Some suggest the overthrow of the Hawai‘i constitutional monarchy was neither unexpected nor sudden.
Dissatisfaction with the rule of Kalākaua (and, later, Lili‘uokalani) led to the ‘Bayonet Constitution,’ then, the overthrow. Mounting dissatisfaction with government policies and private acts of officials led to the formation of the Hawaiian League, a group of Honolulu businessmen.
Folks generally cite the efforts to form the Polynesian Confederacy, the opium license bribery case and the extravagance (and growing debt) as issues of concern about Kalākaua’s rule.
“Kalākaua (one of the most theoretical of men) was filled with visionary schemes for the protection and development of the Polynesian race; (Walter Murray Gibson) fell in step with him … The king and minister at least conceived between them a scheme of island confederation.” (Stevenson)
“(Gibson) discerned but little difficulty in the way of organizing such a political union, over which Kalākaua would be the logical emperor, and the Premier of an almost boundless empire of Polynesian archipelagoes.” (Daggett; Pacific Commercial Advertiser, February 6, 1900)
“The first step once taken between the Hawaiian and Samoan groups, other Polynesian groups and, inclusively, Micronesian and Melanesian groups, might gradually be induced to enter into the new Polynesian confederation just as Lord Carnarvon gets colony after colony to adopt His Lordship’s British Federal Dominion policy.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, November 17, 1877)
John Bush, Hawaiʻi’s ambassador to Sāmoa, succeeded in negotiating Articles of Confederation, which the Hawaiian cabinet ratified in March 1887. Kalākaua sent the Kaimiloa to salute High Chief Malietoa Laupepa in Sāmoa. (However, a German warship there warned Kalākaua to stop meddling in Samoan affairs.) (Chappell)
Eventually, the confederacy attempts failed. It part, it is believed too many changes to existing systems were proposed, many of which were modeled after the Western way.
Later, the Berlin Act (signed June 14, 1889,) between the US, Germany and Britain, established three-power joint rule over Sāmoa. This ultimately led to the creation of American Sāmoa.
Opium License Bribery Case
Another issue that particularly incensed people was the opium franchise bribery case, in which the King was implicated. (Forbes) An opium bill was passed providing for a license for four years, to be granted by the minister of the interior with the consent of the King. (Reports of Committee on Foreign Relations)
“Early in November, 1886, Junius Kaae, (who has access to the King,) informed a Chinese rice planter named Tong Kee, alias Aki, that he could have the opium license granted to him if he would pay the sum of $60,000 to the King’s private purse, but that he must be in haste because other parties were bidding for the privilege.” (Executive Documents US House of Representatives, 1895)
“With some difficulty Aki raised the money, and secretly paid it to Kaae and the King in three instalments between December 3d and December 8th, 1888. Soon afterwards Kaae called on Aki and informed him that one, Kwong Sam Kee, had offered the King $75,000 for the license, and would certainly get it, unless Aki paid $15,000 more.”
“Accordingly Aki borrowed the amount and gave it to the King personally on the 11th. Shortly after this another Chinese syndicate, headed by Chung Lung, paid the King $80,000 for the same object, but took the precaution to secure the license before handing over the money.” (Alexander)
In a later affidavit, Tong Kee (Aki) noted, “I asked the King to return me all of my money and drop the whole thing. He exclaimed that this could not be done that it was all understood and arranged about the division of the license and could not be changed.” (Hawaiian Gazette, May 17, 1887)
Initially the king, through his minister of foreign affairs, disclaimed any involvement. However, “To cap the climax of the opium matter, the Attorney General proceeds to acknowledge that the money was paid over by the Chinese … (H)e informed the gentlemen interested in getting the money back that he would never accomplish his object so long as he allowed the newspaper to speak of the affair.” (Hawaiian Gazette, May 17, 1887)
“The Attorney General then sees that there is no use in denying the receipt of the money but suggests that if a quiet tongue is kept in the matter the cash received for the bribe may be returned. … This is a pretty piece of morality for the Attorney General to put forth and shows the obliquity of vision of all who are connected with the government.” (Hawaiian Gazette, May 17, 1887)
Although Kalākaua had been elected and serving as King since 1874, upon returning from a trip around the world (1881), it was determined that Hawaiʻi’s King should also be properly crowned (1883).
“ʻIolani Palace, the new building of that name, had been completed the previous year (1882), and a large pavilion had been erected immediately in front of it for the celebration of the coronation. This was exclusively for the accommodation of the royal family; but there was adjacent thereto a sort of amphitheatre, capable of holding ten thousand persons, intended for the occupation of the people.” (Liliʻuokalani)
“On Monday, 12th February, the imposing ceremony of the Coronation of their Majesties the King and Queen of the Hawaiian Islands took place at ʻIolani Palace. … Like a mechanical transformation scene to take place at an appointed minute, so did the sun burst forth as the clock struck twelve, and immediately after their Majesties had been crowned.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, February 17, 1883)
The building of ‘Iolani Palace, in and of itself was an enormous extravagance, and so far as its cost is concerned remains a mystery to this day. The contract was not put out to tender in the customary manner, but the work was given for private reasons to architects and builders whom the King wished to favor. There were no requisitions upon the Treasury, and bills were paid by the King without any Ministerial intervention. (Krout)
During the Aki Opium Bribery Case, noted above, it was learned that, “the King’s liabilities of one kind and another amounted to more than $250,000. He was finally induced to make an assignment for the benefit of his creditors … it was decided, in conformity with the Constitution, which adhered to the old mediaeval tradition, that the King could ‘do no wrong.’”
“This interpretation meant that Kalākaua ‘could not be sued or held to account in any court of the kingdom,’ but the revenue in the hands of the trustees was held liable to Aki’s claim.” (Krout)
“Official advices from Honolulu, just received here, shows that the financial condition of the Hawaiian Kingdom is such that there is not the slightest hope of the Government ever again being independent of money lenders. The consequence will be trouble which must come sooner or later, involving the interest of Americans, Englishmen and Germany.”
“It is understood that when that period is reached our Government will insist that only American authority shall be recognized in the Hawaiian Kingdom, in what form this control will be established has not been considered, but no foreign Government will be permitted, under plea of setting up a protectorate, to establish itself in that country.” (Sacramento Daily Union, June 29, 1887)
This led to the ‘Bayonet Constitution’ (signed July 6, 1887) that greatly curtailed the monarch’s power, making him a mere figurehead; it placed executive power in the hands of a cabinet whose members could no longer be dismissed by the monarch but only by the legislature; it provided for election of the House of Nobles, formerly appointed by the monarch. (hawaiibar-org)