Last Thursday was the 120th anniversary of the overthrow of Lili'uokalani by a dozen or so haole businessmen in downtown Honolulu. They were American sympathizers, many of them Hawaii-born, who reacted bitterly to her attempt to announce by fiat a new constitution that pulled power away from the Cabinet and Legislature and back to herself.
The precipitating factor was the queen's struggle for an opium tax and national lottery that promised to raise money for the government (and a stipend for herself) and lessen dependence on the business community to whom these proposals were anathema.
The deeper issue was Lili'uokalani's distaste for being a constitutional monarch, a condition forced upon her brother in 1887 for abuse of power. Most of Europe's monarchies had already submitted to constitutions, but the queen wanted to return to the traditional powers of the ali'i nui. Lili'uokalani believed that like Kamehameha V, who successfully abrogated a constitution three decades before by his word alone, she could do the same. Alas, that time had long passed.
I suggested last year that the queen might not have lost the throne had she been privy to the counsel of her husband, John Owen Dominis, who died the first summer of her reign.
He was an American who, as governor of Oahu, was a long-standing member of the court and a student of the intricate levers and pulleys of Hawaiian politics. One of Lili'uokalani's profound mistakes that fateful January, I believe, was to overestimate her support. This was an error John Dominis would not have allowed her to make had he lived.
For this, several readers took me to task.
"To blithely suggest that she needed her husband, a spoiled mama's boy American opportunist who was unfaithful in their marriage, in order to save our Hawaiian nation, is an insult to our lahui," one person wrote.
"Queen Lili'uokalani was a great queen who did the most that she could do for the Hawaiian people," wrote another. "How silly that you think the events would have changed had her husband been alive to 'guide her,' as if she was not capable and needed to rely upon a man?"
I wonder why people think Lili'uokalani couldn't be great and still have flaws. Who among us doesn't need good advice? Didn't Bill Clinton help Hillary run a spectacular campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008?
In 1862, Lydia Paki, as she was then called, made a bad marriage to a man she had known since childhood, a man Pauahi Bishop had chosen for her. He was the son of an Italian ship captain who built a beautiful white mansion in downtown Honolulu and named it Washington Place.
Dominis, private secretary to Prince Lot, later Kamehameha V, was a precise, observant man, but weak and ineffectual, not one to take a stand. He was also secretive and devoted to his mother, who made life miserable for her daughter-in-law, censuring her for petty infractions such as cutting a rose or gifting a child. It was a painful environment for a Hawaiian chiefess with beauties of music and soul.
Lili'uokalani gained some happiness in 1868 when her grandfather Aikanaka left her Hamohamo, a piece of land in Waikiki with two houses, Paoakalani and Kealohilani. She happily moved to the coconut palms and duck ponds of the old ali'i playground while Dominis chose to remain behind with his mother.
It became well known that her marriage was troubled. Dominis was cold to her and critical, and "rather irregular as a husband . . . " according to the family physician, Dr. George Trousseau.
"He was fond of society, sometimes took more liquor than was good for him, and occasionally (although he never kept a regular mistress) had some love adventures. In this small community they were reported to his wife, and I can vouch to how she suffered by it."
In November 1882, Trousseau was forced to inform Lili'uokalani that Dominis had fathered a child with one of her retainers, a young half-Hawaiian woman who was soon to give birth. It must have been heartbreaking, but the couple was childless, and she quickly claimed him as her own, John Aimoku Dominis.
Part of Lili'uokalani's greatness was her ability to forgive and overcome the trials that faced her. If only that husband had been of more use.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.