The Royal Veto Question
The preceding narrative ended with the revolution of 1887, which was
intended to put an end to personal rule in the Hawaiian Islands, by
making the ministry responsible to the people through the legislature,
by taking the power of appointing the Upper House out of the hands of
the Sovereign, and by making office-holders ineligible to the
The remaining three years and a half of Kalakaua'.s reign teemed with
intrigues and conspiracies to restore autocratic rule.
The Reform party, as has been stated, gained an overwhelming majority of
seats in the legislature of 1887, and had full control of the government
until the legislative session of 1890.
During the special session, held in November, 1887, a contest arose
between the King and the legislature in regard to the veto power, which
at one time threatened the public peace. The question whether under the
new constitution the King could exercise a personal veto against the
advice of his ministers or not, was finally decided by the Supreme Court
in favor of the Crown. Judge Dole dissenting.
During the succeeding session of 1888 the King vetoed a number of bills,
which were all passed over his veto, by a two-thirds vote, with the
exception of a bill to subsidize an experimental coffee plantation.
The King's sister, the then Princess Liliuokalani, on her return from
England, had charged her brother with cowardice, for signing the
constitution of 1887, and was known to be in favor of the old system of
irresponsible personal government.
For instruments she had not far to seek. Two of the Hawaiian youths whom
Moreno had placed in military school in Italy, as before stated, had
been recalled towards the end of 1887.
They had been led to expect high positions from the Gibson government,
and their disappointment was extreme, when their claims were ignored.
Hence they were easily induced to lead a conspiracy, which had for its
object the abrogation of the constitution of 1887, and the restoration
of the old regime.
They endeavored to form a secret league, and held meetings to inflame
the native mind, but without much success at first.
It is said that the Household Troops were won over, and that the three
chief conspirators, on one occasion, detained the King in one of the
tower rooms in the Palace, and tried to intimidate him into signing his
abdication in favor of his sister.
The King parleyed with them to gain time, and the affair soon came to
the ears of the ministry, who had the conspirators examined, one by one,
and their statements taken down. A mass of evidence was collected,
which, however, was not used against them ; and the leader, Mr. R. W.
Wilcox, was allowed to go to California; where he remained about a year,
biding his time.
Meanwhile, a secret organization was being formed throughout the
islands, and after some progress had been made, Mr. Wilcox was sent for.
He returned to Honolulu in April, 1889, formed a rifle club, and began
to make preparations for a counter revolution.
The meetings of the league were held in a house belonging to the
Princess Liliuokalani. At the subsequent trial it was proved by the
defense that the King had latterly come to an understanding with the
conspirators, whose object was to restore autocratic rule.
Before light, on the morning of July 80th, 1889, Mr. Wilcox with about
one hundred and fifty armed followers marched from the Princess
Liliuokalani's residence in Kapalama and occupied the Government
buildings and the palace grounds. No declaration of any kind was made,
as they expected the 23
King, who had spent the night at a cottage near the seaside, to come up
and proclaim the old constitution of 1804. The Household troops in the
barracks remained neutral, and the palace was held against the
insurgents by Lieut. Robert Parker, with thirty men by the King's
orders. The King, who did not fully trust the conspirators, retired to
his boat-house in the harbor to await results. Meanwhile the volunteer
riflemen promptly turned out, and many other citizens took up arms for
the Government. Patrols were set about daylight, and a cordon formed
later on, so that the insurgents were isolated from the populace
outside. At the request of the United States Minister, Mr. Merrill, a
body of marines was landed and marched up to the Legation, on the hotel
premises, where they remained during the day. The insurgents brought
over four field-pieces and ammunition from the barracks, and placed them
around the palace.
The Ministry drew up a written summons to them to surrender, which was
served on them at the front palace gate, by the Hon. S. M. Damon but
they refused to receive it. A conflict immediately commenced between
them with three of their field -pieces and the Government sharpshooters,
who had occupied the Opera House and some other buildings commanding the
palace grounds. The result was that their guns were soon silenced, and
they were driven with loss into a wooden building in the palace grounds,
called the "Bungalow," where they were besieged during the afternoon.
Towards night a heavy rifle fire was opened upon them from all sides,
and the roof of the "Bungalow" burst in by giant- powder bombs, which
forced them to surrender.
Unfortunately, this was by no means a bloodless affair, as seven of
Wilcox's deluded followers were killed and about a dozen wounded. It was
afterwards learned that 10,000 rounds of ammunition had been loaned by
the U. S. S. Adams during the day to the Hawaiian Government.
The chief conspirators were afterwards put on trial for treason, with
the result that Loomens, a Belgian artilleryman, was found guilty and
sentenced to imprisonment for life, while Mr. R. W. Wilcox was acquitted
by a native jury, on the theory that what he had done was by and with
the King's consent. He now became a popular idol, and had unbounded
influence over the Honolulu natives for a time.
The Princess Liliuokalani, however, disowned him, and denied all
knowledge of the conspiracy. This deplorable affair was made the most of
by demagogues to intensify race hatred. The license allowed the native
press was almost incredible.
Proposed Commercial Treaty
A project of a new commercial treaty with the United States was drawn up
in the fall of 1889 by the Ministry in conjunction with Hon. H. A. P.
Carter. Its terms provided for complete free trade between the two
countries, the perpetual cession of Pearl Harbor to the United States,
and a guarantee of the independence of the Kingdom by that power. In
consideration of this guarantee, the Hawaiian Government was to bind
itself to make no treaty with any foreign power without the knowledge of
the Government of the United States.
By working on the King's suspicions, Mr. C. W. Ashford, the
Attorney-General, induced the King to refuse to sign the preliminary
draft of this treaty. The other members of the Cabinet invited him to
resign, which he declined to do.
The question having been brought before the Supreme Court, it decided
that the King under the Constitution was bound by the advice of a
majority of his Cabinet. But the Attorney-General advised the King that
this was only an ex parte decision, and encouraged him to defy the
court. A copy of the proposed treaty, (including an article which had
been rejected by the Cabinet, and which would have authorized the
landing of United States troops in certain emergencies), was secretly
furnished by the King to a native newspaper for publication, and the
party cry was raised that the ministry was "selling the country" to the
Session Of 1890
On account of the circumstances mentioned above, and of dissensions in
the Reform party, the combined elements in opposition elected a majority
of the Legislature of 1890, and on the 13th of June, 1890, the Reform
ministry went out of office on a close vote.
As the parties were so nearly balanced, a compromise cabinet, composed
of conservative men, was appointed June 17th, viz., Hons. John A.
Cummins, Minister of Foreign Affairs; C. N. Spencer, Minister of the
Interior; Godfrey Brown, Minister of Finance; A. P. Peterson,
The King at first tried to revive his old project of a ten-million loan
bill for military and naval purposes, but met with no encouragement. He
then published a pamphlet entitled ''A Third Warning Voice," in which he
urged the establishment of a large standing army.
Another project advocated by the reactionary papers and favored by the
King, was that of calling a revolutionary convention, to be elected by
the voters of the lower house, to frame a new constitution, in which the
foreign element should be excluded from political power. With
considerable difficulty, and by the exercise of much patience and tact,
this dangerous measure was defeated, and certain constitutional
amendments were passed through the preliminary stage. The most important
of these was one lowering the property qualification required of
electors for nobles. After a stormy session of five months, the
Legislature adjourned Nov. 14th, 1890, without undoing the reforms made
Accession Of Liliuokalani
In order to recruit his failing health, the King visited California in
the United States cruiser Charleston, as the guest of Admiral Brown, in
November, 1890. He received the utmost kindness and hospitality, both in
San Francisco and in Southern California. His strength, however,
continued to fail in spite of the best medical attendance, and on the
20th of January, 1891, he breathed his last at the Palace Hotel in San
Francisco. His remains were removed to the Charleston with impressive
funeral ceremonies, and arrived at Honolulu January 29th, where the
decorations for his welcome were changed into the emblems of mourning.
In spite of his grave faults as a ruler and as a man, he had been
uniformly kind and courteous in private life, and there was sincere
grief in Honolulu, when the news of his death arrived.
Serious apprehensions were now felt by many in view of the accession of
his sister, Liliuokalani, which, however, were partially relieved by her
promptly taking the oath, to maintain the constitution of 1887.
Notwithstanding her despotic ideal of government, and her past record,
there were not a few who hoped that she had enough good sense to
understand her true interests, and to keep her oath to the constitution.
They were destined to be disappointed. On the morning of her accession,
Mr. S. M. Damon had an interview with her, in which he remarked that
what was needed was a responsible ministry.
"My ministry," she replied, "shall be responsible to me," and abruptly
closed the interview. She had no sooner taken the oath, than a
constitutional question was raised between her and the existing cabinet.
On the one side, the cabinet claimed that under the constitution no
power could remove them but the Legislature. On her side it was claimed
that they were the late King's cabinet, and " died with the King." This
dispute was referred to the Supreme Court, which decided in favor of the
Queen, Judge McCully dissenting.
This gave her an opportunity to exact conditions from the incoming
ministers, and thus to secure control of the patronage of the
The new cabinet appointed February 26th, 1891, consisted of Hons. S.
Parker, Minister of Foreign Affairs; C. N. Spencer, reappointed Minister
of the Interior; H. A. Widemann, minister of Finance; and W. A. Whiting,
Attorney-General. The first condition exacted by the Queen of her
appointees was that Mr. C. B. Wilson should be appointed Marshal of the
Kingdom, with control of the entire police force of the islands. It was
universally believed that he exercised as much influence on the
administration of public affairs as any member of the cabinet. At the
same time, grave charges were made against the administration of his own
bureau. The Marshal's office was said to be the resort of disreputable
characters, while opium joints and gambling dens multiplied and
flourished. The Marshal openly associated with such adventurers as Capt.
Whaley, of the famous smuggling yacht Halcyon, and the Australian
fugitives from justice, who visited Honolulu in the yacht Beagle.
To put an end to this state of things, and to other evils growing out of
personal government, was one of the chief objects, both of members of
the Reform party and of the so-called Liberals in the elections of 1892.
The death of Gov. J. O. Dominis, Aug. 27th, 1891, was a misfortune to
the Kingdom, as his influence had always been exerted in favor of
Richardson, J. E.
Bush, J. Nawahi,
R. W. Wilcox
Equal Rights League
In the spring of 1892, a secret league was formed, headed by Col. C. W.
Ashford, R. W. Wilcox, J. E. Bush and others, for the purpose, as they
claimed, of "promoting justice and equal rights in the political
government of Hawaii." Their objects included the removal of all
property qualifications for election of either house, the abolition of
monarchy, and ultimate union with, the United States. These measures
were then advocated in a newspaper published by J. E. Bush, who
afterwards became a royalist. It is stated that this league, about May
1st, numbered over three hundred "members," mostly natives and
half-whites. There is good reason to believe that at the same time the
Queen's party was preparing to promulgate a despotic constitution
similar to that which she afterwards attempted to proclaim Jan. 14th,
1893. At first they endeavored to make use of the equal rights league,
both parties being opposed for different reasons, to the Reform
Their overtures, however, having been finally rejected, the marshal
proceeded on the 20th of May to arrest the principal members of the
league for treason and conspiracy. The result of the subsequent trials
was that all were finally discharged, but the weakness of the league was
exposed, and its leaders lost much of their prestige. This revolutionary
movement had not been favored by the better class of citizens, who
considered it uncalled for, and who had no confidence in its leaders,
most of whom are now extreme royalists. Their dream seems to have been
one of an unlimited democracy in which they should hold the offices.
Legislature Of 1892
For the purpose of this sketch it is not worth while to give the details
of the eight-months' Legislative session of 1892. During the greater
part of the session the leaders of the liberal party combined with the
reform party, (which lacked a few votes of a majority), to break the
power of the palace party, allied as it was, with the powerful opium and
lottery rings. Three cabinets in succession were voted out, because they
were considered to represent these latter elements, and to be in favor
of retaining the marshal.
The lottery bill was introduced into the Legislature Aug. 30, 1892. A
secret canvass had previously been made before any discussion of the
measure had taken place, and many unthinkingly signed petitions in its
favor, who afterwards regretted the act. As soon as the bill was
printed, a powerful opposition sprang up against it, and it was shelved,
as was supposed, forever.
A bill providing for a Constitutional convention had been killed 'early
in the session. After a struggle of four months the Queen temporarily
yielded, and appointed a cabinet composed of conservative men of high
character, who possessed the confidence of the country; viz., Hons.
Geo. Wilcox, Minister of the Interior ; Mark Robinson, Minister of
Foreign Affairs ; P. C. Jones, Minister of Finance ; and Cecil Brown,
Attorney-General. This cabinet distinctly declared its policy in regard
to the lottery bill, as well as to "fiat" paper money and other
subjects, but did not choose to act on the "burning question" of the
marshalship while the Legislature was in session. Its course on this
point, and the fact that the liberal party was not represented in it, so
exasperated the leaders of that party that they joined hands with the
lottery ring and voted for measures which they had previously denounced
on the floor of the house. Near the end of the session, in the absence
of six of its opponents, the lottery bill was suddenly brought up,
rushed through and passed, to the surprise and horror of the community,
undoubtedly by lavish bribery, only one white man voting for it. By the
same voters an opium license bill was passed, and the Wilcox ministry
was voted out January 12th, two days before the close of the session.
The Queen, by whose personal exertions the last measure had been
carried, immediately appointed a new cabinet, three of whom had been
members of former rejected cabinets, the fourth being the reputed agent
of the lottery ring in purchasing Legislative votes. The liberal party
leaders were ignored. The cabinet now consisted of Hons. S. Parker,
Minister of Foreign Affairs ; W. Cornwell, Minister of Finance ; Arthur
P. Peterson, Attorney-General ; and John Colburn, Minister of the
Interior. The lottery and opium license bills were signed without
The public indignation was intense, but no revolutionary action was yet
thought of. The attempted coup d'etat, which was sprung upon the country
the next day, took the community by surprise, and found it entirely
unprepared. There is reason, however, to believe that the plot had been
deeply laid long before, t^ be executed at the close of the Legislative
From Liliuokalani's own published statement to Col. Blount, it appears
that she drafted a new Constitution in the early part of the year 1892,
and in the following October placed it for revision in the hands of A.
P. Peterson, who kept it for a month. A week before the close of the
session, she asked him to draft a preamble for it. She had also received
assurances of support from Messrs. Parker and Cornwell.
The lottery was expected by the Queen to be a source of revenue, which
would render her less dependent on loans. It was also expected that the
lottery company, being outlawed in the United States, could be relied
upon to oppose any movement looking towards annexation.
The passage of that bill, the removal of an upright ministry, and the
unsuccessful coup d'etat of the 14th of January, were evidently all
parts of one plan to destroy honest constitutional Government in Hawaii.
The story of the revolution which followed will form the subject of a