Hawai‘i’s Only Reigning Queen
"I, Lili‘uokalani of Hawai‘i.... do hereby protest against the ratification of a certain treaty, which . . . has been signed at Washington . . . purporting to cede those Islands to the territory and dominion of the United States. I declare such a treaty to be an act of wrong toward the native and part-native people of Hawai‘i, an invasion of the rights of the ruling chiefs, in violation of international rights both toward my people and toward friendly nations with whom they have made treaties, the perpetuation of the fraud whereby the constitutional government was overthrown, and, finally, an act of gross injustice to me.”
—Excerpted from a Letter to President McKinley Protesting the Annexation of Hawai‘i, 1897
Lydia Lili‘u Loloku Waiania Kamaka‘eha (1838–1917), better known as Queen Lili‘uokalani, was the Hawaiian Kingdom’s only reigning queen and last monarch before the overthrow of the sovereign state. Queen Lili‘uokalani presided over the Hawaiian Kingdom during a time of great economic growth. By 1890, twenty-one international treaties and more than eighty embassies around the world recognized the Hawaiian archipelago. Additionally, Hawai‘i and its multiethnic society enjoyed universal suffrage in 1840 (a full 120 years before the United States), universal health care, state neutrality (1855), and a 95 percent literacy rate, the second highest in the world. Deceit and treachery also marked the queen’s tenure: on January 17, 1893, the queen was forcefully removed in a coup de main supported by American troops and warships under the direction of John L. Stevens, US minister to the Hawaiian Kingdom. The United States argued that it needed Hawaiian ports to fight the Spanish-American War deeper in the Pacific, which the Hawaiian Kingdom’s neutral status prevented. Despite years of unsuccessful appeals to international states and the United States government, Lili‘uokalani was confined at home in Honolulu until her death in 1917. While not an American woman, Queen Lili‘uokalani marks a significant voice in the framework of American imperialism. A force to be reckoned with, she protected her country, citizens, and role as sovereign until her passing.
—Kenneth Cohen; Edward & Helen Hintz Secretarial Scholar and Curator; American Culture and Politics; Divisions of Cultural and Community Life, Political and Military History; Smithsonian National Museum of American History