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The Hawaiian royal family ruled over the Hawaiian Islands for over 500 years until the late 1800s when American businessmen and settlers overthrew the monarchy. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, was deposed in 1893 after an attempted counter-revolution to restore Native Hawaiian rule failed. She abdicated the throne, ending the Hawaiian monarchy.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the history of the Hawaiian monarchy, how American settlers came to seize power from the royal family, the key events that led to the end of the kingdom, and what ultimately happened to the monarchs and royal lineage in the 20th century.

The Origins and Rise of the Hawaiian Monarchy

The Hawaiian monarchy, also known as the Kingdom of Hawaii, traces its origins back to the late 18th century. Prior to this, the Hawaiian Islands were divided into multiple chiefdoms, each with their own ruler. However, it was King Kamehameha I who successfully unified the islands and established the foundation for the Hawaiian monarchy.

The Unification of the Islands Under King Kamehameha I

King Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great, was born in 1758 on the Big Island of Hawaii. Through a series of strategic alliances and military conquests, he managed to unite all the major islands of Hawaii under his rule by 1810. This marked the beginning of the Hawaiian monarchy and Kamehameha I became the first king of Hawaii.

King Kamehameha I’s unification of the islands brought stability and peace to the region. His strong leadership and strategic vision laid the groundwork for the future prosperity of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Establishing a Constitutional Monarchy in the 1840s

In the 1840s, the Hawaiian monarchy underwent a significant transformation with the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. King Kamehameha III, also known as Kauikeaouli, played a crucial role in this transition.

Under the guidance of Kamehameha III, the Hawaiian Kingdom adopted its first written constitution in 1840. This constitution granted certain rights and protections to the people of Hawaii, including the right to vote and a system of checks and balances. It marked an important step towards modernizing the Hawaiian monarchy and embracing democratic principles.

The Hawaiian Monarchy’s Growing International Recognition and Power

As the Hawaiian monarchy evolved, it began to gain international recognition and influence. In 1843, the United States formally recognized the independence of the Hawaiian Kingdom through the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation.

The Hawaiian monarchy also established diplomatic relations with several other countries, including Great Britain and France. These alliances helped to solidify Hawaii’s position on the international stage and contributed to its growing power and influence.

Throughout the 19th century, the Hawaiian monarchy continued to develop, implementing various reforms and modernizing its infrastructure. However, the kingdom would eventually face challenges that would ultimately lead to its downfall.

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Increasing American Business Interests and Advocating for Annexation

During the late 19th century, the Hawaiian Islands underwent significant changes that ultimately led to the downfall of the Hawaiian royal family. One major factor was the increasing influence of American business interests in the region. The lucrative sugar and pineapple industries played a pivotal role in shaping Hawaii’s economy and attracting American settlers.

The Growth of the Hawaiian Sugar and Pineapple Industries

The fertile volcanic soil and favorable climate of Hawaii provided ideal conditions for cultivating sugar cane and pineapples. As a result, these industries experienced significant growth during the 19th century. American entrepreneurs recognized the profit potential and set up plantations, transforming the agricultural landscape of the islands.

The sugar industry, in particular, became a major economic force, with Hawaii becoming one of the world’s leading producers. This growth was largely driven by American investors who saw Hawaii as a valuable resource for their businesses.

Calls for U.S. Annexation from American Settlers

As American settlers established themselves in Hawaii, some began advocating for the annexation of the islands by the United States. These individuals believed that American control would bring stability, economic growth, and access to larger markets.

American settlers in Hawaii formed influential lobbying groups to push for annexation. They argued that aligning with the United States would offer protection against potential threats from other foreign powers and ensure the continued prosperity of their businesses.

The 1887 Bayonet Constitution

In 1887, a group of American and European businessmen, with the support of some native Hawaiian politicians, forced King Kalakaua to sign the Bayonet Constitution. This constitution significantly reduced the power of the monarch and limited the voting rights of native Hawaiians, effectively favoring the interests of the American and European elite.

The Bayonet Constitution further intensified calls for annexation as it created an environment in which American influence and control continued to grow. The diminished authority of the Hawaiian monarchy weakened the royal family’s ability to resist American business interests and their push for annexation.

The Overthrow of the Monarchy in 1893

The Coup and Forced Abdication of Queen Lili’uokalani

In 1893, a group of powerful businessmen and sugar planters, mainly of American and European descent, orchestrated a coup that led to the forced abdication of Queen Lili’uokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. The Queen had attempted to implement a new constitution that would restore power to the monarchy and give more rights to the native Hawaiian people. However, this move was met with strong opposition from the American and European elite who had significant economic interests in the islands.

The coup, known as the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, was carried out with the support of the United States military stationed in Hawaii at the time. Queen Lili’uokalani, faced with the threat of bloodshed and the overwhelming power of her opponents, chose to step down to avoid further violence. This marked the end of the Hawaiian royal family’s reign over the islands.

President Cleveland’s Attempts to Reinstate the Monarch

Following the overthrow, Queen Lili’uokalani traveled to Washington, D.C. in an attempt to seek justice and have her throne restored. She met with President Grover Cleveland, who sympathized with her and denounced the actions of the coup plotters. President Cleveland, in a message to Congress, called the overthrow “an act of war” and requested that the Queen be reinstated.

Despite President Cleveland’s efforts, his recommendation to return power to the monarchy was met with resistance from the U.S. Congress and influential individuals who had vested interests in Hawaii’s economic and strategic value. The Queen’s appeals for justice were ultimately denied, and she was not able to regain her position as the reigning monarch.

The Official End of the Hawaiian Kingdom

In 1898, the United States officially annexed Hawaii, making it a territory of the United States. This move further solidified the end of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the royal family’s authority. The annexation was seen by many as the culmination of the efforts of American businessmen and politicians who sought to gain control over Hawaii’s resources, particularly its lucrative sugar industry.

It wasn’t until 1959 that Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States, ending its status as a territory. Today, the Hawaiian royal family holds a symbolic role in the state, with descendants of the royal lineage continuing to keep the traditions and culture alive.

The Later Years of the Royal Family

Lili’uokalani’s House Arrest and Death

After the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, Queen Lili’uokalani was placed under house arrest in her own palace. Despite her efforts to restore the Hawaiian monarchy, she was unable to regain power. During her time in confinement, she composed the famous song “Aloha ‘Oe,” which captured the spirit of her people and became a symbol of Hawaiian resistance. Lili’uokalani passed away on November 11, 1917, leaving behind a legacy of strength and resilience.

The Last Remaining Heirs and End of the Dynasty

With the death of Queen Lili’uokalani, the direct line of the Hawaiian royal family came to an end. However, there were still distant relatives who carried the royal bloodline. One of the last remaining heirs was Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole, who played a significant role in advocating for Hawaiian rights and the preservation of Hawaiian culture. He served as a delegate to the United States Congress and was instrumental in the passage of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act in 1921.

Despite the efforts of individuals like Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole, the Hawaiian royal dynasty ultimately came to an end. The United States annexed Hawaii in 1898, and the islands became a territory in 1900. The overthrow of the monarchy marked a turning point in Hawaiian history, leading to significant cultural and political changes. Today, the memory of the Hawaiian royal family lives on through the preservation of their legacy and the continued celebration of Hawaiian culture and traditions.


The Hawaiian monarchy formally came to an end in 1893 after American businessmen and settlers illegally overthrew Queen Lili’uokalani. While there were attempts to restore Native Hawaiian rule, the monarchy was never reinstated. The last heirs of the royal family passed away in the mid-1900s, closing an important chapter in Hawaiian history.

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