Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy

For January’s Hawaiian history moment of the month, let’s learn about the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.


On January 17, 1893, the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown by armed American businessmen (not local Hawaiians) in a bloodless coup.

DID YOU KNOW Hawai’i is the only state in the union to have had a monarchy and a royal palace you can visit today? King Kamehameha the Great unified the islands into the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1810 and it lasted 83 years until the overthrow by non-Hawaiians.

On January 17, 1893, the Kingdom of Hawai’i was overthrown by armed American businessmen and sugar planters in a bloodless coup.  A small group of men under Sanford Dole overthrew Queen Lili’uokalani, the Hawaiian monarch, and established a new provincial government with Dole as president. John Stevens, the U.S. minister to Hawai’i knew about the coup ahead of time, and 300 U.S. Marines from a warship were in Honolulu harbor to allegedly protect American lives.

Queen Lili’uokalani, had tried to establish a new constitution to restore the power she had lost when her brother King Kalākaua was forced to sign the Bayonet Constitution of 1887 that diminished the Native Hawaiian’s voice in government. However, the American businessmen did not want the Queen to succeed. Thus, to this “superior force of the United States of America,” Queen Lili’uokalani yielded her throne, under protest, in order to avoid bloodshed, trusting that the United States government would right the wrong that had been done to her and the Hawaiian people.[1] That did not happen.

“President Grover Cleveland sent a new U.S. minister to Hawai’i to restore Queen Lili’uokalani to the throne under the 1887 constitution, but Dole refused to step aside and instead proclaimed the independent Republic of Hawai’i. Cleveland was unwilling to overthrow the government by force, and his successor, President William McKinley, negotiated a treaty with the Republic of Hawai’i in 1897. In 1898, the Spanish-American War broke out, and the strategic use of the naval base at Pearl Harbor during the war convinced Congress to approve formal annexation. Two years later, Hawai’i was organized into a formal U.S. territory and in 1959 entered the United States as the 50th state”.[2]

Today you can tour Iolani Palace, the only official royal residence in the United States. “Built in 1882 by King Kalakaua, Iolani Palace was the home of Hawai’i’s last reigning monarchs and served as the official royal residence and the residence of the Kingdom’s political and social life until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893.

Registered as a National Historic Landmark since 1962 and the only official royal residence in the United States, the Palace is one of the most recognizable buildings in Hawai’i. Meticulously restored to its former grandeur, Iolani Palace tells of a time when their Majesties, King Kalakaua and his sister and successor, Queen Lili’uokalani walked the grand halls.”[3]

Aloha, Mele Fong aka Ukulele Mele

[1] https://www.hawaii-nation.org/soa.html
[2] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/americans-overthrow-hawaiian-monarchy
[3] https://www.iolanipalace.org/


Mele Fong is a professional singer, song arranger, and master of multiple strumming styles for the 'ukulele. She is an experienced educator with over 50+ years experience playing the 'ukulele and entertaining worldwide. Mele performs with her husband in the duo "The Hawaiian Serenaders" and leads student groups. In 1996, the duo represented the State of Hawai'i in concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Mele and her husband Richard Tom were both born and raised on Oahu and now reside in Maui.