Since the unification of the Hawaiian Islands by Kamehameha I in 1810, the royal house had controlled the Pacific nation with gradually decreasing power over the nineteenth century. Initially, the kings and queens were unquestionable, but the plagues that ravaged the populace also devastated the dynasty, leaving legislatures to elect the next king. Influence from Europe and, especially, the United States increased, especially after the signing of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 in which the two became close trade partners. In 1887, after a vicious election campaign in 1873 in which rioters were put down by foreign armies, King David Kalākaua was forced to sign the “Bayonet Constitution” greatly limiting the power of the monarch. Rather than shifting the power into the hands of the people, the constitution placed it firmly into the hands of the wealthy planters and politicians.
Queen Liliʻuokalani came to power in 1891 upon the death of David Kalākaua and set about regaining power. Her main end was to revoke the Constitution of 1887 and entail her own. Fearful of losing power, the wealthy (primarily white businessmen) formed a Committee of Safety and overthrew the queen in 1893. During the military overthrow, US Minister to Hawaii John Stevens ordered Marines into action supporting the coup from anchor in Pearl Harbor, which had been leased by the United States Navy only six years before.
Outrage both international and local would be voiced, but none enough to force the planter-led Sanford Dole’s Provisional Government out of power. The Blount Report of 1893 and 1894 Morgan Report from the U.S. Senate showed distaste for the illegal use of Marines, but the petitions of Hawaiians were not enough to undo the action. In 1894, President Grover Cleveland made clear that he supported the imprisoned Queen Lili’uokalani and refused the continual petition for annexation. The new US Minister to Hawaii, Albert Willis, used rumors and the Japanese, American, and British naval ships in harbor as an elaborate hoax to show the public’s distaste for Dole’s government, but Dole refused to give up power. The government reformed itself into the Republic of Hawaii, awaiting a day when a favorable administration would allow the islands to become United States Territory.
While the rest of the world stood by with wrinkled noses, local Hawaiians were organizing to retaliate. Led by men such as former Head of the Royal Guard Sam Nowlein and Robert Wilcox, who had studied military action in Italian academies in a royal program ended with the 1887 Constitution, the Royalists collected troops among the poor and disenfranchised and armed with them weapons smuggled from San Francisco. On January 6, 1895, Republican police searched the Royalist weapons cache in the home of John Bertleman on Waikiki Beach. Shots broke out, and Royalists surrounded the house, capturing all six of the policemen. Knowing that rumors had turned to reality, Wilcox led the charge that night to attack government buildings while Nowlein rescued the queen from her palace and declared her power returned at 11:59 so that not one more day would be spent under the tyranny of oligarchy.
The Royalists numbered only 500, but they acted with speed and surprise that enabled them to capture Dole and several other government leaders before the Republican Army had time to react. Riots broke out in the plantations in ‘Ewa, and Hawaiians hurried out into the streets to show their support for either government. In the chaos, Minister Albert Willis refused to let American or other foreign powers intervene, and, by January 9, the Republic was crushed.
Lili’uokalani rewrote her constitution and led court proceedings stripping Dole and his minions of their properties as well as freeing any indentured workers imported from Asia from their contracts. Representation was granted to the naturalized Asians who had lost their votes in 1887. A special thanks was given to Willis, and Wilcox, now made a duke to match his nickname of “Iron Duke,” was named Minister to the United States, meeting with the later President McKinley, whose expansionism Wilcox stifled. Pearl Harbor remained leased by the United States but was not expanded until World War II.
In December of 1941, another expansionistic force would be seen as the Empire of Japan attacked the American base at Midway without warning, leading to a bloody battle even before war was declared. The Hawaiians, close to the United States but with a large Japanese population, declared neutrality. Staying out of the war proved impossible, and King Kamehameha Lane opened his islands for Allied aid while cracking down on any suspicion among Japanese citizens.
The war would prove an economic boom for Hawaii, which would lead to a harsh crash in the 1950s, prompting a coup by anti-royal socialists, mainly of Japanese descent. The CIA funded and armed several counter-revolutions, destroying stability. A new Republic of Hawaii came with a successful revolution in 1989, and a golden age from tourism lasted as developers in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. The Global Credit Crisis struck Hawaii particularly hard, devastating the islands’ economy comparable to, though worse than, Iceland.
In reality, three of the Republican police at Bertleman’s house escaped. They gave warning of the uprising, which led the Republican Army of 1200 and some 500 Citizens’ Guards to attack the Royalists at the Battle of Diamond Head. Although initially successful at repelling attack, the Royalists were overwhelmed by numbers and the Republicans’ artillery, retreating and fighting skirmishes for over a week before being snuffed out. Lili’uokalani, Wilcox, and others were tried for treason, served part of their sentences, and were pardoned by Dole after Lili’uokalani’s abdication. In 1898, Hawaii would be annexed by the United States, and Wilcox was later elected Delegate to Congress.