July’s Hawaiian History Moment of the Month

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On July 6, 1887, King David Kalakaua was forced by gunpoint to sign a new constitution that reduced his power and gave most of it to his cabinet of businessmen. Lorrin Andrews Thurston wrote the constitution known as the Bayonet Constitution, and later led the overthrow of the monarchy.

All was not merry during Hawaii’s King David Kalākaua’s reign. While sugar profits grew and Hawaii’s economy flourished, business deals and corruption seeped into government. On July 6, 1887, Kalākaua signed a new constitution known as the Bayonet Constitution because he was forced to sign by gunpoint. The armed militia of the business community comprised of mostly non-Hawaiians made the king an offer he could not refuse.

The Bayonet Constitution gave away much of the king’s authority by assigning most of his decision-making power to the cabinet, whereas before he did not need their approval to act. Thus, the king was reduced to a figurehead, and the citizens lost their voice in government. When asked why he signed it, Kalākaua’s sister Lili’uokalani said, “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.”

Lorrin Andrews Thurston wrote the new constitution and admitted that the document was signed under shady circumstances. Later in 1893, Thurston led the overthrow of the monarchy.

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Aloha, Mele Fong aka Ukulele Mele