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The Endangered Monarchy

After Kamehameha III's death in 1854, a succession of short-lived rulers did what they could for a rapidly dwindling native population. Kamehameha IV ruled only nine years; he and his wife Queen Emma established The Queen's Medical Center to help stave off the effects of contagious disease on the Hawaiian population. Kamehameha V issued a new constitution in 1964 that strengthened the power of the monarchy, and he introduced laws to protect the rights of foreign laborers. But he himself succumbed after another nine years. Lunalilo lived only a year. By now, high tariffs on sugar were causing the planters to talk openly of annexation to the US.

In 1874 the robust David Kalakaua took the throne. Called the "Merrie Monarch," he initiated a renaissance of Hawaiian culture by promoting a revival of the hula and ancient chants, building 'Iolani Palace, and establishing himself as a colorful figure on the global political scene. He traveled to Washington and secured a reciprocity treaty, which eliminated tariffs on Hawaiian sugar. Still, the tide of history had turned against him. In 1887 a league of planters forced him to sign the "Bayonet Constitution," which restricted the power of the monarchy. Kalakaua's sister Lili'uokalani took the throne in 1891 but was deposed two years later by armed foreigners backed by illegally requisitioned American troops. The queen turned to the US government for justice, but her appeals were ignored.