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Hawaiian ex-Queen Liliʻuokalani Comes to Washington

Hawaiian ex-Queen Liliʻuokalani brings her spirit of aloha to Washington, captivating hearts with her grace and resilience. A tale of royalty and cultural heritage unfolds.
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This might be the most unique ideas for a post that I have come up with thus far. Hopefully you will agree and enjoy reading it.

I love Hawaii (who doesn’t?) and over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a number of vacations in the islands with family. I’m quite fond of the place and have some great memories from my visits.

Queen Liliʻuokalani (Honolulu Advertiser)
Queen Liliʻuokalani (Honolulu Advertiser)

Being the history nerd that I am, I’m intrigued by their unique past, especially the more recent history of the islands, from the original western name of the “Sandwich Islands”, to unification under King Kamehameha, to the overthrow under Queen Liliʻuokalani.

Hawaii has a fascinating history, and it’s one that has a unique and, in my mind, a fascinating connection with Washington, D.C. During the 1890s, the islands saw major upheaval, coups and battling interests for control over the precious resources of the island. The woman charged with protecting the interests of her people and her island nation Lydia Kamakaʻeha Pākī, formally known as Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last monarch of Hawaii.

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We all know that, in the end, Queen Liliʻuokalani was unable to maintain Hawaiian sovereignty. Hawaii was eventually annexed by the United States under the McKinley Administration and became our 50th state about 60 years later.

What most people likely do not know is that she made a well-publicized trip to the mainland — using a passport from the Republic of Hawaii — to make one last effort at maintaining Hawaiian self-determination.

This post is about her time in the our city.

Queen Liliuokalani, last royal ruler of Hawaii (1917)
Queen Liliuokalani, last royal ruler of Hawaii (1917)

Queen Lil makes an unexpected stop in Washington

The deposed Hawaiian Queen was in Boston in 1897, visiting her American cousins, when she left for Washington, without letting anyone know her travel plans.

She arrived in the city on January 24th on the night train and went to the Shoreham Hotel at 15th and H St. NW, where she had registered an apartment (read a good post on the Shoreham at Streets of Washington).

The Baltimore Sun reported on her Washington arrival and below is an excerpt from the article.

Very little information as to the object of Liliuokalani’s visit here can be ascertained. Mr. Palmer said she was traveling in private and he believed she would decline any official attentions. Whether she would call on President Cleveland he did not know.

It is believed that Liliuokalani will remain until after the inauguration of President McKinley. Her visit is supposed to be based on the hope that the government of the United States will try to secure a large pension for her from the government of Hawaii.

With the exception of the time during which she attended divine services the ex-Queen remained in her apartments at the Shoreham today. In the morning, accompanied by her Hawaiian attendants, she went to St. John’s Protestant Episcopal Church, within two blocks of the hotel. United States Treasurer Morgan was her only caller during the day. He came to pay his respects and to invite the ex-Queen to inspect the gold and silver vaults in the Treasury building.

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By the way, Mr. Palmer was Captain Julius A. Palmer, her private secretary. They met in Boston and had no prior acquaintance until her stay there. He had a distant connection through mutual family friends that brought them together and she felt he was trustworthy.

Well, she did end up visiting the President at the White House, only a few blocks from her hotel. And don’t forget, back then the inaugural ceremony was held in March. Take a look at video of the inauguration (the first one ever captured on film). Also, you can watch film of the McKinley second inauguration on Ghosts of DC, which I posted earlier this month.

Shoreham Hotel at 15th and H St. NW
Shoreham Hotel at 15th and H St. NW

A friendly visit with President Cleveland

Liliʻuokalani had a good relationship with Grover Cleveland and was hopeful that he would be able to aid in restoring her to her rightful place. She made a visit to the White House on January 25th, 1897, in the waning months of Cleveland’s term as President and this was the newspaper report of the meeting.

The President greeted the ex-Queen in the most kindly fashion, expressing pleasure at her call and stating that he should have felt disappointed had she refrained from making him a visit while she was in Washington. He caused her to be seated, and, while the others stood in the background, the President and Liliuokalani chatted with evident interest on both sides for twenty minutes.

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The ex-Queen asked for Mrs. Cleveland and the President responded that she would be glad to see his visitor, but a messenger sent to Mrs. Cleveland to summon her to the Blue Room returned with the news that Mrs. Cleveland had gone out walking.

In all of the talk there was no reference to politics, save a brief expression of thanks by Liliuokalani in behalf of the Hawaiian race for this action in withdrawing the annexation treaty, which was pending before the Senate when the President assumed his office four years ago. Not a word was said about “restoration,” either past, present or future.

President Grover Cleveland (Wikipedia)
President Grover Cleveland (Wikipedia)

The ex-Queen greets several hundred in Washington

The day after her visit to the White House, Liliʻuokalani held a reception to greet the residents of Washington. This was reported in the Baltimore Sun and an excerpt from the article is below.

WASHINGTON, Jane. 26.–Washington is accustomed to receptions given by the highest officials of this government and the representatives of foreign governments, but the spectacle of a queen, although a dethroned one, giving an audience to a number of people has never been seen here before.

When Queen Liliuokalani announced yesterday that she would meet the Washington correspondents this afternoon it was expected that a number of people not invited would gratify an idle curiosity and call. The reception was intended to be merely an “unofficial and informal” meeting, but probably five hundred women called, bowed to her “ex-Majesty” and left with whisperings of delight at the idea of having been presented at “court.” The number of men present was so small as to attract attention.

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Liliuokalani talks English with ease, and has a command of language that surprised her listeners. She shows, furthermore, a knowledge of affairs she has not been given credit for, and on the whole impresses some with being a fairly educated and well-meaning person.

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She wore no earrings or jewels of any kind. Ladies who came to see her far outshone the Queen in brilliancy of attire.

To all she spoke of the weather here as compared to that in Hawaii. The Queen evidently fell into the habit of people in this country of discussing the weather when possibly at loss for something else to say. She is not so large a woman as she has been represented. While of a commanding figure, she is not obese and possibly does not weigh over 175 pounds.

D.C. weather is like Hawaii? I highly doubt that, but thanks for not rubbing Hawaiian weather in the face of Washingtonians, who likely never would set foot on the islands. Second, did the paper really comment on her not being obese and pegged her weight at less than a buck seventy-five? I hope she didn’t read the article.

The last Washington visit by a royal that I can dig up was one in 1860 by Edward, Prince of Wales (i.e., eventually King Edward VII). This was the first ever visit by a British heir to the throne, and likely the first visit to Washington and the U.S. by a member of any royal family. So, this was a huge deal since it almost never happened.

The former Queen moves into the Cairo

Interesting … the Cairo building on Q St. NW was the residence of the former Hawaiian monarch back in 1897. She lived there for about five months on the 10th floor.

Previously, she had stayed close to the White House at the Shoreham, but moved into the Dupont Circle hotel in February of 1897. Below is the mention of it in the Washington Post on February 16th, 1897.

Liliuokalani, ex-Queen of Hawaii, and her retinue have moved from the Shoreham to apartments in the Cairo. The change was made yesterday, and the reason given by Capt. Palmer, the spokesman of the party, was that her ex-majesty was anxious to secure permanent quarters before inauguration. The rooms she occupied at the Shoreham had been engaged by others for inauguration week. How long the party intends remaining in Washington can only be conjectured. Capt. Palmer says he has not been confided in, but it is known that Liliuokalani declined to engage her apartments at the Cairo by the month.

Cairo Flats circa 1890
Cairo Flats circa 1890

The ex-Queen had quite a favorable opinion of the building and wrote of it in her memoir.

…on or about the 14th of February, I moved with my party to the large thirteen-story building on Q Street, N. W., known as “The Cairo.” Its newness and immaculate cleanliness impressed me favorably at once. My rooms were in the southwest corner, from which I had a glorious view over the country and down the Potomac; and although unused to being on the tenth story of any building, yet, when I became accustomed to the height, it ceased to worry me. Everything was done by the owner, Mr. Schneider, and his lovely wife, as well as by the manager, Mr. Sherman, and his amiable wife, to render the stay of our whole party agreeable to us.

So if you, or anyone you know, lives in the Cairo’s 10th floor, southwest corner apartment, they now have a really cool story about their place … and your property value probably just went up.

A royal’s affinity for Washington

The ex-Queen shown great hospitality in Washington and commented that her visit to the city was one of the most delightful she had ever experienced. Below is another excerpt from her book.

Time would fail me to speak of the countless new friends who vied in making my visit to Washington one of the most delightful seasons I ever passed. It was my custom to give a reception about every fortnight; to receive callers at eight to nine any evening, and often at other times. Both houses of Congress were well represented at my receptions, if not always by the gentlemen themselves, by their wives or daughters. Although all were presented through Captain Palmer by name and by card, yet it will be seen that, when there were seldom less than two hundred callers, and my largest reception numbered nearly five hundred persons, it was not possible for me to return all calls.

Governor Perkins received me on my first visit to the Senate Chamber, where I went with my party simply to watch the deliberations; he provided us at once with seats in the gallery reserved for the personal friends of the senators, but subsequently he did a greater and more conspicuous kindness than this. On Friday noon, the 26th of February, I informed Captain Palmer that I had great curiosity to see the inauguration of the President of the United States, if it were possible to get seats. He said that it was rather late to make the proper arrangements. I requested him to communicate my wish to Governor Perkins. So, at two o’clock of that day he went to the Capitol, was welcomed by Senator Perkins, introduced to the members of the committee, and leaving the matter in their hands, he returned to the hotel.

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Queen Liliʻuokalani was able to attend McKinley’s inauguration ceremony as well as some festivities afterwards, however she lamented regretfully was unable to attend the formal evening balls due to her fatigue. It was a spectacle for reporters to see the ex-Queen in the Senate gallery as well as being in attendance at the new president’s inauguration.

Reception by the former Queen of Hawaii

William Lee (Wikipedia)
William Lee (Wikipedia)

The May 7th, 1897 Baltimore Sun reported in their social column that the Liliʻuokalani gave a reception in honor of Mrs. William Lee, held in the ballroom of the Cairo Hotel (1615 Q St. NW).

Mrs. Lee was the wife of William Lee, a prominent book dealer, publisher in Boston and partner in Lee & Shepard. She was visiting the Lee family in Boston before her arrival in D.C.

Below is an excerpt from the article.

WASHINGTON, May 6.–Liliuokalani, ex-Queen of Hawaii, gave a reception this afternoon at the Cairo in honor of Mrs. William Lee, of Boston, who is a relative by marriage. The large ballroom where the reception took place was brilliantly lighted and decorated with palms and roses.

The hostess received in a gown of handsome velour of an electric blue shade, the bodice trimmed with superb lace. At her throat she wore a handsome design in diamonds. Upon the corsage was a large Masonic design.

Mrs. Lee, who stood at her left, was gowned in grayish blue brocaded velvet and satin of a striking flower design; diamonds glittered upon the corsage and in her hair.

A mandolin orchestra played Hawaiian music and a feature of the occasion was the singing of a “Prayer and Serenade,” composed by the ex-Queen, sung by Miss Myra Lura Mason.

Among the several hundred guests were Sugeon-General Wyman, Representative and Mrs. Binger Hermann, Miss Lee and Mr. Isaac Townsend Smith, consul for the King of Siam.

The former Queen of Hawaii appeals to President to withdraw the treaty

WASHINGTON, June 17.–About 3 o’clock this afternoon ex-Queen Liliuokalani filed a protest in the office of the Secretary of State. It was delivered into the hands of Secretary Sherman by Mr. Joseph Heleluhe, representing the native Hawaiians. Mr. Heleluhe was accompanied by Capt. Julius A. Palmer, the American secretary of Liliuokalani. Mr. Sherman treated the bearers most courteously, but gave no indications of his action in the matter. The former Queen’s protest is as follows:

I, Liliuokalani of Hawaii, by the will of God named heir-apparent on the tenth day of April, A. D., 1877, and by the grace of God Queen of the Hawaiian Islands on the 17th day of January, A. D., 1893, do hereby protest against the ratification of a certain treaty which, so I am informed, has been signed at Washington by Messrs. Hatch, Thurston and Kinney, purporting to cede those islands to the territory and dominion of the United States.

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Francis M. Hatch was from Portsmouth, NH, educated at Bowdoin and was a practicing attorney in Hawaii. Lorrin A. Thurston was a lawyer and politician, born in Hawaii to American parents, who was instrumental in overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy and advocating for the U.S. annexation of the islands. William A. Kinney was born in Hawaii to American parents, attended the Punahou School (President Obama’s alma mater) and was a lawyer and local politician.

All three of these American men were strong supporters of annexation by the United States.

I declare such treaty to be an act of wrong toward the native and part-native people of Hawaii, an invasion of the rights of the ruling chiefs, in violation of international rights both toward my people and toward friendly nations with whom they have made treaties, the perpetuation of the fraud whereby the constitutional government was overthrown, and finally an act of gross injustice to me.

Because, the official protests made by me on the 17th day of January, 1893, to the so-called provisional government was signed by me and received by said government with the assurance that the case was referred to the United States of America for arbitration.

Because, that protest and my communications to the United States government immediately thereafter expressly declare that I yielded my authority to the forces of the United States, in order to avoid bloodshed and because I recognized the futility of a conflict with so formidable a power.

Because, the President of the United States, the Secretary of State and an envoy commissioned by them reported in official documents that my government was unlawfully coerced by the forces, diplomatic and naval, of the United States, and that I was at the date of their investigations the constitutional ruler of my people.

Therefore, I, Liliuokalani of Hawaii, do hereby call upon the President of that nation to whom alone I yielded my property and my authority, to withdraw said treaty (ceding said lands) from further consideration. I ask the honorable Senate of the United States to decline to ratify said treaty, and I implore the people of this great and good  nation, from whom my ancestors learned the Christian religion, to sustain their representatives in such acts of justice and equity as may be in accord with the principles of their fathers. And to the Almighty Ruler of the universe, to Him Who judgeth righteously, I commit my cause.

Done at Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, this seventeenth day of June, in the year eighteen hundred and ninety-seven.


Witnesses to Signature.

This is a powerful and compelling appeal from a woman desperate to restore the self-determination of her country. But, the momentum to annex the island nation was unstoppable. American business and strategic interests were the priorities of the McKinley Administration and the American Territory of Hawaii was just around the corner.

By the way, the treaty she speaks of — Secretary of State Sherman, Hatch, Thurston and Kinney — was never ratified by the Senate, but Newlands Resolution was passed by both houses of Congress, effectively annexing the Republic of Hawaii, making it the United States Territory of Hawaii a year later, in July of 1898.

President McKinley meets with ex-Queen in the East Room

Here’s an interesting one which mentions her brief meeting with the President. This article was in the Washington Post on July 27th, 1897.

Ex-Queen Liliuokalani was represented at the White House yesterday by Mr. Julius Palmer, of Boston, and her chamberlain, Mr. Joseph Heleluii, who presented memorials from the three great patriotic societies of Hawaii. While they were not made public, it is understood that the memorialists represented themselves as being opposed to any policy that touched the Queen’s sovereignty.

Later in the day Liliuokalani herself had a short interview with the President. She arrived in town Saturday night, and finding that the  President’s regular public reception occurred yesterday afternoon, she entered a carriage with Mr. and Mrs. Heleluii and Mr. Palmer and was driven to the White House. Their cards were sent up, and they were requested to wait at one end of the East Room, apart from the crowd of callers. This they did, the Queen being seated. The President requested that she wait until he had shaken hands with the public, and then he had a short talk with her, saying that he regretted the condition of Mrs. McKinley’s health alone prevented her from meeting Liliuokalani.

The ex-Queen is comfortably quartered at  the Ebbitt, and the length of her stay here has not been determined.

After her stay at the Cairo, it appears that she made a final move over to the Old Ebbitt Hotel (near the current Old Ebbitt Grill).

President McKinley in the White House Treaty Room (1900)
President McKinley in the White House Treaty Room (1900)

Her visit to the Capitol was merely one of etiquette

The former Queen of Hawaii was not having very much luck convincing policy makers during her time in Washington. She visited the Capitol on June 30th, 1897 to meet with senators and representatives.

Capt. Julius A. Palmer, private secretary to ex-Queen Liliuokalani, yesterday said the [sic] was positively no truth in the rumor that a monster petition was being forwarded here from Hawaii by the ex-Queen’s subjects in her favor.

“The people in Hawaii,” he said, “have as yet learned nothing about the treaty having been signed. We were not expecting such an act on the part of the administration, so a petition of, the kind mentioned was not deemed necessary. Communication is bad between the islands. It is not as it is in this country, and even after the news reached there it would take several days to circulate it among the people.”

“I wish to state, also, that the visit of the Queen to the Capitol Tuesday, was wholly without political significance. It was merely in the nature of a social call. It was only natural that, as Congress will shortly take its adjournment, and the Senators and REpresentatives leave Washington for the summer, as well as the Queen, she should pay the visit. She is a great stickler after etiquette, and desired to make the call on this account.

It sounds like this was an attempt at some relationship building to identify any potential allies to help her in her cause … albeit, a fruitless effort.

Queen Liliuokalani, Princess Kaiulani, Prince David Kawananakoa shuttered up in Washington Place mourning on the day of the flag of Hawaii was lowered down for the last time after the Annexation of Hawaii to the United States - August 12, 1898 (Wikipedia)
Queen Liliuokalani, Princess Kaiulani, Prince David Kawananakoa shuttered up in Washington Place mourning on the day of the flag of Hawaii was lowered down for the last time after the Annexation of Hawaii to the United States – August 12, 1898 (Wikipedia)

The poor deposed ex-Queen of the Hawaiian Islands came all the way to Washington, spent several months here meeting countless members of the Cleveland and McKinley administrations, Senators, Congressmen as well as the influential elite of Washington. Alas, she was unsuccessful in her mission to reestablish Hawaii sovereignty as she was unable to overcome the powerful business and strategic interests of the expansionist United States. She would live out the rest of her years in the Territory of Hawaii.

She filed a lawsuit against the United States, entering a claim of $450,000 loss of property and valuables as a result of losing her throne. She failed in this claim in 1905 and 1907, and tried yet again in 1910. The last time she claimed breach of her Fifth Amendment rights. She failed at this attempt as well. She did receive a nominal pension from the Territorial Government of Hawaii of $4,000 annually as well as income from her family sugar plantation.

Queen Liliʻuokalani would spend her final years living in the aptly named Washington House (named for George Washington). She died as the result of a stroke in 1917. She was 79 years old and the last Queen of Hawaii.

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