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.

affiliate
Verb

to associate or connect to something else.

ancestry
Noun

family (genealogical) or historical background.

annex
Verb

to add or incorporate land into an existing parcel, state, or nation.

authority
Noun

person or organization responsible for making decisions.

bayonet
Noun

knife-like tool that is attached to the muzzle (discharge point) of a gun.

citizen
Noun

member of a country, state, or town who shares responsibilities for the area and benefits from being a member.

constitution
Noun

system of ideas and general laws that guide a nation, state, or other organization.

disenfranchise
Verb

to take away certain rights, usually voting.

financial
Adjective

having to do with money.

Noun

type of government with a king or queen as its leader, or the land ruled by that king or queen.

legal
Adjective

allowed by law.

legislature
Noun

group of people, usually elected, who make and change laws.

lucrative
Adjective

profitable or money-making.

militia
Noun

group of armed, ordinary citizens who are called up for emergencies and are not full-time soldiers.

Noun

system of government in which national power is invested in one person, usually a king or queen.

plantation
Noun

large estate or farm involving large landholdings and many workers.

reduce
Verb

to lower or lessen.

reign
Verb

to rule as a monarch.

requirement
Noun

something that is needed.

voting rights
Noun

issues surrounding the legal right and ability to campaign and cast a vote in political elections.

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