by Emilia Kandagawa
The Hawaiian League, under the leadership of Sanford Ballard Dole and Lorrin Andrews Thurston, justified the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government in part through a concerted campaign to characterize Queen Liliʻuokalani as unfit to rule. Her specific "crime" had been taking unilateral action to put forward a new constitution for her own benefit.
In the University of Hawaiʻi's 1931 yearbook, titled Ka Palapala, they refer to the period between 1890 to 1899 as the "Transition" and claim the Queen had "ruled despotically, bringing about changes without consulting the will of her people."
This narrative has largely persisted intact for 125 years. While this claim regarding the new constitution has been challenged by many, there has been little primary-source documentation presented in the public sphere to refute it.
Queen Liliʻuokalani was in fact demanded a new constitution by her constituents. Soon after ascending to the throne, Her Majesty received palapala hoʻopiʻi (petitions) from Hui Kalaiʻāina (the Hawaiian Political Association) demanding a new constitution. The organization, originally formed on November 22, 1888, to advocate for repeal of the 1887 Bayonet Constitution, became the first registered Hawaiian political party and elected loyalist Hawaiians to the 1890 and 1892 legislatures. Prominent poʻe aloha ʻāina (patriots) Joseph Kahoʻoluhi Nāwahīokalaniopuʻu and William Pūnohuʻāweoweoʻulaokalani White helped lead Hui Kalaiʻāina in its push for a constitutional convention and gathering of signatures across the Islands to petition the Queen and her cabinet.
These petitions are mentioned in her book Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen and serve as evidence that Queen Liliʻuokalani was, in fact, listening to the voice of her people.
In Chapter 38, titled "Hawaiians Plead for a New Constitution," she writes:
The election of 1892 arrived, and with it the usual excitement of such occasions. Petitions poured in from every part of the Islands for a new constitution; these were addressed to myself as the reigning sovereign. They were supported by petitions addressed to the Hui Kalaiaina, who in turn endorsed and forwarded them to me. It was estimated by those in position to know, that out of a possible 9500 registered voters, 6500, or two-thirds, had signed these petitions. To have ignored or disregarded so general a request, I must have been deaf to the voice of the people, which tradition tells us is the voice of God. No true Hawaiian chief would have done other than to promise a consideration of their wishes. (p. 230-231)
The Hawaiʻi State Archives has preserved and protected thirty-four pages of these original petitions – a total of 1,782 signatures – collected from Maui, Oʻahu, and Hawaiʻi Island:
The location of the remaining petitions in unknown. However the thirty-four pages of petitions offered here are of great value in demonstrating the will of the people as heeded by the Queen.
The original text of the petitions reads:
As translated from ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi by Hawaiʻi State Archives’ translator, Jason Achiu, the petition reads:
*Petitions to Queen Liliʻuokalani [ca. 1892]
M-93, folder 145, doc. S-10 [Seized documents]
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The object of this League shall be to affirm the continuity of Hawaiian independence; to restore Hawaiian national identity; to exert all peaceful and legal efforts to secure for the Hawaiian People and Citizens their Civil Rights; and to ensure that the United States of America complies with international humanitarian law.