Robert William Wilcox

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Robert William Wilcox
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from Hawaii Territory's at-large congressional district
In office
November 6, 1900 – March 3, 1903
Preceded byDistrict established
Succeeded byJonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole
Member of the Kingdom of Hawaii
House of Representatives
for the island of Maui
In office
Member of the Kingdom of Hawaii
House of Representatives
for the island of Oahu
In office
Personal details
Born(1855-02-15)February 15, 1855
Maui, Hawaiian Kingdom
DiedOctober 23, 1903(1903-10-23) (aged 48)
Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii
Resting placeHonolulu Catholic Cemetery
Political partyHome Rule
National Reform
Spouse(s)Baroness Gina Sobrero (divorced)
Princess Theresa Laʻanui
Parent(s)William Slocum Wilcox
Kalua Makoleokalani
Alma materMilitary Academy of Modena
Military service
Allegiance Italy
Branch/serviceRoyal Italian Army (Italy)
Royalist Insurgency (Hawaii)
RankSub-Lieutenant (Italy)
Colonel (Hawaii)
Battles/warsWilcox Rebellion of 1889
Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom
1895 Counter-Revolution in Hawaii

Robert William Kalanihiapo Wilcox (February 15, 1855 – October 23, 1903),[2] nicknamed the Iron Duke of Hawaiʻi, was a Native Hawaiian whose father was an American and whose mother was Hawaiian. A revolutionary soldier and politician, he led uprisings against both the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom under King Kalākaua and the Republic of Hawaii under Sanford Dole, what are now known as the Wilcox rebellions. He was later elected the first delegate to the United States Congress for the Territory of Hawaii.

Early life


Wilcox was born February 15, 1855, on the island of Maui. His father, Captain William Slocum Wilcox (1814[3]–1910[4]) was a native of Newport, Rhode Island. His mother was a native of Maui,[5] named Kalua, who was the daughter of Makole and Haupa. Through Kalua's father, Makole, Wilcox was the great-great-great-grandson of the late-17th century Hawaiian king Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku.[6] Wilcox's grandmother, Haupa, was descended from Umi-a-Liloa of Maui (not to be confused with the king of Hawaii Island) and Lonomakaihonua.[6]

He attended Haleakala Boarding School in the town of Makawao.[2] Upon completion of his studies, Wilcox became a teacher at a Maui country school. In 1880, Wilcox was elected to the royal legislature in Honolulu on the island of Oʻahu. He represented the citizens of Wailuku and its neighboring Maui towns.[7]

Military career


In 1881, King David Kalākaua selected Wilcox and two other part-Hawaiian young men to study at the Royal Military Academy at Turin in the Kingdom of Italy as a part of the Education of Hawaiian Youths Abroad program.[8] By the time he completed his training in 1885, he achieved the rank of sublieutenant of artillery. Impressed with his military skills, Italian officials sent Wilcox to the Royal Application School for Engineer and Artillery Officers.

Planned rebellion of 1888


In 1888, the Reform Party (which later became the Hawaii Republican Party) took power in the Hawaiian Kingdom. Through what was called the Bayonet Constitution, they removed most political authority from the monarch, and placed income and property requirements on voters limiting the electorate to only wealthy native Hawaiians, Americans, and Europeans. The Reform Party ended costly programs such as Wilcox's training in Italy. On August 29, 1887, Wilcox received his orders to return home. Returning to Hawaiʻi in October with his wife Gina Sobrero, a baroness closely related to Italy's Colonna family, he began a short-lived career as a surveyor. He had now lost confidence that Kalākaua was strong enough to protect the interests of the Hawaiian people. Wilcox along with Charles Wilson and Sam Nowlein, planned[citation needed] a coup d'état to replace Kalākaua with his sister Liliʻuokalani, but the plot was never executed. On February 11, 1888, Wilcox left Hawaiʻi intending to return to Italy with his wife.

Rebellion of 1889


Instead of returning to Italy, Wilcox took up residence in San Francisco, California, and worked as a surveyor while his wife Gina earned extra money teaching French and Italian. When he decided to return to Hawaiʻi in the spring of 1889, Gina refused to go with him, and took their daughter back to Italy.

Wilcox planned and this time executed another attempt to force King Kalākaua to sign a new constitution to replace the 1887 Document on July 30, 1889. Kalākaua, apparently aware of the plot, avoided the palace, afraid that the rebellion would replace him with his sister Liliʻuokalani. Thus stymied, Wilcox was finally confronted by the Honolulu Rifles militia unit. After a pitched battle, Wilcox surrendered. In October 1889, he was tried for treason before judge Albert Francis Judd but acquitted by the jury. Being one of the few leaders to stand up to the conservative royalist Reform Party earned him respect among the people. The American minister John L. Stevens, who called Wilcox a "half breed", wrote: "The trial is tending plainly to show that the Hawaiians are numerously in sympathy with Wilcox."[9] He helped form a new political party called the "National Reform Party" which advocated restoring power to the monarch. Wilcox was again elected to the royal legislature where he served from 1890 to 1893 representing the island of Oahu. However, the conservatives in the original Reform Party, backed by the economic resources of the "Big Five" industrial corporations remained in power.[7]

In 1891, King Kalākaua died and his sister Liliʻuokalani became ruling monarch, swearing to uphold the 1887 Constitution. Wilcox was angered that Queen Liliʻuokalani did not choose him to be in her government, and he then formed his own National Liberal Party in November 1891. Although he did not explicitly advocate ending the Monarchy, the party advocated restoring power to the people even if it meant a republican form of government. After the elections of February 1892, when only 14,000 people were allowed to vote, letters and petitions demanded reforms to the Constitution of the Kingdom. On May 20, 1892, Wilcox and associates were arrested and charged with conspiring to set up a republic. A month later the charges were dropped and he was released.[10]

Back in the Legislature, he backed a measure that would strip power from the cabinet, and by August 1892, the ministers had resigned. Wilcox founded a newspaper called "The Liberal" from September 1892 to April 1893. He edited the section in the Hawaiian language while an English language section had several other editors. The paper attacked the extravagant lifestyle enjoyed by the Royal Family while the common people were suffering the effects of an economic slowdown.[10]

On November 1, 1892, Queen Liliʻuokalani appointed a new cabinet, and two hours later the Legislature (including Wilcox) voted to remove them from office. On November 8, 1892, a new government acceptable to the Legislature was formed. Wilcox no longer directly attacked the Queen, but advocated modernization, and was quoted in the "San Francisco Examiner" that "...we should take some steps to secure commercial and political protection from some foreign country."

By the end of 1892, "The Liberal" expressed support for the Queen. On January 12 another vote of no confidence allowed the Queen to appoint another cabinet of monarchists. On January 14 Liliʻuokalani suspended the Legislature and told the cabinet to sign a new proposed constitution that would restore political power back to her. The cabinet advised against it, and delayed any action. On January 17, 1893, the Committee of Safety, backed by the Honolulu Rifles militia unit took over the palace by force. During this time Wilcox, who was then a politician, was requested by Liliʻuokalani for his previous training in artillery to be put in command of the field pieces of the Royal Guard as they prepared themselves to defend the Queen.[11] Before any shots were fired, Queen Liliʻuokalani surrendered to avoid bloodshed.[10]

Rebellion of 1895


Following the overthrow, The Liberal resumed publication January 25, 1893. The English language editor Clarence Ashford supported the Provisional Government of Hawaii, and expressed the view that the Queen had brought about her own downfall. On January 28 the paper argued for becoming a state of the United States, but protested the lack of any native Hawaiians as leaders of the new government. Neither the monarchy nor the provisional government was a representative democracy. Editorials in February proposed becoming part of the state of California, which would enable popular elections.[10]

However, the "Big Five" who dominated the economy wanted to avoid statehood, since as a territory they would not be subject to the American labor laws. They depended on cheap labor for their sugarcane plantations in Hawaii for example. By March 1893 American President Grover Cleveland decided against annexation anyway. The Liberal attacked the efforts of Princess Kaʻiulani when she travelled to America to argue for supporting re-instating the monarchy. Wilcox applied for a position in the new government but was denied. The newspaper shut down on April 15, 1893. Rumors circulated that Wilcox was preparing to proclaim a liberal republic.[10]

The leaders of the overthrow proclaimed their own Republic of Hawaiʻi on July 4, 1894. By the end of the year, royalists were planning a counter-revolution to restore Liliʻuokalani. The key conspirators were Sam Nowlein, head of the Queen's guard, Charles T. Gulick, advisor to both Kalākaua and Liliʻuokalani, and William H. Rickard, a sugar planter of British parentage. They needed a military leader, and approached Wilcox. At first he hesitated, but since he was frustrated with lack of progress on annexation as well as spurned by the republic, he agreed to lead the forces into battle.

Royalist and republican forces clashed at the base of Diamond Head on January 6 and 7, 1895, and in Mōʻiliʻili on January 7. Mānoa was the scene of battle on January 9. Casualties were minor, and only C. L. Carter, a member of a prominent island family, was killed. The royalists were quickly routed and Wilcox spent several days in hiding before being captured. All royalist leaders had been arrested by January 16, when Liliʻuokalani was taken into custody at Washington Place and imprisoned in ʻIolani Palace. Wilcox was arrested and tried for treason. This time he was convicted on February 23, 1895, and was sentenced to death with five other leaders. Some were freed due to giving testimony against the others, and his sentence was commuted to 35 years in prison. On January 1, 1898, he was pardoned by Sanford B. Dole, President of the Republic, who had previously made pressured Liliʻuokalani to abdicate in exchange for his life and freedom, as well as for the lives of the others who had been sentenced to death.



On July 4, 1898, by passing the Newlands Resolution, the United States officially annexed Hawaii, and Republic President Dole appointed provisional Governor. The Hawaiian Organic Act of April 30, 1900, created the office of delegate to Congress for the newly organized Territory of Hawaii. Wilcox organized an election campaign for the office. Helping transform previously anti-annexation native Hawaiian political clubs into the Hawaiian Independent Party (later called the Home Rule Party of Hawaii), he advocated for "Equal rights for the People." Opponents accused him of bigamy since his first marriage in Italy had been annulled only by the Roman Catholic Church. The Republican Party of Hawaii nominated wealthy rancher and former cabinet minister Samuel Parker, and the Democratic Party of Hawaii nominated Prince David Kawānanakoa.[12]: 78  Wilcox easily won the election to the 57th United States Congress. He hoped that his seat in the national capital in Washington, D.C. could be used to advocate for native Hawaiians, a community that he feared would be neglected by the American government. Asked to contribute a short autobiography for the Congressional Directory, instead of the usual bland list of credentials, he described himself as "an indefatigable and fearless leader for his countrymen." He called the current government of the Hawaii Territory "the Dole oligarchy."[13] Later versions of his biography removed the editorial remarks.[14]

However, on his arrival, he quickly found himself an outsider. English was his second language, and his populist rhetoric gave him few allies in Congress, which dealt with slow deal-making. His service was also clouded by charges that he did not support the US effort in the Philippines during the Philippine–American War.[15] Wilcox served in Congress for one term, from November 6, 1900, to March 3, 1903.

Although he was also endorsed by the Democratic Party in the 1902 election, he was defeated by Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole of the Republican Party.[12]: 85 

Family and personal life


Wilcox married two noble women. His first wife was an Italian baroness and his second wife a Hawaiian princess. Wilcox's first wife was Baronessa Gina Sobrero, eldest daughter of Baron Lorenzo Sobrero of Piedmont and Princess Vittoria Colonna di Stigliano of Naples.[6] His daughter from his first marriage died shortly after his breakup with Baronessa Gina Sobrero. On August 20, 1896, Wilcox married Theresa Owana Kaʻohelelani Laʻanui (1860–1944), who was descended from a brother of King Kamehameha I.[16] They had a son and a daughter, Robert Kalanikupuapaikalaninui Keōua Wilcox (1893–1934) and Virginia Kahoa Kaʻahumanu Kaihikapumahana (1895–1954). Another daughter Elizabeth Kaʻakaualaninui died young in 1898.

In 1900 Wilcox converted to Roman Catholicism and was baptized.[17]


grave site
Wilcox's grave at the Honolulu Catholic Cemetery, 2013

The same year he left Congress, Wilcox ran for high sheriff of Honolulu. Wilcox had been in declining health for sometime, while making a campaign speech he suffered a hemorrhage, and died a few days later on October 23, 1903.[12]: 86  He was buried at the Honolulu Catholic Cemetery. In 1993, a bronze statue of Wilcox was unveiled at Fort Street Mall, 21°18′32″N 157°51′42″W / 21.30889°N 157.86167°W / 21.30889; -157.86167. The inscription says "He was regarded by many of his countrymen as a national hero". The statue now stands prominently in downtown Honolulu at Wilcox Park, also named in his honor in 1989, at the centennial of the "Wilcox Rebellion".[10]



See also



  1. ^ Kingdom of Hawaii 1874-1893, the Kalakaua Dynastism By Ralph S. Kuykendall pp. 517
  2. ^ a b Leonard C. Schlup; James Gilbert Ryan (2003). Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age. M.E. Sharpe. p. 538. ISBN 978-0-7656-2106-1.
  3. ^ Charles Elihu Slocum (1908). History of the Slocums, Slocumbs and Slocombs of America: Genealogical and Biographical, Embracing Twelve Generations of the First-named Family from A.D. 1637 to 1908, with Their Marriages and Descendants in the Female Lines as Far as Ascertained. The author. p. 176.
  4. ^ Aubrey P. Janion (1976). The Olowalu massacre and other Hawaiian tales. Island Heritage. p. 41.
  5. ^ "Obituary of Robert William Wilcox". New York Times. October 25, 1903. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
  6. ^ a b c Edith Kawelohea McKinzie (1 January 1986). Hawaiian Genealogies: Extracted from Hawaiian Language Newspapers. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 65–69. ISBN 978-0-939154-37-1.
  7. ^ a b "Wilcox, Robert W. office record". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Archived from the original on 2012-03-06. Retrieved 2009-11-17.
  8. ^ Kristin Zambucka (1 February 2003). Kalakaua: Hawaii's Last King. Kristin Zambucka Books. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-931897-04-7.
  9. ^ John L. Stevens (October 17, 1898), "letter from United States Hawaii Legation to Secretary of State James G. Blaine", Report of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, with Accompanying Testimony, and Executive Documents transmitted to Congress from January 1, 1893, to March 10, 1891
  10. ^ a b c d e f Askman, Douglas V. (2008). "Her Majesty's Disloyal Opposition: An Examination of the English-Language Version of Robert Wilcox's "the Liberal", 1892–1893". The Hawaiian Journal of History. 42. Honolulu: Hawaiian Historical Society: 177–200. hdl:10524/135. OCLC 60626541.
  11. ^ For whom are the stars? by Albertine Loomis
  12. ^ a b c Bob Krauss (1994). Johnny Wilson: first Hawaiian Democrat. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-1577-6.
  13. ^ "Biographies of Congressmen; Some Curious Contrasts Shown in the Directory Which Has Just Been Issued". New York Times. December 3, 1901. Retrieved 2010-01-05.
  14. ^ United States Congress. "Robert William Wilcox (id: W000459)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  15. ^ "CHARGES AGAINST WILCOX - Hawaiian Delegate in Congress Accused of Grave Crimes. LETTERS TO FILIPINO REBELS An Offer to Fight Against the Hypocritical Yankees' -- Petition Filed with House Committee" (PDF). The New York Times. February 2, 1901. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
  16. ^ "Marriage record: Oahu 1832-1910". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
  17. ^

Further reading

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
First delegate
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's at-large congressional district

November 6, 1900 – March 3, 1903
Succeeded by