112 year old joke fools political activists and the Associated Press

Monday, April 24, 2006

On Friday April 21, 2006 the Associated Press released a story which has been reprinted in many newspapers throughout the United States. The article prints as factual several false and historically inaccurate assertions by Reverend Patterson, a Native Hawaiian sovereignty activist, who seems to have taken a 112 year old joke seriously.

The direct falsehood reported as fact by Associated Press (not merely attributed to Reverend Patterson), and which Reverend Patterson uses as a basis for his April 30, 2006 "national day of prayer for Hawaiian natives", is as follows:

"...it was Cleveland as president who set aside April 30, 1894 as a day of prayer and repentance over the U.S. role in the Hawaiian monarchy's overthrow."

The fake proclamation attributed to President Grover Cleveland, was allegedly printed in the New York Sun February 26, 1894, and has been reported as real on several Hawaiian sovereignty websites; cited as real by Rev. Kaleo Patterson; and now reported as real by Associated Press in many newspapers.

The misunderstanding regarding this joke proclamation started with Helena G. Allen, in her book "The Betrayal of Liliuokalani", pp. 314-315, which provided the text of that proclamation. She did so in the context of discussing the constitution of the Republic of Hawai`i, despite the fact that the date on the proclamation was 4 months before a constitution was produced for the Republic of Hawaii. She wrote:

President Cleveland jokingly expressed his contempt in
a proclamation:  


To My People:   Whereas, my good and great sister and
fellow sovereign, her gracious majesty, Liliuokalani,
queen of Hawaii, has been wickedly and unlawfully
dethroned by the machinations of Americans and persons
of American descent in those islands, being instigated
thereto by the devil, one John L. Stevens;  and whereas,
my well-concieved [sic] plans for the restoration
of her sacred majesty have not had the result they
deserved but her majesty is still defrauded of her
legal rights by her refractory and rebellious
subjects, and her position is a just cause of sympathy
and alarm;  now, therefore, I, Grover Cleveland,
President of the United States, do hereby ordain and
appoint the last day of April next as a day of solemn
fasting, humiliation and prayer.  Let my people humble
themselves and repent for their injustice to me and my
great and good sister, and pray, without distinction
of color, for her speedy return to the throne and the
discomfiture of the miserable herd of missionaries and
their sons, her enemies and traducers.   

Long Live Liliuokalani, the de jure queen of Hawaii

Done at our mansion in Washington this 25th day of
February, 1894.     
                                   Grover Cleveland
A true copy. Attest, 
Walter Q. Gresham, 
Secretary of State

Helena Allen cited its publication in the New York Sun, February 26, 1894. Allen does not say who arranged for the newspaper publication of this joke proclamation. She strongly implies it was Cleveland who actually authored the proclamation to show contempt for the revolutionary Hawai`i government headed by President Sanford B. Dole.

But that interpretation is doubtful for a number of reasons. As a joke, it hardly seems very funny for Cleveland to be calling an officer of the government of the United States (John Stevens) "the devil." The description of the Provisional Government as a "miserable herd of missionaries" also doesn't come across as very humorous, since this was a government with which he had continuing diplomatic relations. The whole tone and tenor of the proclamation make President Cleveland seem emotional, irrational, insulting and arrogant.

A more likely interpretation is that the joke was at the expense of President Cleveland -- his political opponents were poking fun at the zealousness of Grover Cleveland's continuing support for a deposed queen regarded by many as corrupt. The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs published the Morgan Report the same day the joke proclamation was allegedly printed in the New York Sun. Washington politicians (including President Cleveland) had seen the Morgan Report beforehand, and knew the date it would be published. They knew the report would clear the U.S. of any wrongdoing in the overthrow of the monarchy, and support the legitimacy of the revolutionary Dole government. They knew the Morgan Report would severely criticize the royalist regime, and repudiate the Blount Report that Cleveland had orchestrated for the purpose of justifying his attempt to destabilize the Provisional Government and restore his friend Liliuokalani to the throne. Cleveland's enemies may have published the joke proclamation to poke fun at him.

Regardless whether the joke proclamation was Cleveland's own expression of contempt for the Dole regime, or whether it was Cleveland's opponents' expression of contempt for the Cleveland regime -- either way, we know for sure that it was only a joke. The proclamation was never issued in any official way. It is not included in Cleveland's presidential messages and papers. The fake proclamation was apparently published in only one newspaper.

President Grover Cleveland was a friend of Liliuokalani and was very aggressive in blocking annexation. During his first week in office he withdrew from the Senate a treaty of annexation proposed by the Hawai`i Provisional Government that had been approved by U.S. President Harrison; and he sent James Blount to Hawai`i. Blount went to Hawai`i, without Senate confirmation or even notification, as paramount minister plenipotentiary under secret orders. His actions while there seemed to imply a mission to destabilize the revolutionary government and to produce a report that would derail efforts in Congress to accept Hawai`i's offer of annexation. Blount took actions, which seemed to encourage a royalist counterrevolution, and wrote a report portraying the overthrow of the monarchy as planned and supported by the U.S. rather than by local revolutionaries. Blount intervened to sabotage negotiations whereby Liliuokalani offered Dole that she would give up all claims to land and political power in return for a lifetime annuity. After the submission of Blount's report, Minister Willis, Cleveland's representative to Hawai`i, ordered President Dole to step down and to put Liliuokalani back on the throne.

But despite all these things, after the U.S. Senate published the Morgan Report containing lengthy sworn testimony which repudiated the Blount Report, Cleveland changed his mind, gave formal diplomatic recognition to the Republic as the legitimate government of Hawai`i, and engaged in normal diplomatic negotiations with the Dole government on matters such as further implementation of treaties.

As much as political activists may want to believe Cleveland declared April 30, 1894 as a day of mourning for their cause, the reality is that Cleveland made no such statement, and in fact treated the Republic of Hawaii with dignity and respect after his initial impressions regarding the Hawaiian Revolution were shown to be in error.


Further research into the citation of Helena G. Allen referring to the New York Sun, February 26, 1894, has yielded no such article as she mentions. It is possible her citation was incorrect on the date, so further research into the February 25th, 1894 and February 27, 1894 editions will be conducted. Unfortunately, Helena G. Allen died in 2003, so she is not available to answer questions about her citation.


  • Helena G. Allen "Betrayal of Liliuokalani: Last Queen of Hawaii, 1838-1917" Arthur H Clark, © 1983 ISBN 0870621440
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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.