LETTER: Honoring President Sanford B. Dole on His 175th Birthday

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Sanford B. Dole was native-born at Punahou on April 23, 1844—a school founded by his father, missionary Daniel Dole. He spent eleven of his most formative years (ages 11-22) growing up Hawaiian-style at Koloa, Kaua’i, where he became expert at konane (similar to checkers) and pahia (a special form of diving). After attending Williams College (Massachusetts) he became a lawyer, and included plantation laborers among his pro bono clients. He adopted a native girl (probably his biological child) whose descendants are Hawaiian community leaders today including surnames Low, Lucas, Napoleon, Thompson. His ties to Koloa remained strong. He was elected to the Kingdom legislature 1884-86 from Koloa. In 1887 he led the protest group that forced King Kalakaua to sign a new Constitution. Later Kalakaua appointed him to the Kingdom’s Supreme Court.

In 1893 he honorably resigned his judgeship before the revolution; and then led the Provisional Government afterward. U.S. President Grover Cleveland “ordered” him to undo the revolution and reinstate the Queen. Hawaii President Dole wrote a lengthy letter of refusal, confirming that Hawaii desired annexation but was not a puppet regime. His strong leadership allowed the Provisional Government not only to defy President Cleveland’s “Black Week” gunboat diplomacy of December 1893 but also to crush the January 1895 attempted counter-revolution which used guns and bombs the U.S. Navy permitted to be smuggled in to Robert Wilcox.

Dole helped create the Republic of Hawaii and was its only President through four more years as an independent nation. Emperors, Kings, Presidents and Queen Victoria, who all previously recognized the Kingdom, sent Dole letters formally recognizing the Republic as the rightful successor government.

When U.S. President McKinley came into office, President Dole led negotiations for annexation, driving a hard bargain. The U.S. paid off the accumulated national debt of the Kingdom and Republic (more than the market value of the ceded lands at that time), and agreed to hold the ceded lands not as U.S. property but as a public trust for the benefit of all the residents of Hawaii. In 1900 he became Hawaii’s first Territorial Governor. In 1903 he was appointed judge of the U.S. District Court (Honolulu). Following many years of charitable works, he died in 1926.


Dole and Lili’uokalani were friends. During the 1893 revolution she was allowed to simply walk a block to her private home and live there unmolested, unlike deposed monarchs in France and Russia who were beheaded or shot. Rifles and bombs in her flower bed during the Wilcox revolt earned her a genteel “imprisonment” in a huge private room at ‘Iolani Palace (with full-time servant, sewing and writing supplies). After a few months President Dole pardoned her, allowing her to speak, write, and travel. She was allowed to organize a petition drive opposing Dole’s most cherished goal of annexation, and to go to Washington D.C. to lobby Congress against it.

Sanford B. Dole was Hawaii’s longest-ruling chief executive at ‘Iolani Palace (1893-1903), where his firm hand guided Hawaii through a decade of extraordinarily turbulent times. His spirit remains there, and his statue belongs there. He was the last head of an independent nation of Hawaii. Happy birthday, Mr. President!

Letters, commentaries and opinion pieces are not edited by Big Island Now.



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