Queen Liliuokalani: Hawaii’s Last Queen

In 1959, Hawaii officially became America’s fiftieth state. Before any Americans arrived, however, Hawaii was a free nation governed by one ruler. Hawaii’s last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, sought a peaceful resolution with America but also wanted to keep her title. Instead, she lived to see her nation taken over by another country.

As early as age four, Liliuokalani felt the influence of Americans in Hawaii. In 1842, she attended a school for Hawaiian royal children, where she received lessons from missionaries from New England. Some of the lessons, such as English and music, were useful to Liliuokalani when she became queen.

The missionaries, Amos and Juliette Cooke, did more than insist that the children do homework, however. At the Royal School, Liliuokalani learned to pray to one god instead of many. No one at the school called Liliuokalani by her real name. Instead, she was given the Christian name Lydia. The Cookes also made the children wear more clothing than they were used to out in the warm climate of Hawaii, and they ate less. Liliuokalani wrote later, “It seems to me that they failed to remember that we were growing children. A thick slice of bread covered with molasses was usually the sole article of our supper.”

At age sixteen, Liliuokalani married an American named John Dominis. He served as an advisor to Hawaii’s king. King Kamehameha V noticed young Liliuokalani’s musical talent and asked her to write a national anthem for Hawaii. She wrote it in both Hawaiian and English. It read in part, “Grant Thy peace throughout the land/O’er these sunny, sea-girt Isles/Keep the nation’s life O Lord/And upon our sovereign smile.”

When King Kamehameha died, Liliuokalani’s brother became king. By the 1870s, more Americans came to Hawaii. These Americans were businessmen, not missionaries. They bought Hawaiian land and grew sugarcane on it. By shipping sugarcane around the world, Americans in Hawaii became rich.

Liliuokalani’s brother, King Kalakaua, wanted native Hawaiians and Americans to get along. To accomplish his goal, Kalakaua made a treaty with President Grant. The treaty said that American sugar growers could ship their sugar without paying taxes, and that only the United States could use Hawaii’s harbors. Kalakaua thought the treaty would create better relations with Americans, but it just made Americans richer by helping them stockpile their money. When her brother signed away Hawaii’s harbor, later known as Pearl Harbor, Liliuokalani wrote, “King signed lease of Pearl river to U. States for eight years. It should not have been done.”

One day, a group of Americans stormed Ionlani Palace where the king lived. They had weapons and demanded that he sign a new constitution that gave Americans the power to make Hawaii’s laws. A few years later, King Kalakaua, who had become only a figurehead in Hawaii, died with no heir.

His sister Liliuokalani was crowned queen. She worked hard to return her country back to native Hawaiians. She wrote a new constitution that gave her the right to rule. The Americans rejected it. When an American named Sanford Dole took over as Hawaii’s leader, she appealed to President Cleveland for help. Cleveland supported Liliuokalani, but failed to convince Dole to step down. Some of Liliuokalani’s loyal supporters in Hawaii tried to overthrow the new government, but they only managed to imprison themselves and their queen.

The new government locked Liliuokalani away for eight months, during which she was forced to sign away her rights to the throne. When she was released in 1895, she traveled the United States, unsuccessfully trying to gain support for Hawaii’s independence from America.