Robert W. K. Wilcox is a major figure in Hawaiian history. He was the granduncle of the subject of Conversations with Auntie Carol, Seven Oral History Interviews with Carol Kuliaikanuʻukapu, who often expressed pride in his work for the Hawaiian people. Robert Wilcox was a politician and leading revolutionary dedicated to preserving a sovereign Hawaiian nation. His Hawaiian name means chiefly one or first-born child of Kalani. He was a son of Capt. William Slocum Wilcox and Kalua Makoleokalani Kekuiapoiula Hiapo Wilcox, and a brother of Edward Justin Makole Kupunakane Wilcox, Sr. (Carol’s grandfather), and Capt. Charles Kauakahiakua Wilcox.
Known as the Iron Duke of Hawaiʻi, Robert Wilcox was elected to the House of Representatives of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1880, representing the city of Wailuku, on the island of Maui. The next year, he was personally selected by King David Kalākaua to participate in the Education of Hawaiian Youths Abroad Program which expanded educational opportunities for young Hawaiian men, and women, through overseas apprenticeships and university study. Wilcox attended Turin Italy’s Royal Military Academy where he graduated as a sub-lieutenant of artillery in 1885. While next attending Turin’s Royal Application School for Engineer and Artillery Officers, he married Baroness Maria Carolina Isabella Luigia dei baroni Sobrero. With forced passage of the Hawaiian Bayonet Constitution of 1887, the international educational program was defunded, and Robert Wilcox returned to Hawai'i.
Without career opportunities, he and his wife moved to San Francisco where he worked as a surveyor. In 1889, he returned to Hawaiʻi while his wife (and baby daughter who died at sea) returned to Italy where the Baroness obtained an annulment. Robert Wilcox remained single for several years, marrying Hawaiian Princess Teresa Owana Kaohelelani who was a descendant of Keona, the father of King Kamehameha I in 1896.
After returning to Hawaiʻi, Robert Wilcox worked as a surveyor and civil engineer, while embarking on a path to growing political prominence. His political activism began with the Kamehameha Rifle and Liberal Patriotic Associations, as well as the National Reform Party. In 1890, he won election to represent Honolulu in the Hawaiian Kingdom’s House of Representatives for the Island of O'ahu and reelection two years later. In 1893, Queen Liliʻuokalani (sister of the deceased King David Kalākaua) was forced to abdicate during a coup d'état by the Committee of Safety (comprised of a handful of foreign residents, largely American businessmen and sugar planters) which declared martial law.
The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi was replaced by the short-lived Provisional Government of Hawaiʻi. Although U. S. President Stephen Grover Cleveland felt the coup was illegal, the Kingdom of Hawai'i had been eliminated. The Republic of Hawai'i was established in 1894 and existed for four years. Refusing to accept defeat, Col. Wilcox was heavily involved in insurrectionist activity, and instigated what is now called the Wilcox Rebellion, a short war in January of 1895. Ending in defeat, Col. Wilcox and other leaders of the revolt were arrested and tried for treason. Initially condemned to death, Robert Wilcox was instead incarcerated from 1895-1898. In January of 1898 he was pardoned by the Republic’s President, Sanford Ballard Dole.
That summer, the government of the Republic consented to passage of the Newlands Resolution by a joint resolution of the U. S. Congress, which led to Hawaiʻi becoming a territory of the United States. The U. S. sought the annexation because of a need to use Hawai'i as a base for launching military forces during the Spanish-American War which included Guam and the Philippine Islands in the Pacific. When the Hawaiian Organic Act of 1900 authorized the election of a single non-voting delegate to Congress, Col. Wilcox helped form the Home Rule Party (renamed the Independent Home Rule Party). That year Robert William Kalanihiapo Wilcox became the first Representative to the United States Congress from Hawai'i, where he was identified as an “independent” party member. He died in office on October 23, 1903. The Congressional publication of past and present Asian and Pacific Islander members offers a biography of Robert Wilcox that is comprehensive. Many books, like that by Merze Tate, have examined established facts, as well as conspiratorial theories, regarding the failed rebellions that sought to restore Hawaiian sovereignty. The testimony of revolutionary Albert Losmeas provides many details of the revolutionary work of Robert Wilcox. It should be noted that Queen Liliʻuokalani did not speak favorably of all of his endeavors in her book. Many books, like that by Merze Tate, examine established facts, as well as conspiratorial theories, regarding failed rebellions that sought to restore Hawaiian sovereignty. The testimony of revolutionary Albert Losmeas provides many details of the revolutionary work of Robert Wilcox.
~ U.S. House of Representatives, History, Art & Archives, “Wilcox, Robert W.,” https://history
.house.gov/People/Listing/W/WILCOX,-Robert-W--(W000459)/. U. S. House of Representatives, Office of the Historian and Office of the Clerk, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Congress 1900–2017, Hdoc108226 (Washington: D.C.: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2017), 102-110, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-CDOC-108hdoc226/pdf/GPO-CDOC-108hdoc226.pdf. “Robert William Wilcox,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-present, (U.S. Congress, n.d.), http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=W000459.
~ Hawaiʻi State Office of Hawaiian Affairs. “Hawaiians Have a History of Civic Engagement.” Ka Wai Ola, 33, no. 7 (Honolulu: July 1, 2016), 13. Translation generated by the website https://www
~ Office of Hawaiian Affairs. “Wilcox was Hawaiian Revolutionary Hero,” Ka Wai Ola, 10, no. 10, (Honolulu: October 1, 1993), 3, 17. Translation from the website https://www.papakilodatabase.com/pdnupepa/?a=d&d=KWO19931001-01.2.11&srpos
~ David Starr, "Robert Wilcox and the Revolution of 1895: Hawaiian Revolutionary Honored.” Against the Current, no. 57, (Detroit: Solidarity: July-August 1995). https://againstthecurrent.org
~ Thomas K. Nakanaela, comp., ed., The Biography of Hon. Robert William Wilcox (Honolulu: Lake and Nakanaela, 1890), newly translated by Nancy J. Morris, with editing by Niklaus R. Schweizer, 1993, http://ulukau.org/chd/Texts/wilcox-intro.pdf.
~“Farewell Said: Independents Hold Meeting Last Night; Kaumakapili, The Scene of Speeches: Natives Attend a Big Luau and Listen to the Words of Leaders,” Honolulu Advertiser, December 1, 1900, 1, https://www.newspapers.com/image258307061.
~ Vernie Merze Tate, The United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom; a political history (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965). “Trial of Albert Losmeas for Treason,” Evening Bulletin, October 9. 1889, 3. https://www.newspapers.com/image/49699420.
~ Liliuokalani. Hawaii’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen, annotated, illustrated ed. (Honolulu: Hui Hānai, 2013), 231-234, 267.
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