Hawaiian Kingdom

Eyridiki Sellou | Sep 14, 2023

Table of Content


The Kingdom of Hawaii was a historic state in Polynesia. Founded in 1795 through the use of Western military technology, with the subjugation under a single monarchical-ruled government of the smaller independent statelets of Oʻahu, Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kauaʻi and Niʻihau by the island-state of Hawaii (also known as Big Island), it existed as an independent political entity until 1893. During this period, the kingdom was ruled by two major dynastic families: the Kamehameha family and the Kalākaua family.

The Hawaiian Kingdom gained recognition from the major European powers. Its main trading partner became the United States of America, which jealously controlled the new nation for fear that the United Kingdom and later the Japanese Empire or another power would threaten to take it over. In 1887, in order to scale back the king's absolute power, a new constitution was imposed. The queen who succeeded him tried to restore the old order but was dethroned in 1893, largely through the intervention of U.S. citizens residing in the archipelago. Hawaii became a republic until it was annexed by the United States in 1898.


Before the establishment of a unified kingdom, the islands were all ruled by independent ali'i nui. All of these rulers were believed to come from a hereditary line descended from the first legendary Polynesian ancestor, Papahānaumoku or Papa, who represented the mother goddess of the Hawaiian religion. Captain James Cook was the first European to stumble upon the islands, but he was killed while attempting to take the ali'i nui of Hawai'i Island hostage in 1779. Three years later political authority over Hawai'i passed to Kalani'ōpu'u's son, Kīwala'ō, while religious authority was assigned to the ruler's cousin and nephew, Kamehameha.

This warrior leader soon embarked on a 15-year military campaign of bloody battles against his cousin. Taking advantage of the help of the British Navy, Western arms, and various military advisers such as John Young and Isaac Davis, he eventually defeated his rival, subdued the other ali'i nui, and established the Hawaiian Kingdom, going down in history as King Kamehameha I, the Great. Unification ended the feudal society of the Hawaiian islands that had characterized them for centuries, transforming Hawaii into a "modern" state, an absolute (until 1840) independent monarchy created on the model of European monarchies.

Kamehameha Dynasty

From 1810 to 1893, the Kingdom of Hawaii was ruled by two major dynastic families: the Kamehameha family and the Kalākaua family. Five members of the Kamehameha family ruled the government following the policies of the progenitor. For a period during the reign of Kamehameha I's first two successors, Liholiho and Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha the Great's favored wife, Queen Kaʻahumanu, imposed herself as queen regent and Kuhina Nui (a Hawaiian office assimilated to that of prime minister). The dynastic succession of the Kamehameha family ended tragically in 1872, with the death of Lot (Kamehameha V), who passed away without an heir to the throne. Thus it was that a regency council decided on the election of a new royal house, chosen from one of Hawaii's major noble houses, the Kalākaua.

Military organization

During the reign of Kamehameha I, Hawaii's army and navy were mainly made up of Kona warriors. The army and navy used both traditional canoes and uniforms, including helmets made of natural materials and loincloths (called Malo), and Western technology such as artillery pieces, guns, and European-made ships. European military advisers were captured but were treated well by becoming Hawaiian citizens. When he died in 1819, Kamehameha bequeathed to his son Liholiho a large arsenal with tens of thousands of soldiers and many warships. This would help tame the revolt at the Kuamoʻo Burials in late 1819 and the Humehume Kauai rebellion in 1824.

During the Kamehameha dynasty, Hawaii's population was mowed down by epidemics due to the immigration of foreigners. The number of military personnel shrank as did the population, so that by the end of the dynasty there was no longer a Hawaii navy and only an army, consisting of a few hundred soldiers, remained. After a French invasion that led to the sacking of Honolulu in 1849, Kamehameha III moved onto the international stage, seeking defense treaties with the United States and Great Britain. After the Crimean War broke out in Europe in 1853 and threatened war actions in the Pacific that might involve his kingdom, Kamehameha III declared in 1854 to Britain and France that Hawaii would remain neutral. During the reign of Kamehameha IV, the U.S. government strongly lobbied the new king for the kingdom to trade exclusively with them and for the annexation of the islands. To counterbalance this, Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V sought alliances with other foreign powers, particularly Great Britain. At the same time, Hawaii claimed possession of some uninhabited islands in the Pacific, including the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, for many of which they came into conflict with U.S. claims.

After the Kamehameha dynasty, the royal guards were disbanded by King Lunalilo following a revolt in the barracks in September 1873. A small army was again reconstituted under King Kalakaua, but it failed to stop the 1887 rebellion by the Missionary Party, which imposed a new constitution limiting the monarch's absolute power. In 1891 Queen Liliuokalani came to power. The 1892 elections were followed by petitions and demands from her administration to demand changes to the 1887 constitution. The United States continued the policy of maintaining at least one cruiser in Hawaii at all times. On January 17, 1893, Liliuokalani, fearing that the U.S. military would intervene if he changed the constitution, waited for the USS Boston to leave port. Upon learning that Liliuokalani was revising the constitution to restore it to its pre-1887 order, however, the Boston was recalled and supported the Missionary Party in its overthrow (in 1993 the U.S. Congress issued the Apology Resolution, admitting wrongful intervention and issuing a formal apology). After the overthrow and the establishment of Hawaii's interim government, the kingdom's military apparatus was disarmed and disbanded.

The incident with France

Under the reign of Queen Kaʻahumanu, the powerful widow of Kamehameha the Great who had just converted to Protestantism, Catholicism in Hawaii was illegal, and in 1831 tribal leaders loyal to her forcibly deported French Catholic priests. Native Hawaiian converts to Catholicism claimed they were imprisoned, beaten and tortured after the priests were deported. The prejudice against French Catholic missionaries remained unchanged under the reign of his successor, Kuhina Nui Kīnaʻu.

Anglo-French proclamation

On November 28, 1843, at the Court in London, the British and French governments signed a formal agreement recognizing the independence of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Called the Anglo-French Proclamation, which was a joint declaration by France and Britain, signed by His Majesty King Louis Philippe of France and Her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, assured the Hawaiian delegation that:

November 28 was established as a national holiday to celebrate the recognition of Hawaii's Independence. As a result of this recognition, Hawaii came into contact with other nations of the world, establishing more than ninety legations and consulates in multiple ports and cities.

Economic, social and cultural transformations

In the 19th century great economic and demographic changes reshaped the islands. In 1848 the king imposed the Great Māhele; this led to the sale to foreigners of virtually all village land cultivated by the natives up to that time. For the natives, contact with the outside world also represented a demographic disaster, with a host of unknown diseases such as smallpox decimating them. The indigenous Hawaiian population fell from about 128,000 in 1778 to 71,000 in 1853, and kept declining to 24,000 in 1920. Most lived in remote villages.

Most of the natives were converted to Christianity by American missionaries. These and their descendants became a powerful elite during the 20th century. They provided key advisers and cabinet members to kings and dominated the professional and mercantile classes in the cities. This elite promoted the sugar industry in order to modernize Hawaii's economy. American Capital, a U.S. multinational corporation, established a series of plantations after 1850. Few natives were willing to work on the sugar plantations, so workers were fanned out across Asia and Europe. As a result, between 1850 and 1900, about 200,000 contract workers from China, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal, and elsewhere arrived in Hawaii on a term contract (usually for five years). Most returned to their country of origin on time, but a large number of them settled there permanently. In 1908 180,000 Japanese workers arrived. No more were authorized, but as many as 50,000 of them settled permanently in the archipelago.

The French Invasion (1849)

In August 1849, French Admiral Louis Tromelin arrived in Honolulu harbor with La Poursuivante and the Gassendi. Tromelin made ten demands to King Kamehameha III on August 22, mainly demanding that Hawaii's state religion be Catholicism (a decade earlier, during the so-called "French Incident," the ban on professing Catholicism had been lifted, but Catholics enjoyed only partial religious rights). On August 25, the demands were not granted. After a second warning, French troops attacked Honolulu, raiding public buildings and looting, causing damage quantified at $100,000 at the time. After the invasion, the troops withdrew.

Faced with the problem of the French foreign invasion and fearing other invasions of Hawaiian territory, King Kamehameha III thought it prudent and necessary to send a Hawaiian delegation to the United States and Europe with the power to resolve alleged difficulties with nations, negotiate treaties and ultimately secure recognition of Hawaiian independence from the world's great powers. To this end, Timothy Haʻalilio, William Richards and Sir George Simpson were appointed as plenipotentiary representatives of Hawaii on April 8, 1842. Sir George Simpson shortly thereafter left for England, while Mr. Haʻalilio and Mr. Richards left for the United States on July 8, 1842. The Hawaiian delegation to the U.S., on Dec. 19, 1842, obtained U.S. President John Tyler's assurance of recognition of Hawaiian independence, just as Sir George Simpson in Europe received formal recognition from Great Britain and the Kingdom of France. On March 17, 1843, King Louis Philippe of France recognized Hawaiian independence at the urging of Leopold I of Belgium, and on April 1, 1843, Sir Aberdeen, on behalf of Her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria, assured the Hawaiian delegation that "Her Majesty's Government is willing and determined to recognize the independence of the Sandwich Islands under the crown of their present sovereign."

Elective monarchy

Princess Bernice Pauahi's rejection of the crown and throne as Queen of Hawaii forced the Kingdom Parliament to declare elections to fill the vacant throne. From 1872 to 1873, distant relatives of the former Kamehameha royal family were presented to the lists and nominated. In a popular voting ceremony and a unanimous legislative vote, Lunalilo (1873-1874) became King of Hawaii.

Kalākaua Dynasty

Like his predecessor, Lunalilo, he had no heir and died suddenly less than a year after ascending the throne. Once again, the Hawaiian Kingdom Parliament called an election to occupy the throne. The Election Campaign of 1874 was very difficult and finally David Kalākaua, was elected King of Hawaii as Kalākaua I.

Parliament's choice was highly controversial, and U.S. and British troops were called in to quell unrest. Hoping to avoid uncertainty for the future of the monarchy, Kalākaua proclaimed multiple heirs to the throne and defined a royal line of succession to the crown. His sister Liliuokalani would ascend the throne after Kalākaua's death, with Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani second in order of succession. If she could not have given birth to an heir to the throne, Prince David Kawānanakoa or Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole would have been eligible for the crown.

Constitution of 1887

In 1887 a constitution was drafted by Lorrin A. Thurston, minister of the Interior under Kalākaua I. The Constitution was proclaimed by the king after the sovereign was brought before a meeting of 3,000 mostly white, armed inhabitants. For this reason it was referred to with disdain, especially in royalist circles, as the "bayonet constitution," precisely to emphasize how it was imposed on the king through an illegal procedure. The document did not transform Hawaii into a constitutional monarchy like Great Britain, but merely confirmed the model of constitutional monarchy that had already been in place, albeit with subsequent new arrangements, for nearly four decades; the king relinquished most of his powers, which he ceded to Parliament, and established a cabinet of government.

The 1887 Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom empowered citizens to elect members of the House of Nobles, which was previously appointed by the King. The Constitution continued to allow the monarch to appoint ministers, but denied him the power to dismiss them from office without parliamentary approval. Not all of the changes were liberal or democratic, however: in fact, compared to the 1864 constitution, the active citizenry (i.e., the people who could be elected and who could elect parliamentarians) was reduced. This reduction was achieved first of all by racially eliminating all Asians (including the many naturalized Japanese who were generally supporters of the Hawaiian monarchy) and increasing the amount of real estate required to register on the electoral roll; thus a great many native Hawaiians, including some members of the petty nobility, were excluded from full citizenship: these were supporters of the monarchy and, more importantly, of the archipelago's independence from the United States. Thus to benefit from this constitution were almost exclusively white settlers, mostly of American descent, and some Westernized indigenous families, often converts to Protestantism and particularly close to Euro-American missionaries. The constitution also helped to break up the last vestiges of the traditional indigenous aristocracy, which retained some power within the House of Nobles (modeled after the British House of Lords), but even this measure was carried out to deprive the monarch of support, especially from a perspective of maintaining independence from the United States. The hereditary aristocracy was essentially conservative, but paternalistic and nationalistic, guardians of Hawaiian traditions and committed to the defense of the "little people," albeit in a vaguely feudal way, opposed to the more deleterious aspects of the gradual transformation of the Hawaiian economy in a capitalist sense.

The 1887 constitution thus had a composite group of opponents, consisting of the royal family and the blood nobility, the petty people and, in particular, the middle and lower middle classes, now excluded from the right to vote they had previously enjoyed, many traditionally loyal natives, Chinese and especially Japanese immigrants. Instead, it had the enthusiastic support of the Christian and especially Protestant churches, the upper-middle classes, especially the large landowners (both whites and Westernized natives), the sugar lords (who practically controlled the country) and Western immigrants in general (especially the wealthiest of them), as well as the party in favor of eliminating the monarchy in favor of annexation or colonization by the U.S.

Decline of the monarchy

At the time of his election in 1874, King Kalākaua had designated his sister Liliʻuokalani as his successor. Under the pretext of the corruption present in the kingdom, Kalākaua I was forced to sign the 1887 constitution, thus ceding much of his power in favor of an administration controlled by Parliament. Some argue that this was the first sign of the decline of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

The constitutional crisis

In 1891 King Kalākaua died and his sister Liliʻuokalani assumed the throne. The queen came to power in the midst of an economic crisis. With the revocation of the reciprocity treaty of 1875, the new tariff eliminated the previous Hawaiian advantage over other international producers in sugar trade for U.S. markets, and the result was a paralysis of sugar exports from Hawaii. Many Hawaiian businesses and citizens suffered greatly from the pressures of lost revenue, and the queen therefore proposed to begin exporting opium in order to bring in additional revenue for the Hawaiian government. Her ministers and close friends tried to dissuade her from pursuing the project, which was used against her in the looming constitutional crisis.

The queen's main desire was to restore the monarch's powers, which had been reduced by the Constitution signed in 1887 by her brother. The monarch launched a campaign with a petition from a number of prominent Hawaiian individuals to announce a new constitution. When she informed the government of her plans, some of her ministers betrayed her. The citizens and residents who had forced King Kalākaua to sign the constitution in 1887 were alarmed when news was made public by the government that the queen planned to unilaterally proclaim her new constitution.

The overthrow of the monarchy

In 1893 local businessmen and politicians, primarily Hawaiians of American and European descent, but also a significant number of Native Hawaiian citizens, in response to an attempt by Queen Liliʻuokalani to abolish the 1887 constitution, in a coup d'état overthrew the queen, her government and her marshal and assumed control of the Kingdom of Hawaii. To do this, the conspirators obtained the support of some American naval units present in the archipelago at that time, which acted without superior orders; in particular, the cruiser USS Boston provided two landing companies, while another company belonged to the US Marine Corps. The queen, partly to avoid an eventual bombardment of Honolulu] by the USS Boston and bloody shootouts with the conspirators and the U.S. military, ordered a unilateral ceasefire, appealing to international legality. This was despite the fact that many members of the small Hawaiian army intended to fight.

On July 17, 1893, Sanford Ballard Dole and his committee declared provisional government "until annexation by the United States has taken place." On July 4, 1894, the Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed. Dole was appointed its president. Later, after an attempted counter-revolutionary rebellion in 1895, Queen Liliʻuokalani was placed under house arrest, tried by a military court of the Republic of Hawaii, convicted of treason and kept under permanent house arrest in her home.

U.S. President Cleveland actually regarded the coup as illegal and publicly blamed the behavior of the sailors of the USS Boston. Initially, the U.S. government did not seem interested in the annexation of the archipelago, nor did it recognize the republic.

In this situation, in 1895, the royalists thought they could organize a counter-revolution without having to expect decisive American intervention. The main conspirators were Captain of the Royal Guard Samuel Nowlein and Robert Wilcox (a half-breed, graduate of the Artillery Academy in Turin, married to an Italian noblewoman, and who had already rebelled in 1889 against the 1887 constitution), the former foreign minister, the court grand chamberlain, a naturalized British-born planter (and related by marriage to the local aristocracy), a number of officers from the dissolved army (mostly mestizo or native), most notably Lotto Lane (of mixed Irish and Hawaiian aristocratic ancestry, he was the tallest man in the archipelago and perhaps, at that time, in the world), a Greek-born hotelier and liquor smuggler (the new government, hegemonized by missionaries, had banned the sale of spirits), Prince David Kawānanakoa, with democratic leanings (and third in line of succession). Little, however, was the involvement of poor natives or parties, including the Liberal Party and the National Reformist Party (of which many of the conspirators had been leaders before the proclamation of the republic). The conspirators managed to muster about 600 men, but this was not enough to beat the 1,200 or so soldiers who remained loyal to the government and the 500 members of the (mostly white and middle-class) militia immediately raised for reinforcement. The coup produced as many as three battles and saw the final defeat of the royalists. It also provoked, from the international point of view, a series of problems, with the growing involvement and interest of Japan and the United Kingdom, as well as Germany, in Hawaiian affairs, prompting the U.S. government to a policy aimed more decisively at colonization and annexation of the archipelago, also with a view to a possible war against Spain (which in fact broke out three years later), at that time the holder of a colonial empire in the Pacific (Philippines, Marianas, Guam, etc.).

The government of the Hawaiian Kingdom was transformed in several stages, each stage created by the enactment of the constitutions of 1840, 1852, 1864 and 1887. Each subsequent constitution can be seen as a diminution of the king's power in favor of Hawaii's elective Parliament, which was increasingly dominated by American and European interests.

The head of state and head of government in the Kingdom was the monarch. He or she ran the "Privy Council," which was in fact a board of directors. The Privy Council, composed of ministers in charge of various departments, was very similar to the British political system, on which it was based. The ministers also served as advisors to the Crown.

In 1840, a bicameral Parliament responsible for legislation was created by the Constitution. The two houses of Parliament consisted of the House of Representatives (directly elected by popular vote) and the House of Nobles (appointed by the sovereign on the advice of ministers). The same constitution created a judiciary, charged with overseeing judges and the interpretation of laws.

The Hawaiian Islands were divided into small administrative areas, each represented in parliament and dependent on the central government.


  1. Hawaiian Kingdom
  2. Regno delle Hawaii
  3. ^ Kanahele, George S. (1995). "Kamehameha's First Capital". Waikiki, 100 B.C. to 1900 A.D.: An Untold Story. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 90–102. ISBN 978-0-8248-1790-9.
  4. ^ Nota: nel 1887 il re Kalākaua fu costretto (dopo un colpo di stato) a firmare la "Costituzione delle baionette", una costituzione che di fatto faceva perdere la maggior parte del potere al re, dando al contrario molto potere al parlamento, anche se da ogni nuovo cambiamento della Costituzione (1852, 1864 e 1887 1887) il parlamento hawaiano veniva sempre più dominato dagli interessi di americani ed europei.
  5. ^ Nell'antica società hawaiana, gli ali'i erano i nobili per discendenza (una classe sociale o casta).
  6. Kinzer, Stephen. (2006). Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.
  7. Stevens, Sylvester K. (1968) American Expansion in Hawaii, 1842–1898. New York: Russell & Russell. (p. 228)
  8. Dougherty, Michael. (1992). To Steal a Kingdom: Probing Hawaiian History. (p. 167-168)
  9. La Croix, Sumner and Christopher Grandy. (março de 1997). "The Political Instability of Reciprocal Trade and the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom" in The Journal of Economic History 57:161–189.
  10. (en) Joshua Y. Goshi, Kamehameha: The Conquest Of Oahu, Hawaii, 1er avril 2019, 113 p. (ISBN 978-1091938151)

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