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Episode 42: Kal?kaua’s reign with Dr. Ron Williams, Jr

Kal?kaua came to power backed by men who would later become his foes—the sugar planters. One of his first acts as king was negotiating the Treaty of Reciprocity with the U.S. to allow Hawai‘i’s sugar into America without tariffs. The treaty was opposed by Hawaiians like Joseph N?wah? and Joseph Poepoe, who decried the dangers of the planters’ increasing power and Hawai‘i’s growing ties to the United States. As time passed, Kal?kaua too became wary and embraced the cause of defending the nation. Here is UH M?noa faculty member Ron Williams, Jr.

“He launches this fervent policy of nationalism and of international recognition and defense. He really pushes this idea of the ability of native rule. He pushes to form a Polynesian Federation, he pushes to form an Asian federation, he’s really looking to push back against the rise of American and European power in the Pacific. And that’s what brings things to a head and that’s what causes what comes to be known as the 1887 Constitution, which is really a coup d’etat.”

The 1887 Constitution—known as the Bayonet Constitution for the manner in which it was instituted—was authored by a small group of men in Honolulu. The new Constitution robbed power from the monarchy, took voting rights from Asian citizens and paved the way for Kal?kaua’s cabinet to cede Pearl Harbor to the United States. After the king died in 1891, it set up a showdown that would be played out when his sister Lili‘uokalani ascended the throne.

researcher, writter, and narrator of Aloha Aina. She is currently an editor at Hawai‘i’s largest magazine, Hana Hou!, where she has written and edited numerous award-winning articles about Hawai‘i. She was the founding editor of Honolulu Weekly. She holds a BA in Pacific history and journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and a JD from Stanford Law School.
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