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  • Remembering the Committee of Safety: Identifying the Citizenship, Descent, and Occupations of the Men Who Overthrew the Monarchy
  • Ralph Thomas Kam (bio) and Jeffrey K. Lyons (bio)

“American and European sugar planters, descendants of missionaries, and financiers.”

—U.S. Apology Resolution, 1993

In 1993, during the centennial year of the overthrow of Queen Lili-‘uokalani, a joint session of the U.S. Congress issued an apology resolution that in part attributed the change in sovereignty to “a Committee of Safety that represented the American and European sugar [End Page 31] planters, descendants of missionaries, and financiers.” It also included a paragraph specifically highlighting the missionaries: “Whereas the Congregational Church (now known as the United Church of Christ), through its American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), sponsored and sent more than 100 missionaries to the Kingdom of Hawaii between 1820 and 1850.”

While the apology resolution claimed the thirteen-person Committee of Safety “represented” planters, descendants of missionaries, and financiers, the group responsible for the revolution had only one direct representative of a sugar plantation (who also helped finance the operation), only three descendants of the men and women sent to Hawai‘i by the ABCFM, and just two individuals who worked for companies that fronted money for sugar plantations (who could be broadly construed to be financiers).

While most agree on the impact that the members of the Committee of Safety had on the history of Hawai‘i, few today can name the men who had such a profound effect and even fewer have knowledge of their lives. Their import warrants a closer examination to correct any misperception of who they were.

A report of the Committee of Safety, preserved by member William Owen Smith in the offices of the Waterhouse Trust, recorded the genesis of the committee:

Late in the afternoon [January 16, 1893] it was felt that bloodshed and riot were imminent; that the community could expect no protection from the legal authorities; that on the contrary they would undoubtedly be made the instruments of Royal aggression; an impromptu meeting of citizens was held. [. . .] The meeting unanimously passed a resolution that the public welfare required the appointment of a committee of Public Safety, of 13, to consider the situation and devise ways and means for the maintenance of the public peace and the protection of life and property.1

Thirteen men comprised the Committee of Safety, usually referred to as the Committee of Safety: 1. Cristel Bolte, 2. Andrew Brown, 3. William Richards Castle, 4. Henry Ernest Cooper, 5. John Emmeluth, 6. Theodore F. Lansing, 7. John Andrew McCandless, 8. Frederick W. McChesney, 9. William Owen Smith, 10. Edward Suhr, 11. Lorrin Andrews Thurston, 12. Henry Waterhouse, and 13. William Chauncey Wilder. (Figure 1) [End Page 32]

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Figure 1.

A collage of the Committee of Safety January 1893. Henry E. Cooper, Chairman, (center) Clockwise, starting with the picture directly above the top of the diamond around Cooper: Henry Waterhouse, Lorrin A. Thurston, Ed Suhr, F.W. McChesney, John Emmeluth, Wm. R. Castle, Wm. O. Smith, J.A. McCandless, C. Bolte, W.C. Wilder, Andrew Brown and Theodore F. Lansing. Courtesy Hawai‘i State Archives [PP-28-7-003]

Overreaching Description

The apology resolution implies much broader participation by the entities it includes in its characterization of the committee.

American and European Citizenship

While the apology resolution uses the modifiers, “American and European,” terms indicating nationality or citizenship, it fails to mention individuals with Hawaiian citizenship.

Even Lili‘uokalani, in Hawaii’s Story By Hawaii’s Queen, focused the blame squarely on citizenship:

Because neither the above-named commission nor the government which sends it [Provisional Government] has ever received any such [End Page 33] authority from the registered voters of Hawaii, but derives its assumed powers from the so-called committee of public safety, organized on or about the seventeenth day of January, 1893, said committee being composed largely of persons claiming American citizenship, and not one single Hawaiian was a member thereof, or in any way participated in the demonstration leading to its existence.2

The use of the word “Hawaiian” by Lili...


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