Hawaii and a 19th Century Southern Gentleman

Some time back on the PBS series "The American Experience," there was an episode that documented the life of the last Hawaiian Queen, Queen Lili’uokalani. The events covered took place during the 1890s. This episode talked about the Sugar Plantation owners, who were American businessmen, and their efforts to force the Hawaiian monarchy to bend to their will.

The Hawaiian Monarch, King Kalakua, who was the supreme ruler of the Hawaiian Islands at the beginning of this story, was forced at gunpoint by the Plantation owners to sign a constitution written by the white businessmen. This new constitution made the king ruler of a constitutional monarchy and the "elected" legislature had to approve of the king’s actions. Of course the legislature was made up of the American businessmen. When the king died, his sister became queen.

The Plantation owners planned to bully Queen Lili’uokalani into running the country according to their desires, which obviously was to advance their businesses. The queen was more concerned for the sovereignty of her island nation and the well being of her native people. After battling the queen for political control of the Hawaiian Islands, the American businessmen forced the queen to abdicate her thrown. The businessmen established a "republican" government where only the white population had any real rights. The new Hawaiian government looked to the United States for recognition.

The US, not sure of the exact situation on the islands, sent an emissary to determine the status of the queen and the new republican government. The man chosen was James H. Blount, a former Georgia congressman and Colonel in the Confederate Army. The Americans living in Hawaii, upon hearing Blount’s Southern accent, felt free to express their prejudices against the Hawaiians. To their dismay, Col. Blount condemned the actions of the businessmen and criticized the United State’s involvement more harshly than any U.S. ambassador had ever criticized U.S. foreign policy up to that time or ever sense.

The miscalculation on the part of the white Americans in Hawaii had been that they believed the stereotypes about Southerners promoted in the newspapers of the Northeastern U.S. Being Yankee businessmen, they assumed that all Southerners would despise anyone not of the white persuasion. Their failure was in not truly understanding Southern culture and the concepts of honor, integrity and civility. They were ignorant of what it meant to be a fully developed "Nineteenth century man."

Colonel Blount was a man of honor, of Southern honor. This "Nineteenth century man" is one of the many fine examples of what the South produced in human stock. Col. Blount believed in conducting himself and his duties according to the strict dictates of his job description and according to the Constitution. It was not his place to assist in the overthrow of a sovereign nation. It is obvious that the Colonel believed in the traditional American view that "government is derived from the consent of the governed" and the Hawaiian people had not consented to this usurpation of their monarch.

While eventually the U.S. government recognized the illegal republican government of Hawaii and incorporated the islands into the American "family," the Hawaiian people have not let go of their dream of regaining their independence. Northerners will think it ironic that Hawaiians found an ally in a pro-Confederate Southerner, but those that are truly informed and understand what the South has traditionally stood for will see it as the most natural of alliances. Those who believe in the concepts our founding fathers espoused, like "self-determination," "liberty" and "consent of the governed," will realize that Hawaiians and Southerners were and are natural allies in pursuit a common dream.

Jeff Adams
July 25, 1999