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HISTORIC ARTICLE
HISTORIC ARTICLE

Jul 6, 1887 CE: Bayonet Constitution

Jul 6, 1887 CE: Bayonet Constitution

On July 6, 1887, rebels pressured King David Kalakaua to sign a constitution that reduced native Hawaiian sovereignty.

Grades

3 - 11

Subjects

Social Studies, U.S. History

On July 6, 1887, King David Kalakaua signed a new constitution for the kingdom of Hawai'i. Kalakaua signed the law at gunpoint, which led to the document being nicknamed the “Bayonet Constitution.”

The guns surrounding Kalakaua on that fateful day belonged to members of a militia nicknamed the Honolulu Rifles, made up largely of white settlers. Kalakaua’s successor as monarch, his sister Liliuokalani, later speculated Kalakaua would have been killed had he not signed the new constitution.

The Honolulu Rifles were affiliated with a group called the Hawaiian League, which drafted the new constitution to transfer power from the monarchy to the more settler-friendly legislature. The document also granted suffrage to foreigners (generally Americans and Europeans) by linking the right to vote with property ownership.

The leader of the Hawaiian League, Lorrin A. Thurston, was the grandson of one of the first American missionaries to travel to Hawai'i. Many other members of the group operated or worked for Hawai'i’s giant, lucrative sugar plantations.

King Kalakaua was the last Hawaiian monarch to wield independent political power. The monarchy was completely overthrown in 1893, the United States annexed the kingdom in 1898, and Hawai'i became the 50th U.S. state in 1959.

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Writer
National Geographic Society
Producer
National Geographic Society
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Last Updated

October 20, 2022

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