Bayonet Constitution

Queen Lili'uokalani's protest of the Bayonet Constitution, that her brother was forced to promulgate at gunpoint, led to the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai'i by a committee of American citizens.

The 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii, commonly known as the Bayonet Constitution, was an 1887 constitution written by Lorrin A. Thurston and imposed on the Kingdom of Hawai'i and its monarch David Kalakaua by a group of American businessmen and an armed militia, associated with a secret society called the Hawaiian League in favor of annexation to the United States. The Bayonet Constitution gets its name from Kalakaua being forced at gunpoint on July 6 with a bayonet at his throat to sign the constitution stripping the monarchy of its authority and instead empowered Americans without legal Hawaiian citizenship.


The Bayonet Constitution took away 75 percent of the Native Hawaiian population's right to vote in elections. Native Hawaiians, as well as Asian emigrants who legally obtained Hawaiian citizenship, were deprived of their suffrage, Americans and other Europeans in Hawai'i were given full voting rights without the need for Hawaiian citizenship. The Bayonet Constitution imposed a strict requirement for voter eligibility: make US$600 annually and own at least US$3000 in private property, a rule designed to outright limit those eligible to vote in Hawaiian elections to only wealthy American businessmen. In addition to issues of suffrage, the Bayonet Constitution also stripped the monarch's power to appoint and scrutinize members of the House of Nobles (the upper house of the Hawaiian legislature). Only those selected by a group of Americans could serve in the House of Nobles.

Lili'uokalani's Constitution

In 1891, Kalakaua died and his sister Lili'uokalani assumed the throne. The queen initiated a poll and found support by native Hawaiians and other Hawaiian citizens to immediately set out to undo the damage created by the Bayonet Constitution on Hawaiian sovereignty.

On January 17, 1893, Liliu'okalani tried to impose a new constitution restoring the monarchy's lost authority, returning the rights of all legal Hawaiian citizens to vote and stripping American non-citizens of their voting eligibility. The United States Government, through its Department of State Minister to Hawai'i John L. Stevens, replied to Lili'uokalani's proposed constitution by ordering the landing of the United States Marine Corps to forcibly remove the queen from power and declaring a transfer of authority from the monarchy to a provisional government led by Lorrin A. Thurston, Sanford B. Dole and the Committee of Safety.

Lili'uokalani's trial

The deposed queen was forced to defend herself in a trial organized and presided by the Judge Advocate General's Corps, the judicial arm of the United States military. According to the prosecution, Lili'uokalani committed treason by drafting a new constitution in opposition to the Bayonet Constitution thrust on Kalakaua. Charges against the queen mounted to a maximum penalty of death by hanging for her and Hawaiian citizens who remained loyal to the queen. Lili'uokalani offered to abdicate her throne in order to spare the lives of innocent Hawaiian citizens.

With abdication, Lili'uokalani was sentenced to imprisonment in a single bedroom of Iolani Palace. With the establishment of the Republic of Hawai'i a year later, an action that made it more difficult to restore the monarchy, Lili'uokalani was released to retire as a private citizen at Washington Place.