April Fool's Joke Proclamation

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A Joke Taken Literally

On p314-315 of The Betrayal of Liliuokalani, Helena G. Allen wrote about a proclamation of President Cleveland printed in the New York Sun, in the context of discussing the constitution of the Republic of Hawai'i (which is odd, since the constitution of the Republic of Hawaii was not issued until 4 months after the date of the proclamation). Her exact words were as follows:

The Provisional Government even by its restrictions on
franchise came to believe that even the few thousand
voters who had approved the constitution could not be
trusted to endorse it, so the constitution became law
not by plebiscite (such as it was), but by
proclamation.  The queen had lost her throne for
trying to alter the constitution by proclamation; now
the Revolutionaries (P.G.'s) in the name of "liberty"
did substantially the same thing.[footnote 6]

In the final constitution the qualifications for
voting or holding office were so strict that
comparatively few natives and no Orientals could vote.
Fewer still could serve in either house of the
legislature.

President Cleveland jokingly expressed his contempt in
a proclamation:  

FOOLS' DAY A FAST DAY

To My People:   Whereas, my good and great sister and
fellow sovereign, her gracious majesty, Liliuokalani,
queen of Hawaii, has been wickedly and unlawfully
dethroned by the machinations of Americans and persons
of American descent in those islands, being instigated
thereto by the devil, one John L. Stevens;  and
whereas, my well-concieved plans for the restoration
of her sacred majesty have not had the result they
deserved but her majesty is still defrauded of her
legal rights by her refractory and rebellious
subjects, and her position is a just cause of sympathy
and alarm;  now, therefore, I, Grover Cleveland,
President of the United States, do hereby ordain and
appoint the last day of April next as a day of solemn
fasting, humiliation and prayer.  Let my people humble
themselves and repent for their injustice to me and my
great and good sister, and pray, without distinction
of color, for her speedy return to the throne and the
discomfiture of the miserable herd of missionaries and
their sons, her enemies and traducers.   

Long Live Liliuokalani, the de jure queen of Hawaii

Done at our mansion in Washington this 25th day of
February, 1894.     
          
                                   Grover Cleveland
 
A true copy. Attest, 
Walter Q. Gresham, 
Secretary of State [footnote 7]

Liliuokalani even before learning of this, had spent
"three hours fasting, meditation, and prayer."

She continued hopefully planning for restoration,
appointing a cabinet, and then being met with the
surprising resistance of someof the Provisional
Government that she must prove she had royal blood. 

Her footnoted citation is as follows: New York Sun, February 26, 1894. The apparent title for the proclamation was "Fools' Day a Fast Day".

So far, this joke hasn't been well explained, if Cleveland was the actual author. If it's meant sarcastically, that would imply he believes the complete opposite of what he wrote (i.e., that the queen was in fact righteously and lawfully dethroned). If he's trying to insult Stevens through exaggeration, it implies that he believes in something much less extreme that what he wrote (i.e., that the queen was suspiciously, but lawfully dethroned). Certainly, if Cleveland was the author, and the proclamation was attested to by Walter Q. Gresham, it would appear in his presidential papers and messages, which it does not. And certainly, there is no conceivable reason why Cleveland would choose to issue a proclamation to a single newspaper, and not include it in his official papers and messages.

Most likely, the joke was on Cleveland, and his loyalty to the Queen and secret attempts to reinstate her were being mocked. It is highly unlikely that a president of the United States would ever refer to an official (John Stevens) as the devil, or use the phrase "miserable herd of missionaries" (in fact, in all of his presidential writings, the word "devil" is only used to refer to "Devils Lake Indian Reservation"). The fact that anyone ever believed that this was actually written by Cleveland is surprising.

If anyone has access to digitized images of the newspaper in question (New York Sun, February 26, 1894), please send them to the editor. Unfortunately Helena G. Allen died August 24, 2003 at the age of 86 in Redlands, California and can no longer answer questions regarding her research.

Honoring the Joke

According to this article in the Star Tribune, sovereignty activists in 2006 have made a pilgrimage to Cleveland's birthplace, and plan a national day of prayer on April 30th, 2006 to celebrate the Joke Proclamation. There is no indication that they understand that the proclamation they are celebrating was not written by Cleveland (and was most likely intended to mock him), nor do they seem to understand that Cleveland reversed his position on reinstating the Queen after the completion of the Morgan Report (See: The Rest of The Rest of The Story).

Literal References to Joke Proclamation

Cleveland's actual messages and papers

Thanks to the Gutenberg project, we can verify that he issued no such official proclamation by examining his actual official proclamations. As you can see from the list of proclamations derived from the Gutenberg data, no proclamations were issued on February 25th, 1894, as suggested by the Joke Proclamation.

  • A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents Volume 8, part 2: Grover Cleveland
    • Proclamation 4/8/1893 - warning off people from entering the Bering Sea
    • Proclamation 5/8/1893 - regarding Denmark and copyrights
    • Proclamation 6/30/1893 - convening special session of Congress
    • Proclamation 7/17/1893 - regarding Canadian vessels in distress
    • Proclamation 7/20/1893 - regarding Portugal and copyrights
    • Proclamation 8/19/1893 - regarding land acquisitions from Indians
    • Proclamation 9/28/1893 - regarding Oregon public lands
    • Proclamation 9/28/1893 - also regarding Oregon public lands
    • Proclamation 11/3/1893 - regarding thanksgiving day
    • Proclamation 4/9/1894 - regarding Tribunal of Arbitration at Paris
    • Proclamation 5/2/1894 - regarding Grenada tonngage duty
    • Proclamation 7/8/1894 - regarding using military force to suppress protests
    • Proclamation 7/9/1894 - regarding nationwide protests
    • Proclamation 7/13/1894 - regarding naval safety regulations
    • Proclamation 9/25/1894 - regarding amnesty for Mormon polygamy
    • Proclamation 11/1/1894 - regarding thanksgiving day
    • Proclamation 12/5/1894 - regarding South Dakota lands
    • Proclamation 2/18/1895 - warning off people from entering the Bering Sea
    • Proclamation 2/25/1895 - regarding delays to naval safety regulations
    • Proclamation 5/16/1895 - regarding land acquisitions from Indians
    • Proclamation 5/16/1895 - regarding land acquisitions from other Indians
    • Proclamation 5/18/1895 - regarding Oklahoma public lands
    • Proclamation 5/18/1895 - regarding the death of Walter Q. Gresham
    • Proclamation 6/12/1895 - regarding Cuba
    • Proclamation 7/10/1895 - regarding Spain and copyrights
    • Proclamation 11/4/1895 - regarding thanksgiving day
    • Proclamation 11/8/1895 - regarding cattle imports
    • Proclamation 11/8/1895 - regarding land acquisitions from Indians
    • Proclamation 1/4/1896 - regarding the State of Utah
    • Proclamation 2/27/1896 - regarding Mexico and copyrights
    • Proclamation 3/16/1896 - regarding Choctaw Nation
    • Proclamation 4/14/1896 - regarding seal killing
    • Proclamation 5/25/1896 - regarding Chile and copyrights
    • Proclamation 7/27/1896 - regarding Cuba
    • Proclamation 11/4/1896 - regarding thanksgiving day
    • Proclamation 11/14/1896 - regarding Alaska
    • Proclamation 12/3/1896 - regarding German Empire duty
    • Proclamation 12/31/1896 - regarding naval safety regulations
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding Utah public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding California public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding Washington public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding California public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding Idaho and Montana public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding Washington public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding South Dakota public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding Idaho and Washington public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding Washington public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding Wyoming public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding Montana public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding Wyoming public lands
    • Proclamation 2/22/1897 - regarding Montana public lands
    • Proclamation 2/24/1897 - regarding special session for the Senate