs, were the sole guaranty of our nationality. Although settled among us, and drawing their wealth from our resources, they were alien to us in their customs and ideas respecting government, and desired above all things the extension of their power, and to carry out their own special plans of advancement, and to secure their own personal benefit. It may be true that they really believed us unfit to be trusted to administer the growing wealth of the Islands in a safe and proper way. But if we manifested any incompetency, it was in not foreseeing that they would be bound by no obligations, by honor, or by oath of allegiance, should an opportunity arise for seizing our country, and bringing it under the authority of the United States.

Kalakaua valued the commercial and industrial prosperity of his kingdom highly. He sought honestly to secure it for every class of people, alien or native, in his dominions, making it second only to the advancement of morals and education. If he believed in the divine right of kings, and the distinctions of hereditary nobility, it was not alone from the prejudices of birth and native custom, but because he was able to perceive that even the most enlightened nations of the earth have not as yet been able to replace them with a ruling class equally able, patriotic, or disinterested. I say this with all reverence for the form of government and the social order existing in the United States, whose workings have, for more than a century, excited the interest of the world; not the interest of the common people only, but of nobles, rulers, and kings. Kalakaua's highest and most earnest desire was to be a true sovereign, the chief servant of a happy, prosperous, and progressive people. He regarded himself as the responsible arbiter of clashing interests, and his own breast as the ordained meeting-place of the spears of political contention. He was rightly jealous of his prerogatives, because they were responsibilities which no civic body in his kingdom could safely undertake to administer. He freely gave his personal efforts to the securing of a reciprocity treaty with the United States, and sought the co-operation of that great and powerful nation, because he was persuaded it would enrich, or benefit, not one class, but, in a greater or less degree, all his subjects.

His interviews with General Grant, his investigations into the labor problems, which the success of the Hawaiian plantations demanded, were all means to the same end – an increase of domestic prosperity. He succeeded, and the joy of the majority was great. The planters were elated, the merchants were encouraged, money flowed into their pockets, bankrupt firms became wealthy, sugar companies declared fabulous dividends; the prosperity for which my brother had so faithfully worked he most abundantly secured for his people, especially for those of foreign birth, or missionary ancestry, who had become permanent residents of Hawaii.

The king did not accomplish these things without some native opposition; although it was respectful and deferent to his decision, as the ideas and customs of our people require. Some foresaw that this treaty with the United States might become the entering wedge for the loss of our independence. What would be the consequences should the Islands acquire too great a commercial attraction, too large a foreign population and interests? would not these interests demand the protection of flag backed by a great military or naval power? But Kalakaua, aware that under the provisions of international law no nation could attack us without cause, and relying on the established policy of our great ally, the United States, fully assured that no colonial scheme would find acceptation there, boldly adventured upon the effort which so greatly increased the wealth and importance of his kingdom – wealth which has, however, owing to circumstances which he could not then foresee, and which none of his loyal counsellors even dreamed of, now gone almost wholly into the pockets of aliens and foes.

For years the "missionary party" had, by means of controlling the cabinets appointed by the king, kept itself in power. Its leaders were constantly intriguing to make the ministry their tool, or to have in its organization a power for carrying out their own special plans, and securing their own personal benefit. And now, without any provocation on the part of the king, having matured their plans in secret, the men of foreign birth rose one day en masse, called a public meeting, and forced the king, without any appeal to the suffrages of the people, to sign a constitution of their own preparation, a document which deprived the sovereign of all power, made him a mere tool in their hands, and practically took away the franchise from the Hawaiian race. This constitution was never in any way ratified, either by the people, or by their representatives, even after violence had procured the king's signature to it. Contrary entirely to the intent of the prior constitution drawn by a Hawaiian monarch (under which for twenty-three years the nation had been conducted to prosperity), this draft of 1887 took all power from the ruler, and meant that from that day the "missionary party" took the law into its own hands.

It may be asked, "Why did the king give them his signature?" I answer without hesitation, because he had discovered traitors among his most trusted friends, and knew not in whom he could trust; and because he had every assurance, short of actual demonstration, that the conspirators were ripe for revolution, and had taken measures to have him assassinated if he refused. His movements of late had been watched, and his steps dogged, as though he had been a fugitive from justice. Whenever he attempted to go out in the evening, either to call at the hotel, or visit any one of his friends' houses, he was conscious of the presence of enemies who were following stealthily on his track. But, happily, Providence watched over him, and thus he was guarded from personal harm.

He signed that constitution under absolute compulsion. Details of the conspiracy have come to me since from sources upon which I can rely, which lead to the conviction that but for the repugnance or timidity of one of the executive committee, since risen very high in the counsels of the so-called republic, he would have been assassinated. Then they had planned for the immediate abrogation of the monarchy, the declaration of a republic, and a proposal for annexation to be made to the United States. The constitution of the republic was actually framed and agreed upon; but the plot was not fully carried out – more moderate counsels prevailed. They therefore took the very constitution of which I have spoken, the one which had been drafted for a republic, hastily rewrote it so as to answer their ends, and forced Kalakaua to affix thereto his official signature.

It has been known ever since that day as "The Bayonet Constitution," and the name is well chosen; for the cruel treatment received by the king from the military companies, which had been organized by his enemies under other pretences, but really to give them the power of coercion, was the chief measure used to enforce his submission. They had illegally come out against him, bearing arms; and it is openly stated that they had prepared measures to be a law unto themselves . Whatever the faults of Mr. Gibson, so long prime minister of Kalakaua, he was an able man, and his only public crime was his loyalty to his king. And it was for this reason that he, and his son-in-law, Mr. Fred H. Hayselden of Lanai, were seized by a mob composed of the "missionary party" armed with rifles, and marched down the public streets to the wharves; not an atom of respect being shown to the gray hairs of the old man who had occupied for years the highest position in the king's cabinet. Who was the man, and where is he now, who knocked off the hat, and struck the loyal old man, as he silently accepted his changed position?

So these two citizens were forced along into a small structure on the wharf, where hung two ropes with nooses already prepared, and a man of widely known missionary ancestry, led the outcry, vociferating loudly and lustily, "Hang them! Hang them!" Could it be possible, I thought, that a son of one of my early instructors, the child of such a lovely and amiable Christian mother, could so far forget the spirit of that religion his parents taught, and be so carried away with political passion, as to be guilty of murder?

Yet he was not the only one, by any means, who seemed to have forgotten those principles of our Lord, to teach which their parents had come to our shores. For while this was going on in the city, another missionary boy rode out to the country residence of Mr. Gibson, at Kapiolani Park, and entering abruptly into the presence of his daughter, Mrs. Hayselden, threw a lasso over her head, as though the gentle woman had been a wild animal, and avowed his intention of dragging her into town. While he held her, those with him searched the house, hoping that they might discover arms or some other evidence by which Mr. Gibson and the members of his family could be convicted and hung, but they were disappointed. After subjecting her to this brutality, which she bore most bravely, the ruffians left her to await the return from Honolulu of her natural protectors. But, alas! instead of their presence, what sorrow was to be hers! She received news of the manner in which they had been treated, and how doubtful it was whether they would ever be allowed to meet again this side of the grave; for after keeping their victims some days in terror of life, on the fifth day of July, 1887, the two men, against whom no charge, political nor criminal, was ever made, were placed on board a sailing-vessel and landed at San Francisco. The treatment received was too much for the elder sufferer; and although the conspirators had not directly assassinated him, he died soon after. His son returned to Hawaii, and became sheriff of Lanai during my reign. He was one of the first persons selected for dismissal by the present government; he had taken no part in public manifestations, but was informed by the attorney-general, Mr. W. O. Smith, that he was removed from office, "simply because you are a friend of the queen."

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