The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi originated in 1795 with the unification of the independent islands of Hawaiʻi , Oʻahu , Maui , Molokaʻi , and Lānaʻi under one government. In 1810 the whole Hawaiian archipelago became unified when Kauaʻi and Niʻihau joined the Kingdom of Hawai‘i voluntarily and without bloodshed or war. Two major dynastic families ruled the kingdom: the House of Kamehameha and the House of Kalākaua .

The Kingdom won recognition from major European powers. The United States became its chief trading partner. The Kingdom was watched jealously by the United States against the possibility of another power (such as Britain or Japan ) threatening to seize control. Hawaii adopted a new constitution in 1887 to reduce the absolute power of King Kalākaua . Queen Liliʻuokalani , who succeeded Kalākaua in 1891, tried to restore the old order, but was overthrown in 1893 , largely at the hands of United States citizens. Hawaii became a republic until the United States annexed it in 1898.


Before the founding of a formal, united kingdom, the islands were all ruled by independent aliʻi nui [17] or "supreme executives". [18] All of these rulers were believed to come from a hereditary line descended from the first Polynesian, Papa , who would become the earth mother goddess of the Hawaiian religion. [19] Captain James Cook was the first Westerner to encounter the Hawaiian Islands, on his fourth voyage. He was killed in a dispute over the taking of a longboat. Three years later the Island of Hawaii was passed to Kalaniʻōpuʻu's son, Kīwalaʻō , while religious authority was passed to the ruler's nephew, Kamehameha.

A series of battles, lasting 15 years, was led by the warrior chief who became Kamehameha the Great . The Kingdom of Hawaii was established with the help of western weapons and advisors, such as John Young and Isaac Davis . [20] Although successful in attacking both Oʻahu and Maui , he failed to secure a victory in Kauaʻi , his effort hampered by a storm and a plague that decimated his army. Eventually, Kaua ʻ i's chief swore allegiance to Kamehameha. The unification ended the ancient Hawaiian society, transforming it into an independent constitutional monarchy crafted in the traditions and manner of European monarchs.

Kamehameha Dynasty

From 1810 to 1893, the Kingdom of Hawai ʻ i was ruled by two major dynastic families: the House of Kamehameha and the Kalākaua Dynasty . Five members of the Kamehameha family led the government styled as Kamehameha. Lunalilo was a member of the House of Kamehameha through his mother. Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) were direct sons of Kamehameha the Great. During Liholiho's and Kauikeaouli's reigns, the primary wife of Kamehameha the Great, Queen Kaʻahumanu , ruled as Queen Regent and Kuhina Nui , or Prime Minister .

Economic, social, and cultural transformation

Economic and demographic factors in the 19th century reshaped the islands. Their consolidation into one unified political entity led to international trade. Under Kamehameha (1810-1819), sandalwood was exported to China. That led to the introduction of money and trade throughout the islands.

Following Kamehameha's death the succession was overseen by his principal wife, Ka'ahumanu, who was designated as regent over the new king, Liholiho, who was a minor.

Queen Ka'ahumanu overturned the old religion and eliminated various prohibitions (kapu) governing women's behavior. They included men and women eating together and women eating bananas. She also overturned the old religion and as the Christian missionaries arrived in the islands. The main contribution of the missionaries was to develop a wriiten Hawaiian language. That led to very high levels of literacy in Hawaii, above 90 percent in the latter half of the 19th century. The development of writing aided in the consolidation of government. Written constitutions enumerating the power and duties of the King were developed.

In 1848, the Great Māhele was promulgated by the king. It instituted formal property rights to the land. It followed the customary control of the land prior to this declaration. Ninety-eight percent of the land was assigned to the Ali'i, chiefs or nobles. Two percent went to the commoners. The land could also be sold and transferred to new owners.

For the natives, contact with the outer world represented demographic disaster, as a series of unfamiliar diseases such as smallpox decimated the natives. The Hawaiian population of natives fell from approximately 128,000 in 1778 [21] to 71,000 in 1853 and kept declining to 24,000 in 1920. Most lived in remote villages. [22]

American missionaries converted most of the natives to Christianity. The missionaries and their children became a powerful elite into the mid-19th century. They provided the chief advisors and cabinet members of the kings and dominated the professional and merchant class in the cities.

The elites promoted the sugar industry in order to modernize Hawaii's economy. American capital set up a series of plantations after 1850. Few natives were willing to work on the sugar plantations and so recruiters fanned out across Asia and Europe. As a result, between 1850 and 1900 some 200,000 contract laborers from China, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal and elsewhere came to Hawaii under fixed term contracts (typically for five years). Most returned home on schedule, but large numbers stayed permanently. By 1908 about 180,000 Japanese workers had arrived. No more were allowed in, but 54,000 remained permanently. [23]


The Hawaiian army and navy developed from the warriors of Kona under Kamehameha I , who unified Hawaii in 1810. The army and navy used both traditional canoes and uniforms including helmets made of natural materials and loincloths (called the Malo) as well as western technology like artillery cannons, muskets, and European ships. European advisors were captured, treated well and became Hawaiian citizens. When Kamehameha died in 1819 he left his son Liholiho a large arsenal with tens of thousands of soldiers and many warships. This helped put down the revolt at Kuamoʻo later in 1819 and Humehume 's rebellion on Kauai in 1824.

During the Kamehameha dynasty the population in Hawaii was ravaged by epidemics following the arrival of outsiders. The military shrank with the population, so by the end of the Dynasty there was no Hawaiian navy and only an army, consisting of several hundred troops. After a French invasion that sacked Honolulu in 1849, Kamehameha III sought defense treaties with the United States and Britain. During the outbreak of the Crimean War in Europe, Kamehameha III declared Hawaii a neutral state. [16] The United States government put strong pressure on Kamehameha IV to make trade exclusively to the United States even annexing the islands. To counterbalance this situation Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V pushed for alliances with other foreign powers, especially Great Britain. Hawaii claimed uninhabited islands in the Pacific, including the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands , many of which came into conflict with American claims.

Following the Kamehameha dynasty the royal guards were disbanded under Lunalilo after a barracks revolt in September 1873. A small army was restored under King Kalakaua but failed to stop the 1887 Rebellion by the Missionary Party . In 1891 Queen Liliʻuokalani came to power. The elections of 1892 were followed with petitions and requests from her administration to change the constitution of 1887 . The US maintained a policy of keeping at least one cruiser in Hawaii at all times. On January 17, 1893, Lili ʻ uokalani, believing the US military would intervene if she changed the constitution, waited for the USS Boston to leave port. Once it was known that Lili ʻ uokalani was revising the constitution, the Boston was recalled and assisted the Missionary Party in her overthrow. (In 1993, the U.S. Congress passed the Apology Resolution , admitting wrongdoing and issuing an apology.) Following the overthrow and the establishment of the Provisional Government of Hawaii the Kingdom's military was disarmed and disbanded.

The French Incident (1839)

Under the rule of Queen Kaʻahumanu , the powerful newly converted Protestant widow of Kamehameha the Great, Catholicism was illegal in Hawaii, and in 1831 chiefs loyal to her forcibly deported French Catholic priests. Native Hawaiian converts to Catholicism claimed to have been imprisoned, beaten and tortured after the expulsion of the priests. [16] The prejudice against the French Catholic missionaries remained the same under the reign of her successor, the Kuhina Nui Kaʻahumanu II .

In 1839 Captain Laplace of the French frigate Artémise sailed to Hawaii under orders to:

Destroy the malevolent impression which you find established to the detriment of the French name; to rectify the erroneous opinion which has been created as to the power of France; and to make it well understood that it would be to the advantage of the chiefs of those islands of the Ocean to conduct themselves in such a manner as not to incur the wrath of France. You will exact, if necessary with all the force that is yours to use, complete reparation for the wrongs which have been committed, and you will not quit those places until you have left in all minds a solid and lasting impression.

Under the threat of war, King Kamehameha III signed the Edict of Toleration on July 17, 1839 and paid the $20,000 in compensation for the deportation of the priests and the incarceration and torture of converts, agreeing to Laplace's demands. The kingdom proclaimed:

That the Catholic worship be declared free, throughout all the dominions subject to the King of the Sandwich Islands; the members of this religious faith shall enjoy in them the privileges granted to Protestants.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu returned unpersecuted and as reparation Kamehameha III donated land for them to build a church upon.

The Paulet Affair (1843)

An even more serious threat occurred on February 13, 1843. Lord George Paulet of the Royal Navy warship HMS Carysfort , entered Honolulu Harbor and demanded that King Kamehameha III cede the islands to the British Crown. [16] Under the guns of the frigate, Kamehameha III surrendered to Paulet on February 25, writing to his people:

"Where are you, chiefs, people, and commons from my ancestors, and people from foreign lands?

Hear ye! I make known to you that I am in perplexity by reason of difficulties into which I have been brought without cause, therefore I have given away the life of our land. Hear ye! but my rule over you, my people, and your privileges will continue, for I have hope that the life of the land will be restored when my conduct is justified.

Done at Honolulu, Oahu, this 25th day of February, 1843.

Kamehameha III

Kekauluohi" [27]

Dr. Gerrit P. Judd , a missionary who had become the Minister of Finance for the Kingdom, secretly arranged for J.F.B. Marshall to be envoy to the United States, France and Britain, to protest Paulet's actions. [16] Marshall, a commercial agent of Ladd & Co., conveyed the Kingdom's complaint to the Vice Consul of Britain in Tepec. Rear Admiral Richard Darton Thomas , Paulet's commanding officer, arrived at Honolulu harbor on July 26, 1843 on HMS Dublin from Valparaíso , Chile. Admiral Thomas apologized to Kamehameha III for Paulet's actions, and restored Hawaiian sovereignty on July 31, 1843. In his restoration speech, Kamehameha III declared that " Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono " (The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness), the motto of the future State of Hawaii. The day was celebrated as Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea (Sovereignty Restoration Day).

The French Invasion (1849)

In August 1849, French admiral Louis Tromelin arrived in Honolulu Harbor with the La Poursuivante and Gassendi . De Tromelin made ten demands to King Kamehameha III on August 22, mainly demanding that full religious rights be given to Catholics, (a decade earlier, during the French Incident the ban on Catholicism had been lifted, but Catholics still enjoyed only partial religious rights). On August 25 the demands had not been met. After a second warning was made to the civilians, French troops overwhelmed the skeleton force and captured Honolulu Fort, spiked the coastal guns and destroyed all other weapons they found (mainly muskets and ammunition). They raided government buildings and general property in Honolulu, causing damage that amounted to $100,000. After the raids the invasion force withdrew to the fort. De Tromelin eventually recalled his men and left Hawaii on September 5.

Foreign relations

Anticipating foreign encroachment on Hawaiian territory, King Kamehameha III dispatched a delegation to the United States and Europe to secure the recognition of Hawaiian independence. Timoteo Haʻalilio , William Richards and Sir George Simpson were commissioned as joint Ministers Plenipotentiary on April 8, 1842. Sir George Simpson left for Great Britain while Ha ʻ alilio and Richards to the United States on July 8, 1842. The Hawaiian delegation secured the assurance of US President John Tyler on December 19, 1842 of Hawaiian independence and then met Simpson in Europe to secure formal recognition by the United Kingdom and France. On March 17, 1843, King Louis-Philippe of France recognized Hawaiian independence at the urging of King Leopold I of Belgium . On April 1, 1843, Lord Aberdeen , on behalf of Queen Victoria , assured the Hawaiian delegation, "Her Majesty's Government was willing and had determined to recognize the independence of the Sandwich Islands under their present sovereign." [16]

Anglo-Franco Proclamation

Lord George Paulet

On November 28, 1843, at the Court of London, the British and French Governments formally recognized Hawaiian independence. The "Anglo-Franco Proclamation", a joint declaration by France and Britain, signed by King Louis-Philippe and Queen Victoria, assured the Hawaiian delegation:

Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and His Majesty the King of the French, taking into consideration the existence in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands) of a government capable of providing for the regularity of its relations with foreign nations, have thought it right to engage, reciprocally, to consider the Sandwich Islands as an Independent State, and never to take possession, neither directly or under the title of Protectorate, or under any other form, of any part of the territory of which they are composed.

The undersigned, Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs, and the Ambassador Extraordinary of His Majesty the King of the French, at the Court of London, being furnished with the necessary powers, hereby declare, in consequence, that their said Majesties take reciprocally that engagement.

In witness whereof the undersigned have signed the present declaration, and have affixed thereto the seal of their arms.

Done in duplicate at London, the 28th day of November, in the year of our Lord, 1843.
" 'ST. AULAIRE. [L.S.], [20]

Hawai ʻ i was the first non-European indigenous state whose independence was recognised by the major powers. [31] The United States declined to join with France and the United Kingdom in this statement. Even though President John Tyler had verbally recognized Hawaiian Independence, it was not until 1849 that the United States formally recognized Hawaii's independence. [20]

November 28, Lā Kūʻokoʻa (Independence Day), became a national holiday to celebrate the recognition of Hawaii's independence. The Hawaiian Kingdom entered into treaties with most major countries and established over 90 legations and consulates. [31]

Succession crisis and monarchial elections

Dynastic rule by the Kamehameha family ended in 1872 with the death of Kamehameha V. Upon his deathbed, he summoned High Chiefess Bernice Pauahi Bishop to declare his intentions of making her heir to the throne. Bernice refused the crown, and Kamehameha V died without naming an heir.

The refusal of Bishop to take the crown forced the legislature of the kingdom to elect a new monarch. From 1872 to 1873, several relatives of the Kamehameha line were nominated. In a ceremonial popular vote and a unanimous legislative vote, William C. Lunalilo , grandnephew of Kamehameha I, became Hawai ʻ i's first of two elected monarchs but reigned from 1873 to only 1874 because of his early death.

Kalākaua Dynasty

Like his predecessor, Lunalilo failed to name an heir to the throne. Once again, the legislature of the Kingdom of Hawaii needed an election to fill the royal vacancy. Queen Emma , widow of Kamehameha IV, was nominated along with David Kalākaua . The 1874 election was a nasty political campaign in which both candidates resorted to mudslinging and innuendo. David Kalākaua became the second elected King of Hawaii but without the ceremonial popular vote of Lunalilo. The choice of the legislature was controversial, and U.S. and British troops were called upon to suppress rioting by Queen Emma's supporters, the Emmaites .

Hoping to avoid uncertainty in the monarchy's future, Kalākaua proclaimed several heirs to the throne to define a line of succession. His sister Lili ʻ uokalani would succeed the throne upon Kalākaua's death, with Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani to follow. If she could not produce an heir by birth, Prince David Lamea Kawananakoa then Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole would rule after her.

Bayonet Constitution

Flier for 30th anniversary celebration of the 1843 treaty

In 1887, a constitution was drafted by Lorrin A. Thurston , Minister of Interior under King Kalākaua. The constitution was proclaimed by the king after a meeting of 3,000 residents including an armed militia demanded he sign it or be deposed. The document created a constitutional monarchy like the United Kingdom's, stripping the King of most of his personal authority, empowering the legislature and establishing cabinet government. It has since become widely known as the "Bayonet Constitution" because of the threat of force used to gain Kalākaua's cooperation.

The 1887 constitution empowered the citizenry to elect members of the House of Nobles (who had previously been appointed by the King). It increased the value of property a citizen must own to be eligible to vote above the previous Constitution of 1864 and denied voting rights to Asians who comprised a large proportion of the population. (A few Japanese and some Chinese had previously become naturalized and now lost voting rights they had previously enjoyed.) This guaranteed a voting monopoly to wealthy native Hawaiians and Europeans. The Bayonet Constitution continued allowing the monarch to appoint cabinet ministers, but stripped him of the power to dismiss them without approval from the Legislature.

Lili ʻ uokalani's Constitution

In 1891, Kalākaua died and his sister Lili ʻ uokalani assumed the throne. She came to power during an economic crisis precipitated in part by the McKinley Tariff . By rescinding the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875, the new tariff eliminated the previous advantage Hawaiian exporters enjoyed in trade to U.S. markets. Many Hawaiian businesses and citizens were feeling the pressures of the loss of revenue, so Lili ʻ uokalani proposed a lottery and opium licensing to bring in additional revenue for the government. Her ministers and closest friends tried to dissuade her from pursuing the bills, and these controversial proposals were used against her in the looming constitutional crisis.

Lili ʻ uokalani wanted to restore power to the monarch by abrogating the 1887 Constitution. The queen launched a campaign resulting in a petition to proclaim a new Constitution. Many citizens and residents who in 1887 had forced Kalākaua to sign the "Bayonet Constitution" became alarmed when three of her recently appointed cabinet members informed them that the queen was planning to unilaterally proclaim her new Constitution. [16] Some cabinet ministers were reported to have feared for their safety after upsetting the queen by not supporting her plans. [33]


King Kalākaua meets U.S. President Grant at the White House , 1874

In 1893, local businessmen and politicians, composed of six non-native Hawaiian Kingdom subjects, five American nationals, one British national, and one German national, [35] all of whom were living and doing business in Hawaii, overthrew the queen, her cabinet and her marshal, and took over the government of the Kingdom of Hawai ʻ i.

Historians suggest that businessmen were in favor of overthrow and annexation to the U.S. in order to benefit from more favorable trade conditions with its main export market. The McKinley Tariff of 1890 eliminated the previously highly favorable trade terms for Hawaii's sugar exports, a main component of the economy.

United States Government Minister John L. Stevens summoned a company of uniformed U.S. Marines from the USS Boston and two companies of U.S. sailors to land on the Kingdom and take up positions at the U.S. Legation, Consulate, and Arion Hall on the afternoon of January 16, 1893. This deployment was at the request of the Committee of Safety , which claimed an "imminent threat to American lives and property". Stevens was accused of ordering the landing on his own authority, and inappropriately using his discretion. Historian William Russ concluded that "the injunction to prevent fighting of any kind made it impossible for the monarchy to protect itself". [36] : 350

1895 Counter-Revolution in Hawaii

On July 17, 1893, Sanford B. Dole and his committee took control of the government and declared itself the Provisional Government of Hawaii "to rule until annexation by the United States" and lobbied the United States for it. [36] : 90 Dole was president of both the Provisional Government and the later Republic of Hawaiʻi . During this time, members of the former government lobbied in Washington D.C. for the United States to restore the Hawaiian Kingdom. President Grover Cleveland considered the overthrow to have been an illegal act of war; he refused to consider annexation of the islands and initially worked to restore the queen to her throne. Between December 14, 1893 and January 11, 1894 a standoff occurred between the United States , Japan , and the United Kingdom against the Provisional Government to pressure them into returning the Queen known as the Black Week . This incident drove home the message that president Cleveland wanted Queen Lili ʻ uokalani's return to power, so on July 4, 1894 the Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed to wait for President Cleveland's second term to finish. Also in 1894, as lobbying continued in Washington, the royalist faction was secretly amassing an army of 600 strong led by former Captain of the Guard Samuel Nowlein. In 1895 they attempted a counter-rebellion , and Liliʻuokalani was arrested when a weapons cache was found on the palace grounds. She was tried by a military tribunal of the Republic, convicted of treason, and placed under permanent house arrest in her own home.

On January 24, 1895 while under house arrest Liliʻuokalani was forced to sign a five-page declaration as "Liliuokalani Dominis", in which she formally abdicated the throne in return for the release (and commutation of the death sentences) of her jailed supporters, including Minister Joseph Nawahi, Prince Kawananakoa, Robert Wilcox, and Prince Jonah Kuhio.

Before ascending the throne, for fourteen years, or since the date of my proclamation as heir apparent, my official title had been simply Liliuokalani. Thus I was proclaimed both Princess Royal and Queen. Thus it is recorded in the archives of the government to this day. The Provisional Government nor any other had enacted any change in my name. All my official acts, as well as my private letters, were issued over the signature of Liliuokalani. But when my jailers required me to sign ("Liliuokalani Dominis,") I did as they commanded. Their motive in this as in other actions was plainly to humiliate me before my people and before the world. I saw in a moment, what they did not, that, even were I not complying under the most severe and exacting duress, by this demand they had overreached themselves. There is not, and never was, within the range of my knowledge, any such a person as Liliuokalani Dominis.

Queen Liliuokalani, "Hawaii's Story By Hawaii's Queen"

Territorial extent

The Kingdom came about in 1795 in the aftermath of the Battle of Nuuanu , with the conquest of Maui , Molokai and Oahu . Kamehameha I had conquered Maui and Molokai five years prior in the Battle of Kepaniwai , but they were abandoned when Kamehameha's Big Island possession was under threat and later reconquered by the aged King Kahekili II of Maui. His domain comprised six of the major islands of the Hawaiian chain, and with Kaumualii 's peaceful surrender, Kauai and Niihau were added to his territories. Kamehameha II assumed de facto control of Kauai and Niihau when he kidnapped Kaumualii, ending his vassal rule over the islands.

In 1822, Queen Kaʻahumanu and her husband King Kaumualiʻi traveled with Captain William Sumner to find Nihoa , as her generation had only known the island through songs and myths . Later, King Kamehameha IV sailed there to officially annex the island. Kamehameha IV and Kalākaua would later claim other islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago , including Pearl and Hermes Atoll , Necker Island , Laysan , Lisianski Island , Ocean (Kure) Atoll , Midway Atoll , French Frigate Shoals , Maro Reef and Gardner Pinnacles , as well as Palmyra Atoll , Johnston Atoll and Jarvis Island . Several of these islands had previously been claimed by the United States under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. The Stewart Islands, or Sikaiana Atoll , near the Solomon Islands , were ceded to Hawaii in 1856 by its residents, but the cession was never formalized by the Hawaiian government.

Royal estates

Early in its history, the Kingdom of Hawai ʻ i was governed from several locations including coastal towns on the islands of Hawai ʻ i and Maui ( Lāhainā ). It wasn't until the reign of Kamehameha III that a capital was established in Honolulu on the Island of O ʻ ahu.

By the time Kamehameha V was king, he saw the need to build a royal palace fitting of the Kingdom of Hawai ʻ i's new found prosperity and standing with the royals of other nations. He commissioned the building of the palace at Aliʻiōlani Hale . He died before it was completed. Today, the palace houses the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai ʻ i.

David Kalākaua shared the dream of Kamehameha V to build a palace, and eagerly desired the trappings of European royalty. He commissioned the construction of ʻIolani Palace . In later years, the palace would become his sister's makeshift prison under guard by the forces of the Republic of Hawaii, the site of the official raising of the U.S. flag during annexation, and then territorial governor's and legislature's offices. It is now a museum.

Palaces and royal grounds

Notable people

King Kalākaua

See also