In December of 1871, plans by Thomas Rowe, an Australian architect commissioned by His Majesty Kamehameha V, for a new royal palace were received in Honolulu. The legislature of the Hawaiian Kingdom had long acknowledged the needs for a new government building and had appropriated $60,000 (approximately $2,000,000 in today's money) in 1870 for the building of a new government building and royal palace. Hawaii had grown to be a hub for Pacific sailing and provided European and American ships with goods like sandalwood and sugarcane to sell. With the prominence of Hawaii, the monarchy, which began with Kamehameha I after his conquest of the islands, started to change in order to mimic the monarchy of the United Kingdom.
After reviewing Rowe's plans, it was decided that the new building would be utilized for government offices and ground was broken in 1871 for the new government building. On Tuesday, February 19, 1872, Kamehameha V, joined by his staff, Chief Justice Elisha Hunt Allen, Minister of the Interior F. W. Hutchison, Attourney General S. H. Phillips, and Kamehameha V's Chamberlain to the laying of the cornerstone of the building that would later become Ali'iolani Hale. Kamehameha V would not live to see the completion of Ali'iolani Hale, but construction would be completed in two years under the reign of King Kalākaua. Ali'iolani Hale would house the Legislature and the Judiciary until the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.
Ali'iolani Hale would take center stage once again as it was involved in a rebellion attempt in 1889. After having been forced to return to Hawaii due to the reforms of the Hawaiian Constitution of 1887, Robert William Wilcox, who was studying at the Turin Military Academy in Italy, felt disillusioned with the Kalākaua government and organized 300 men in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Kalākaua and replace him with his sister Lydia Kamaka'eha, who would later become Queen Lili'uokalani.
Wilcox, while frustrated by his first attempt, began plotting for a second insurrection, and on July 30, 1889 Wilcox and 150 other men took over Ali'iolani Hale and made an advance towards 'Iolani Palace, located across the street. Wilcox and his men would ultimately be surrounded by palace troops and surrendered. Five of the rebels would be killed in the fight and another would die the following day from wounds suffered during the battle. While Wilcox would be tried for high treason, a jury of his peers would not convict him, due to the shared critical opinion of the government.
Ali'iolani Hale's final prominent role in Hawaiian history would come in 1893, during the overthrow of Her Majesty Queen Lili'uokalani. On January 17,1893, the Committee of Safety, comprised of the descendants of American missionaries to Hawaii, took over Ali'iolani Hale and established themselves as the Provisional Government of Hawaii. Backed by the Hawaiian Rifles, armed allies of the Committee of Safety, and later a detachment of marines from the U.S.S. Boston, the Provisional Government, led by Sanford B. Dole, marched to Lili'uokalani's residence of Washington Place in Honolulu and arrested the Queen. She was then brought to 'Iolani Palace to be held prisoner, while the Provisional Government proceeded with talks with the United States to annex Hawaii. In 1894, the Republic of Hawaii would be established and the new government would move the legislature from Ali'iolani Hale to 'Iolani Palace, but the judiciary would remain at Ali'iolani Hale.
Wilcox would later lead a rebellion in 1895 against
the Republic of Hawaii. The royalists under the command of Wilcox fought
three battles with the forces of the Republic at Diamond Head in
Waikiki, Mō'ili'ili, and finally Manoa where Wilcox finally surrendered and was tried and found guilty of treason.
After being sentenced and serving out a portion of his 35 years, Wilcox
was pardoned by President Sanford B. Dole. Queen Lili'uokalani was also
caught up in the insurrection, as she was charged with supplying the insurgents with weapons. This charge forced her to formally abdicate the throne in order to keep any more bloodshed from occurring.
The reaction to the overthrow took different sides within and outside of Hawaii. To the United States, the defense of "its important Pacific-outpost and colony" was more than a justified reason to usurp the Queen from her throne. In the Evening Star, a newspaper printed in Washington, D.C., the Queen was lambasted for her inability to protect American interests from people like Robert Wilcox and expressed sympathy with the "large body of white men, of nearly all half-whites, and a majority of all of the natives". Much of this rhetoric masked the urgent pleas from the Queen and other representatives from Hawaii calling for the restoration of the monarchy. In Hawaii, the response seemed more desperate as Hawaiian newspapers catalogued the dissatisfaction of Hawaiian citizens with annexation. Ultimately, their pleas would fall on deaf ears and Hawaii would be annexed to the United States through a joint resolution.
Recently, after having gone through years of diminished prominence, Ali'iolani Hale took center stage as the headquarters for the Five-O task force in the 2010 reboot of the Hawaii Five-O television show. Due to the increased attention brought about by the show, Ali'iolani Hale has seen an increase in tourism. Throughout the year, Ali'iolani Hale can be closed for filming and cast members from the show can be seen filming their scenes.