King David Kalakaua, nicknamed the "Merrie Monarch," was forced to sign "The Bayonet Constitution" at gunpoint, stripping the monarchy of much of its power.

Photograph courtesy Hawaii State Archives

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  • On July 6, 1887, King David Kalakaua signed a new constitution for the Kingdom of Hawaii. Kalakaua was forced to sign the law at gunpoint, and the document is nicknamed the “Bayonet Constitution.”
    The new constitution was written by a group of white businessmen and lawyers who wanted the kingdom to be part of the United States. This group, called the Hawaiian League, was supported by an armed militia called the Honolulu Rifles. Many members of the Hawaiian League were affiliated with Hawaii’s giant, lucrative sugar and pineapple plantations.
    The new constitution reduced the power of the Hawaiian monarchy, placing most legal authority in the hands of the legislature. The constitution also changed voting rights in the kingdom. Only men of Hawaiian, American, and European ancestry who met certain financial requirements could vote. (This disenfranchised thousands of Asian voters, and opened voting to thousands of non-citizens.)
    King Kalakaua was the last reigning Hawaiian monarch—the last to wield independent political power. The monarchy was completely overthrown in 1893, the U.S. annexed the kingdom in 1898, and Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state in 1959. 
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    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.

    kingdom Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: kingdom
    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.

    monarchy 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.