Wilcox Rebellion 1889 and Dueling Palace Coup Plots

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The Wilcox rebellion of 1889 resulted in 7 men killed, many injured, and the roof of Iolani Palace blown open by dynamite bombs. U.S. marines came ashore to restore order and continued patrolling the streets of Honolulu for a week before returning to their ship. During later remodeling the 8-foot-high walls around the Palace were reduced to their present height to allow events on each side of the wall to be observed by people on the other side.

Behind the scenes Liliuokalani was plotting a coup against Kalakaua, and Kalakaua was plotting a coup against the constitution of 1887.

Crown Princess Liliuokalani held secret meetings in one of her houses to oust her brother King Kalakaua so that she could become Queen. Meanwhile Kalakaua was plotting a coup to abrogate the Constitution of 1887 which had reduced him to a powerless figurehead, and proclaim the previous Constitution of 1864 (which itself had been a coup by Lot Kamehameha V against the earlier Constitution of 1852). Court testimony later indicated that Kalakaua had manipulated Liliuokalani's coup plot against him so that he would come out the winner whichever way it turned out. Indeed, evidence indicates that Kalakaua instigated or encouraged both Liliuokalani's coup plot and the Wilcox rebellion in order to strengthen his own power.

Some details of both coup plots, and details about the activities of Wilcox, obtained from court testimony and other sources, were included in the Morgan Report testimony of W.D. Alexander on pages 643-646. That material has been assembled here:

The story begins near the bottom of page 643, where the Chairman of the committee, Senator Morgan, is reading from an essay written by W.D. Alexander

Click here to jump directly to the CONSPIRACIES section.

Additional information about the dueling attempted coups by Kalakaua and Liliuokalani, using Wilcox as a pawn, is found in two paragraphs on page 800, in the statement by Supreme Court Chief Justice A.F. Judd, as follows:

"I tried Wilcox for conspiracy to commit treason and had to discharge one Hawaiian jury for violent conduct while in the jury box. The second jury acquitted him in spite of his own testimony admitting all the acts which constituted conspiracy. The testimony of that trial showed that Kalakaua was a party to the conspiracy, and only because he was afraid that it would not be successful he failed to go to the palace and promulgate the constitution. The native soldiers were in sympathy with Wilcox's plans, as also many of the native police, and Wilcox also relied upon V. V. Ashford's promise that the Honolulu rifles which he commanded would not help against him.
Mr. Ashford was very lukewarm in his efforts to dispossess the rebels of the Palace grounds and the Government building. I was a personal hearer of the altercations between him and his brother, C. W. Ashford, who was then Attorney-General. The Attorney General would urge one plan and another, always to be rebuked by Col. Ashford with the statement that it could not be done, or that he, the Attorney-General, knew nothing of such matters. It was mainly owing to the volunteer citizens soldiery who rallied to the support of the Cabinet that the rebellion was put down by force in which seven Hawaiians were killed and others wounded. Liliuokalani disavowed to me her knowledge or connivance with Wilcox's plans, but the fact that the armed party under Wilcox assembled at her own house in the suburbs and started from there to the Palace, gives credence to the belief that she knew of it.


comfortably and prosperously upon the native capacity of the soil to produce articles of human food?

Mr. Alexander. I think probably five times the present population. There are some districts nearly uninhabited.

The Chairman. And still leave a fair margin for exportation?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

The Chairman. As exchange to get goods of other countries there?

Mr. Alexander. Yes; wherever we go we find abandoned taro patches and abandoned water courses overgrown with forests, at the same time showing that there was a dense population there hundreds of years ago.

The Chairman. I believe that is all I care to ask you about the general character of that country. I wish now to come to the political side.

Senator Frye. If you will allow me, right there, I want to ask a question. I have in my hand a history of the Hawaiian Islands, written for educational purposes in the islands, a book of 340 pages. Are you the author of this book?

Mr. Alexander. Yes, I am the author.

Senator Frye. Written at the request of the board of education?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

Senator Frye. And is it to be used in the schools?

Mr. Alexander. It is used in the schools.

Senator Frye. Are you the auther of any other book there—geography?

Mr. Alexander. I was the author of a grammar of the Hawaiian language and of a good many pamphlets and separate papers.

Senator Frye. I see here that you purpose writing certain other books. Have you written any of them?

Mr. Alexander. I have not completed any of them.

Senator Frye. You had a good many conversations with Mr. Blount, did you not?

Mr. Alexander. I did.

Senator Frye. They were not taken down by a stenographer at the time?

Mr. Alexander. No ; they were informal.

Senator Frye. But you gave Mr. Blount a prepared, a written paper of the history of the incompleted annexation treaty of 1854, a history of the general causes that led to the revolution—a political history of Kalakaua's reign until 1888?

Mr. Alexander. Yes; and those have been printed.

Senator Frye. Have you read them since they have been printed?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

Senator Frye. They are printed correctly, are they?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

Senator Frye. Did you also prepare a constitutional history of that country since the beginning of the century?

Mr. Alexander. Yes. That has not been published yet.

Senator Frye. Did you give that to Mr. Blount?

Mr. Alexander. I gave him a copy.

Senator Frye. Has that been printed?

Mr. Alexander. No.

Senator Frye. Have you a copy of that constitutional history?

Mr. Alexander. I have the original draft.

Senator Frye. And will you furnish the committee that history?

Mr. Alexander. I will.


The Chairman. It will not be necessary for you to repeat anything that you have stated in that history to Mr. Blount. You have furnished me heretofore a paper that I must acknowledge I have not read. It is a continuation of the sketch of recent Hawaiian politics, and treats of various things. I will read that in your hearing, and see if you are prepared to depose to it as being correct.

[The preceding narrative is published In Col. Blount's report, part IV, pp.



"This preceding narrative ended with the revolution of 1887, which was expected to put an end to personal rule in the Hawaiian Islands by making the ministry responsible only to the people through the legislature, by taking the power of appointing the Upper House out of the hands of the Sovereign, and by making officeholders ineligible to the legislature.

"The remaining three and a half years of Kalakaua's reign teemed with intrigues and conspiracies to restore autocratic rule.

"The reform party, as has been stated, gained an overwhelming majority of seats in the legislature of 1887, and had full control of the government until the legislative session of 1890.

"During the session of 1887 a contest arose between the King and the legislature in regard to the veto power, which at one time threatened the public peace. The question whether by the terms of the new constitution the King could exercise a personal vote against the advice of his ministers or not was finally decided by the supreme court in favor of the Crown, Judge Dole dissenting."

He is the present president?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

The Chairman. "During the following session of 1888 the King vetoed a number of bills which were all passed over his veto, by a two-thirds vote, with the exception of a bill to encourage coflee planting.


"The King's sister, the then Princess Llliuokalani, on her return from England, had charged her brother with cowardice for signing the constitution of 1887, and was known to be in favor of the old despotic system of government."

That was the constitution under which Liliuokalani took her present attitude, or recent attitude as Queen of Hawaii?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

The Chairman. "Two Hawaiian youths, R. W. Wilcox and Robert Boyd, whom Moreno had placed in military schools of Italy, as before stated, had been recalled towards the end of 1887. They had been led to expect high positions from the Gibson government, and their disappointment was extreme. Hence they were easily induced to lead a conspiracy which had for its object the abrogation of the constitution of 1887, and the restortation of the old regime. They endeavored to form a secret league, and held public meetings to inflame the native mind, but without much success. It is said that the royal guards were won over, and that the three chief conspirators, R. W. "Wilcox. C. B. Wilson, and Sam Nowlien, demanded the King's abdication in favor of Liliuokalani. Several members of their league, however, turned informers,


and a mass of sworn evidence was collected, but never used against them. The leader, Robert Wilcox, was allowed to go to California, where he remained about a year, biding his time."

Mr. Alexander. The story was that those conspirators cornered the King in a room in the tower of the palace and tried to compel him to abdicate then and there, and Thurston, who was at the head of the Cabinet, stopped it.

The Chairman. Do you speak of stories, or do you speak of the current belief?

Mr. Alexander. In regard to that Mr. Thurston gave me more especial evidence. He had the conspirators examined one by one, took down their statements, and he has them locked up.

The Chairman. In what capacity was he acting at the time?

Mr. Alexander. He was minister of the interior, and virtually premier; leading member of the Cabinet.

The Chairman. Of Kalakaua's Cabinet?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

The Chairman. What year was that?

Mr. Alexander. I think about the beginning of 1888.

The Chairman. Then you take up the insurrection of 1889?

"Meanwhile a secret organization was being formed throughout the islands, and when some progress has been made, Mr. Wilcox returned to Honolulu in April, 1889, formed a rifle club, and began to prepare for another revolution."

Mr. Alexander. The object was to make him abdicate in favor of the Princess Liliuokalani.

The Chairman. "The meetings of the league were held in a house belonging to the Princess Liliuokalani.

"At the subsequent trial it was proved by the defense, that the King had latterly come to an understanding with the conspirators, whose object was to restore his autocratic power."

Where was the trial held?

Mr. Alexander. In her room.

The Chairman. Was it a judicial investigation?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

The Chairman. In what court?

Mr. Alexander. The supreme court. I think I speak of that afterward.

The Chairman. "Before light, on the morning of July 30, 1889, Robert Wilcox with about one hundred and fifty armed followers, occupied the Government buildings and the palace yard. No declaration of any kind was made, as they expected the King, who was at the seaside, to come up and proclaim the old constitution of 1864."

Senator Gray. Is that the same Wilcox who was in the cabinet?

Mr. Alexander. No; that was a white man; this was a half white, who was sent to Europe to be educated—sent to school. He went to Italy and became a second lieutenant in the artillery.

The Chairman. What relation is he to the Wilcox who was in the cabinet?

Mr. Alexander. No relation. His father was a white man and his mother was a native.

The Chairman. "The household troops in the barracks remained neutral, and the palace was held against the insurgents by Robert Parker, with 30 men, by the King's orders."

Is that the same Parker who was in the cabinet?

Mr. Alexander. A brother of his.


The Chairman. "The King, who distrusted the conspirators, had retired to his boathouse in the harbor to await results."

The harbor of Honolulu?

Mr. Alexander. Honolulu.

The Chairman. "The volunteer riflemen promptly turned out, and many of the citizens took up arms for the Government."

I will ask you whether amongst those citizens there was the missionary party?

Mr. Alexander. Some of them.

The Chairman. Did you go into the company?

Mr. Alexander. Two of my sons were members of the rifle company. I went down to the station house and offered my services.

The Chairman. That was in support of the Kalakaua Government?

Mr. Alexander. It was Kalakaua's Government putting down the rebellion against him, although it was believed the King connived at it. You see the conspiracy was planned in Liliuokalani's house, one of her houses, and before daylight in the morning they started from her house. Nobody has any doubt that she was at the bottom of it.

The Chairman. And her purpose was to dethrone Kalakaua?

Mr. Alexander. It was thought later that they came to an understanding; they were not strong enough to carry that out.

Senator Gray. What year was that?

Mr. Alexander. July 30,1889. Kalakaua acted in such a way that, whichever way the affair went, whether success or failure, he would be safe. If they had succeeded he would have gone up and proclaimed the old constitution; as they failed, he denied that he was connected with the movement.

The Chairman. "At the request of the United States minister, Mr. Merrill, a body of marines was landed, and marched up to the legation, where they remained during the day."

Mr. Alexander. The legation was on the hotel premises, quite near to the palace.

The Chairman. "This had a great moral effect. The insurgents were surrounded and isolated from the populace outside."

Where were the insurgents assembled?

Mr. Alexander. In the palace yard. The rifles formed a cordon.

The Chairman. Full-armed?

Mr. Alexander. Yes; they established patrols before daylight.

The Chairman. The military of the two parties were in hostile array?

Mr. Alexander. The insurgents went to the barracks, got cannon and ammunition, and the troops in the barracks were ordered by the Queen to remain neutral. But they allowed the insurgents to go there and help themselves to ammunition and cannon. There was a duel took place between our artillerymen and the cavalry.

The Chairman. "The ministry drew up a written summons to them to surrender, which was served on them by Hon. S. M. Damon, but they refused to receive it, and immediately afterwards the conflict commenced between their three fieldpieces and the sharpshooters in the Opera House and other buildings commanding the palace yard. The result was that their guns were soon silenced and they were driven into a wooden building on the palace grounds, where they were besieged during the afternoon. Towards night a heavy rifle fire was opened upon them and the roof of the building burst in by dynamite bombs, which forced them to surrender."

Mr. Alexander. About the dynamite. The palace was surrounded by a stone wall 8 feet high, and the dynamite bombs were thrown from


behind that wall by a base-ball pitcher and between 200 and 300 feet. They fell on the roof of the building and burst it in. It was covered with corrugated iron. They did not stay there very long.

The Chairman. That was what building?

Mr. Alexander. Iolani Palace.

The Chairman. "Unfortunately this was by no means a bloodless affair, as seven of Wilcox' deluded followers were killed and about a dozen wounded. It was afterwards known that 10,000 rounds of ammunitions were loaned from the U. S. S. Adams to the Government forces."

What do you call the Government forces, the rifles?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

The Chairman. And the attacking party?

Mr. Alexander. And the attacking party.

The Chairman. "Wilcox was afterward put on trial for treason, and was acquitted by a native jury, on the theory that what they did was by and with the King's consent."

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

The Chairman. What was the result?

Mr. Alexander. There were three for conviction and nine for acquital.

Senator Frye. Is that regarded as a disagreement of the jury?

Mr. Alexander. Yes. Three-fourths of a jury may convict. The jury system is peculiar there. Foreigners are tried by a jury made up of foreigners, and natives and half-whites are tried by a native jury.

The Chairman. A native jury may be composed of Kanakas or half-whites?

Mr. Alexander. Yes. In late years race prejudices have influenced the juries to a great extent.

The Chairman. But the rule is that three-fourths of a jury may convict?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

The Chairman. I read: "He became a popular idol, and had unbounded influence over the Honolulu natives for a time. The Princess, Liliuokalani, however deserted him and denied all knowledge of the conspiracy. This unfortunate affair was made the most of by demagogues to intensify race hatred. The license of the native press was almost incredible."

I will ask you whether the press is free in Hawaii?

Mr. Alexander. Yes; free.

The Chairman. Amenable only for libelous publications?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

The Chairman. "A project of a new commercial treaty with the United States was drawn up in the fall of 1889 by the ministry in conjunction with Hon. H. A. P. Carter. It provided for free trade between the two countries, the perpetual cession of Pearl Harbor to the United States, and a guarantee of the independence of the islands by that power. By working on the King's suspicions, Mr. C. W. Ashford, the Canadian member of the cabinet, induced the King to refuse to sign the draft of the treaty."

Is Mr. Ashford there now?

Mr. Alexander. Yes. He is a royalist at present. He took the ground that the King was not bound, because the cabinet was not unanimous. The rest of the cabinet invited him to resign and he would not.

Senator Gray. Was Mr. Ashford in the cabinet?

Mr. Alexander. He was in the cabinet—attorney-general. And


he got an opinion of the supreme court to the effect that a majority oi the cabinet should rule. But they defied the opinion of the supreme court.

Senator Gray. Who defied it?

Mr. Alexander. That is, Ashford and the King. The attorney general advised the King that that was an ex parte decision.

Senator Gray. It was not judicial?

Mr. Alexander. It was not judicial. It was not a regular decision.

The Chairman. You speak of Mr. Ashford as the Canadian member. Is he a native of Canada?

Mr. Alexander. Yes.

The Chairman. A naturalized citizen of Hawaii?

Mr. Alexander. No, I think not. But I think they had a way of issuing letters patent, to give a person the privilege of a naturalized citizen without being thoroughly naturalized.

The Chairman. That is called denizenship?

Mr. Alexander. Denizenship. I know they had to be denizens before they could practice law.

Senator Gray. Is not that the case with a great many foreigners?

Mr. Alexander. Not naturalized?

Senator Gray. Yes.

Mr. Alexander. Under the old constitution it was almost impossible for a white man to be naturalized. Under Kalakaua's reign the law required five years' residence, and it was then at the King's discretion; he could sign the naturalization paper or not. And I know cases where white men were refused on political grounds. For example, Mr. Hitt Wallace, brother of General William Wallace, his application was refused because he was opposed to Gibson in politics. Under the old naturalization laws the applicant did not abjure his own nationality; there were cases that came up before the United States commissioner where they claimed that they were still American citizens.

Senator Gray. What I ask is whether during the last few years it is not a fact that foreigners, Americans, Europeans, whatever their nationality, vote and exercise the rights of suffrage without being naturalized?

Mr. Alexander. That is true under the constitution of 1887.

The Chairman: "A copy of the treaty, including an article, canceled by the cabinet, which authorized the landing of United States troops in certain contingencies, was secretly furnished by the King to a native paper for publication, and the cry was raised that the ministry were 'selling the country' to the United States.

Owing to division in the reform party, and other causes mentioned above, a strong opposition was elected to the Legislature, and the reform ministry went out of office on a tie vote."

Mr. Alexander. That is, there were motions brought in of want of confidence. An amendment was proposed to turn Mr. Ashford out of the cabinet. The vote was taken on that amendment, and there was a majority of one for it. The speaker claimed the right to vote and made a tie. So the motion failed.

The Chairman. Was that motion against Ashford personally?

Mr. Alexander. Yes; it was an amendment to turn him out as a traitor. It failed; then the cabinet resigned, and he was obliged to.

The Chairman. "As the parties were so nearly balanced, a compromise cabinet, composed of conservative men, was appointed June 17, 1890, viz: John A. Cummins, minister of foreign affairs; C. N. Spencer,