Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani: Quotes & Biography

Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

In this lesson, you'll learn about Hawaii's last queen, Liliuokalani. First you'll learn about her early life and the reign. Then you'll learn how she was overthrown, and we'll go over some of her famous quotes.

Early Life

Queen Liliuokalani was the last monarch of Hawaii. She was born Lydia Kamaka'eha on September 2, 1838, to High Chief Caesar Kapa'akea and High Chiefess Keohokalole. Through the Hawaiian tradition of Hanai, in which a child is adopted by a royal family to ensure the child's high rank, she was adopted by chiefs Laura Konia and Abner Paki. Known as Lydia or Liliu, she attended a boarding school run by Western missionaries where she excelled and learned English.

Liliu married John Dominis, an official in the Hawaiian government, in 1862. In 1874, her brother David Kalakaua became King, and in 1877, her brother named her his heir. She traveled extensively, meeting the President of the United States and attending Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. In 1891, her brother, King Kalakaua, died, and she became Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii. She ascended the throne during a time of great turmoil for Hawaii.

Queen Liliuokalani
Queen Liliuokalani

Hawaiian History

In order to understand Queen Liliuokalani's reign, we should first get an understanding of what Hawaii was like at the time. Hawaiian King Kamehameha conquered and united the Hawaiian Islands in 1810, establishing the Kingdom of Hawaii. By this time, many white missionaries and settlers from America were already flocking to Hawaii. American missionaries attempted to Westernize the islands, while other settlers commercialized the islands by getting involved in business and the profitable sugar trade.

In 1875, Hawaii and the U.S. signed a Reciprocity Treaty that allowed free trade of Hawaiian sugar to the U.S. The Hawaiian sugar merchants became wealthier and more powerful and began asserting themselves in Hawaiian politics. Also during this time, Hawaii's rulers, including Liliu's brother, King Kalakaua, became embroiled in corruption. The non-native minority was tired of listening to a king. A white militia group called the Honolulu Rifles forced King Kalakaua to sign the Bayonet Constitution. This stripped away many of the King's powers, forced white businessmen into the royal cabinet, and limited native voting rights. After this, only literate rich men could vote, which disenfranchised most of Hawaii's native population. This was the state of Hawaii when Liliuokalani took the throne in 1891.

The Takeover

Queen Liliuokalani immediately sought ways to undo the Bayonet Constitution. Unsurprisingly, this angered the wealthy white faction, who did not want the monarch to regain any powers. To make matters worse, just before she took the throne, the U.S. passed the McKinley Tariff, which ended free trade for the sugar merchants. The loss of sugar profits sent the islands into a recession. Powerful businessmen realized the best way to get another preferential trade agreement was for Hawaii to become part of the U.S. Plus, they could get rid of the monarchy they detested.

Raising the American flag at Iolani Palace
Raising the American flag at Iolani Palace

A group of influential non-native men formed the Committee of Safety, which supported annexation. The Committee of Safety contacted U.S. Minister to Hawaii, John Stevens, claiming that U.S. citizens' lives were at risk, and troops should be sent to protect them. The committee also hoped Stevens would support their desire to overthrow the monarchy. Well, Stevens did agree, although he did not consult the State Department before acting. On January 16th, 1893, four boatloads of U.S. Marines showed up in Honolulu. Meanwhile, the Honolulu Rifles threatened the palace and asked the Queen to step down. Although the U.S. Marines did not join in the uprising, their presence further intimidated the Queen. With soldiers and guns surrounding her, Queen Liliuokalani surrendered the next day, abdicating her throne.

Sanford Dole, a white jurist, established a temporary government and asked the U.S. to annex Hawaii. New U.S. President Grover Cleveland wanted to take a closer look at the treaty, and he found out that Minister Stevens did not get permission from the State department to support the Queen's overthrow. The U.S. offered the crown back to Queen Liliuokalani under the condition that she pardon everyone involved in her overthrow. However, the Queen said no. She eventually changed her mind, but it was too late. Sanford Dole proclaimed himself president of the new Hawaiian republic.

The U.S. recognized this new republic, but did not annex Hawaii. All this time, Liliuokalani was fighting against her overthrow and against annexation. She was arrested for her part in a failed counterrevolution after weapons were found in her house. However, she continued to organize big rallies of native Hawaiians who opposed annexation. In fact, Liliuokalani was starting to change hearts and minds until a single event ended her fight. In 1898, the Spanish American war broke out and was fought as far across the Pacific as the Philippines. The need for a mid-Pacific naval base finally convinced the U.S. to finalize the annexation of Hawaii in 1898.

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