On January 17, 1893, the Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown, and replaced by a Provisional Government. This Provisional Government concluded an annexation treaty with the United States, that was submitted to the Senate on February 15, 1893 by President Benjamin Harrison. After Cleveland’s inauguration the following month, the treaty was withdrawn from consideration on March 9, 1893.
Cleveland was a friend of Liliuokalani’s, and upon taking office, worked diligently to restore her to the throne. On March 11, 1893, Cleveland called upon Blount to undertake a secret investigation into the overthrow. This investigation by Blount lasted from his arrival in Hawaii on March 29, 1893 until the submission of his final report on July 17, 1893.
This report was blistering in its disdain for the actions of Minister Stevens and the landing of U.S. troops during the revolution. The firm contention was that it was only through the direct action of the U.S. that the Queen was overthrown.
Acting upon this report, Cleveland instructed Minister Willis in Hawai`i to negotiate the reinstatement of Liliuokalani in return for amnesty to those involved in the overthrow. The Queen refused to back down on her demands for retribution against the Provisional Government until December 18, 1893, at which point Minister Willis presented Cleveland’s demand for reinstatement President Sanford Dole, who flatly refused.
Unbeknownst to Willis at the time, Cleveland had referred the matter to Congress on December 18, 1893, convinced that further “executive action” was not going to bring the matter to conclusion:
…Though I am not able now to report a definite change in the actual situation, I am convinced that the difficulties lately created both here and in Hawaii and now standing in the way of a solution through Executive action of the problem presented, render it proper, and expedient, that the matter should be referred to the broader authority and discretion of Congress[emphasis added], with a full explanation of the endeavor thus far made to deal with the emergency and a statement of the considerations which have governed my action…
…I therefore submit this communication with its accompanying exhibits, embracing Mr. Blount’s report, the evidence and statements taken by him at Honolulu, the instructions given to both Mr. Blount and Minister Willis, and correspondence connected with the affair in hand.
In commending this subject to the extended powers and wide discretion of the Congress [emphasis added], I desire to add the assurance that I shall be much gratified to cooperate in any legislative plan which may be devised for the solution of the problem before us which is consistent with American honor, integrity and morality.
Washington, December 18, 1893
Cleveland’s letter to Congress was filled with disdain for the legitimacy of the Provisional Government, and support for the reinstatement of the Queen. There could have been no stronger enemy of the Provisional Government, nor no stauncher friend of the Queen.
How is it, then that on July 24, 1894, the Cleveland administration supported the recognition of the Provisional Government? On page 1342 of the Blount Report, Minister Willis clearly stated that despite the Queen’s protests, the Provisional Government had been recognized by the United States, and “this was the final decision of the Senate”. On page 1343 of the Blount Report, the Republic of Hawaii, that was created by the Provisional Government, had been explicitly recognized by the Cleveland administration. On January 9, 1895, on page 1375 of the Blount Report, the Cleveland administration made it clear that the Republic of Hawaii was the legitimate successor to the treaties formerly held by the Kingdom of Hawaii, and that plans for a British undersea cable must be negotiated as per the reciprocity treaty with the U.S.
What could possibly have happened between December 18, 1893, and July 24, 1894 that would have turned Cleveland against the Queen?
As Paul Harvey says, and now for the rest of the story…
The Congress responded to Cleveland’s referral of December 18, 1893 with a further investigation of the topics covered in the Blount Report. They held hearings from December 27, 1893 to February 7, 1894, and submitted their final report on February 26, 1894.
This investigation discovered that despite Blount’s and Cleveland’s assertions that the overthrow was instigated and aided by the U.S., that in fact the U.S. troops had remained completely neutral, and that there was no reason to believe that the overthrow was a result of U.S. actions. From pages 367-368 of the Morgan Report:
In landing the troops from the Boston there was no demonstration of actual hostilities, and their conduct was as quiet and as respectful as it had been on many previous occasions when they were landed for the purpose of drill and practice. In passing the palace on their way to the point at which they were halted, the Queen appeared upon the balcony and the troops respectfully saluted her by presenting arms and dipping the flag, and made no demonstration of any hostile intent. Her attitude at that time was that of helplessness, because she found no active or courageous support in her isolated position, which was self-imposed and was regretted by few of her former subjects. In this condition of Hawaii the laws for the protection of life and property were, in fact, suspended so far as the executive power was concerned, and the citizens of the United States in Honolulu and all the islands, and their property rights, were virtually outlawed. The citizens of Honolulu were not held amenable to the civil authorities, but were treated by the Queen, as well as by the people, as if the country was in a state of war. A policeman was shot down on the streets by a person who was conducting a wagon loaded with arms to the place of rendezvous where the people had assembled, and no action was taken for the purpose of arresting or putting on trial the man who did the shooting.
In a country where there is no power of the law to protect the citizens of the United States there can be no law of nations nor any rule of comity that can rightfully prevent our flag from giving shelter to them under the protection of our arms, and this without reference to any distress it may give to the Queen who generated the confusion, or any advantage it might give to the people who are disputing her right to resume or to hold her regal powers. In every country where there is no effective chief executive authority, whether it is a newly-discovered island where only savage government prevails, or one where the government is paralyzed by internal feuds, it is the right, claimed and exercised by all civilized nations, to enter such a country with sovereign authority to assert and protect the rights of its citizens and their property, and to remain there without the invitation of anybody until civil government shall have been established that is adequate, in a satisfactory sense, for their protection.
The committee agree that such was the condition of the Hawaiian Government at the time that the troops were landed in Honolulu from the steam warship Boston; that there was then an interregnum in Hawaii as respects the executive office; that there was no executive power to enforce the laws of Hawaii, and that it was the right of the United States to land troops upon those islands at any place where it was necessary in the opinion of our minister to protect our citizens.
The final conclusion of the Congress was implemented in a Senate resolution, May 31, 1894:
In the Senate of the United States, May 31, 1894.
Resolved, That of right-it-belongs wholly to the people of the Hawaiian Islands to establish and maintain their own form of Government and domestic policy; that the United States ought in no wise to interfere therewith, and that any intervention in the political affairs of these islands by any other Government will be regarded as an act unfriendly to the United States.
Although quoted by sovereignty websites, this resolution was actually the final admonition against interference with the lawful Provisional Government of Hawaii. It was received by Minister Willis in Hawaii on June 16, 1894 and was protested by Liliuokalani on June 21, 1894.
Cleveland explicitly accepted the verdict of the Congress on the facts of the matter, abandoned all efforts to reinstate the Queen, and treated both the Provisional Government and the Republic of Hawaii as the internationally recognized lawful successors of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Despite his strong words of December 18, 1893, after the thorough investigation conducted by the Morgan Committee, he never again questioned the legitimacy of the overthrow, or the respectful conduct of the U.S. troops during that time.
So those who wish to base their case for Hawaiian sovereignty on the letter written by Cleveland on December 18, 1893 should look carefully at the reply that Cleveland got on February 26, 1894, and his actions after receiving that reply. If they are to take his words of December 18, 1893 as sincere and honest, they must also accept his actions after February 26, 1894 in the same light – a light that is not flattering to the cause of sovereignty activists.
The President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, accepted that the Provisional Government of Hawaii was legitimate, and that the U.S. had nothing to do with the overthrow. But only if you read the rest of the story.