The Rights of My People: Liliuokalani's Enduring Battle with the United States, 1893-1917

The Rights of My People: Liliuokalani's Enduring Battle with the United States, 1893-1917

The Rights of My People: Liliuokalani's Enduring Battle with the United States, 1893-1917

The Rights of My People: Liliuokalani's Enduring Battle with the United States, 1893-1917


The Rights of My People reviews Liliuokalani's decades-long campaign for the dignity and sovereignty of Hawaii, particularly in the wake of the 1893 coup d'état, and the outright annexation in 1898.

The author gives the first detailed and documented description of the seizure of the Crown lands, a quarter of the Hawaii islands, in 1893. This illegal move was contested aggressively by Liliuokalani for nearly two decades.

With previously unexamined documents, court records, and correspondence, and with an engaging prose and graphic portrayals, author Neil Thomas Proto weaves into the story Liliuokalani's political, legal, and media maneuvering, and the exercise of her harshly learned wisdom and skill in forming and giving life to her claim that the taking of the Crown lands by the United States was immoral and illegal. The threat of execution and assassination and the continued use of religious and racial condescension and deception by her adversaries, old and new, unfold in Honolulu, Hilo, and on to the continent in San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

Over more than a decade, the queen took up residence in the nation's capital, often for months at a time, to challenge the complicity of the United States in the media and before Congress. The story ends with the lawyers' arguments and the final decision in Liliuokalani v. United States of America in 1910. In the grandeur of what is now the Renwick Art Gallery, the United States Court of Claims heard and decided the case and sealed the islands' fate; a fate that neither Liliuokalani nor her people accepted through her death in 1917.

With an easily accessible but penetrating analysis, Proto demonstrates the deliberate effort by Liliuokalani's own lawyers to denigrate her claim. The epilogue reflects the queen's intent through the end of her life to ensure persistence among her people and discomfort among those who had taken Hawaii. There is no conclusiveness or note of warmth to the ending.

Through Proto's new perspective and exploration, Liliuokalani's cosmopolitan character and her place in a larger history emerge with clarity as do the continued contentiousness within Hawaii and between its native people and the United States.

In 2009, the 50th anniversary of Hawaii statehood was marked.


On the day of the oral argument in Liliuokalani v. United States of America before the United States Court of Claims, the Evening Star described the weather as wet and unusually cool. It had been that way for more than a week. “In the lore of Hawaii,” when such precipitation accompanied a fallen monarch it signified “that the spirit of the departing ali’i has found favor in the heavens.” In Washington, DC, such precipitation in April signified the onslaught of discomfort; the impending humidity and stagnation that typified the spring and summer with no breeze to cleanse it.

Liliuokalani, for the first time since the coup d’état in 1893, was seeking judicial review of her claim that the rents and proceeds from the Crown lands—upon which she lived in her former public life—had been improperly taken from her. From the moment of the coup d’état she had placed responsibility for the loss of Hawaii’s constitutional monarchy and her sustenance on the United States of America.

Umbrellas and carriages mingled with trolleys and fashionable rain gear as the Queen’s Counsel, Sidney Miller Ballou of Honolulu, left the subtle elegance of the Shoreham Hotel. His walk to the courthouse—a few blocks away—would take him through the dew-laden statues and green shrubbery of Lafayette Square. His task before the court of claims appeared formidable.

The court of claims, located on the corner of 17 Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, was not a house built for justice. It had been designed by James Renwick, Jr. to house and display William Corcoran’s American and European collection of paintings. Renwick crafted the Corcoran Gallery’s facade and interior in the French Second Empire style; in the manner of Napoleonic grandeur and a renewed commitment to a geopolitical empire. The building’s ornate exterior gave way to a flowing and majestic interior staircase that opened into a 4,300-square . . .

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