Queen Lili’uokalani (September 2, 1838 - November 11, 1917)
Queen Lili’oukalani was Hawaii’s first female ruler and its last monarch. The reign she inherited from her brother, King Kalakaua, was short, lasting only 3 years, and extremely tumultuous. The United States had set its Manifest Destiny sights on Hawaii, and the monarchy was one of the first casualties.
As Crown Princess, Lil’uokalani had some small experience with ruling in her brother’s stead when he went on a tour of the globe and left her in charge. During this time, her clash with the business community would foreshadow what was to come: when an outbreak of small pox occurred across the islands, she closed the port to immigrants and trade, thus helping to halt the influx of the disease. It also angered and frustrated the business community, largely made up of Americans and Europeans, who had begun to see the monarchy as a roadblock to profit.
Before King Kalakaua’s death, her brother had been coerced by Hawaii’s increasingly-powerful reformists and their use of an armed militia into signing the “Bayonet Constitution” into law. The reformists, mostly these same Americans and European business interests looking towards annexation with the US, largely stripped the monarchy of its powers in favor of the legislature and cabinet.
After taking power, Queen Lili’oukalani worked to repeal the Bayonet Constitution, secretly drawing up a new constitution that would restore power to her office as well as protect native Hawaiian interests. However, economic pressure increased on Hawaii when the US introduced tariffs on its major export, sugar. The same business interests worked to depose her, forming a provisional government that was backed by military support from the US. Queen Lili’uokalani was forced to abdicate virtually at gunpoint in 1893.
She was placed under house arrest for a year, during which time she was denied any news from the outside world. She used the isolation to write her autobiography and to compose music. For the rest of her life she would work to see power restored and reparations made to Hawaii from the US, but with little to no success.
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