Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Last American Monarch (Hawai'i)

Long ago, the United States came about under the principle that no single person deserved to be titled, noble, or royal. Indeed, the United States (or the Confederate States for that matter) has never truly had a king or any monarch. Sure some presidents have come close to regal respect, but none has ever been king! But the United States did once consume a kingdom. Well, technically it was a former kingdom, but we took it all! Today, the pretenders to that kingdom's throne wonder aimlessly around California and Hawai'i searching to reclaim a past they had stolen from them through treachery and capitalism. I speak, of course, of the great Kingdom of Hawai'i.

The Kingdom of Hawaii, 1837

Most people don't know a lot about the history of Hawai'i and there is a good reason for that: it's not very long or complex. Even the United States seems complicated compared to the history of Hawai'i since its European discovery by Captain Cook in 1778. But the history of the Kingdom of Hawai'i didn't begin for 17 more years. During the time that Captain Cook was roaming the seas, the eight inhabitable islands of the Hawaiian Island chain were being systematically centralized. The Big Island (Hawai'i) was being slowly united under one dynasty. Maui had conquered Moloka'i and Lãna'i under one chief but was in fight for O'ahu. Kaua'i and Ni'ihau had long been under the same chief. Enter Kamehameha, the son of a Hawaiian chief with sights on the Hawai'i throne and the goal of unifying all of the islands under one king. Captain Cook met the future king and inspired the man.

Between 1782 and 1795, Kamehameha systematically unified, first, all of Hawai'i, and then conquered Mau'i and O'ahu (with the other smaller islands following suit). By 1795, the Kingdom of Hawai'i was all but official. The only islands that eluded him were Kaua'i and Ni'ihau, the furthest east of the inhabitable islands. Civil War and dispute made it difficult for Kamehameha I to conquer these islands and an agreement was finally made in 1810 that made Kaua'i vassals of Hawai'i. From this point forward, the kingdom existed and the Kamehameha dynasty was its focus.

For the first eighty years of the kingdom's history, European incursions were the theme. Kamehameha I did not live long enough to see much come of his newly united kingdom. Despite two decades of unification wars, he died only nine years after unifying the island chain. His son, Liholiho, took on the name Kamehameha II, and soon after becoming king began the break-down of the religious order. With so much Christian influence coming in from European traders and whalers, the traditional religion of the state just didn't seem to fit anymore, even thought Liholiho never converted to Christianity. Five years into his reign, Liholiho travelled to Europe to tour and discuss diplomacy with the European courts. While in London, he caught measles to which he had no immunity whatsoever. He and his wife both died in 1824, and the king's brother, Kauikeaouli, succeeded him by default.

Kauikeaouli, known officially as Kamehameha III, was the longest-reigning king in Hawaiian history, but that is partially because he ascended the throne at the age of 11. His step-mother, Queen Ka'ahumanu, former wife of Kamehameha I, acted as regent during his minority. When she died, the king's half-sister took over and took the title Ka'ahuman II. The regency finally ended in 1833 though the regent became a sort of prime minister to the king in the following years. Much happened during the years of Kauikeaouli's reign. First of all, the Catholic mission began in Hawai'i, was ousted, and restored under threat by the French. Secondly, Hawai'i briefly was offered to Britain in 1843 under pressure from a British captain, though London later declined the offer. Most importantly, the Council of Chiefs, which had acted as a legislature until this time, was replaced with an official democratic legislative body, and a cabinet was created. This is important because it allowed Europeans who had become Hawaiian citizens to get directly involved in the government without royal consent. Prior to this time, the king approved all additions to the council of chiefs and native blood was implied as a requirement. The make-up of the new government quickly began shifting away from natives, who were declining as the majority population, and toward those of European or half-European blood.

Kamehameha III, Queen Kalama, and their nieces and nephews

During Kauikeaouli's reign, the United States also became active in Hawaiian politics over whaling and trading rights, since Hawai'i acted as a perfect base station for both endeavors. Multiple treaties would be made between the two countries, beginning with one created in 1849 establishing favorable trade relations. The king was very pro-United States and had been long considering resigning his post in favor of a U.S. annexation of the Hawaiian Islands. While many people favored such a move, others, especially Europeans, were against it. Thus, when the king finally died in 1854, many saw it as a sign that Hawai'i was not yet ready to join the United States.

With the death of Kauikeaouli, the senior line of Kamehameha I died out and a younger branch took over. Alexander Liholiho was renamed Kamehameha IV. He was a staunch Christian educated by Calvinists since he was young. He had worked as a diplomat for the king on numerous occasions and, thus, was one of the best educated kings in Hawai'i's history. Unlike his predecessor, Alexander Liholiho was anti-annexation and sought to strengthen the independence of the Hawaiian kingdom. He was actively pro-health and education, especially for the native Hawaiian population. He expanded the land claims of Hawai'i by laying claim to numerous atolls in the larger Emperor Seamount archipelago, claims that are still in question today. Unfortunately, the king's reign was short-lived. He died at the age of 29 in 1863. His wife would later attempt to claim the throne for herself but failed to do so.

Alexander Liholiho was succeeded by his brother, Lot, who took on the regnal name Kamehameha V, the last of his line. Lot was a builder and expanded the government in all directions. Early in his reign, he forced the creation of a new constitution, an action that worried Americans due to its seeming anti-American stance. Lot also allowed for the construction of new government buildings including a new palace for himself.  Today, this palace is the home of the Hawai'i State Supreme Court. Unfortunately, little else was accomplished by Lot before his untimely death in 1872. With no heirs and his declared heir predeceasing him, the constitutional succession solution went into effect: a general election for monarch.

Among the various candidates, William Charles Lunalilo won out. He was defended from a half-brother of Kamehameha I and thus was a close cousin of Lot. Lunalilo ended up being a progressive monarch. He made democracy more widespread by removing residency and property requirements. He also re-established a bicameral legislature, separating it into a House of Nobles and a House of Representatives. Most oddly, after a mutiny in the Hawaiian armed forces, Lunalilo disbanded the army. Without an army, Hawai'i lost one mean to defend the monarchy. None of this really mattered for Lunalilo, though. He died only a year into his reign, in 1874, of tuberculosis. Again, no heir was designated so the successor went to the polls.

This time around, a more solid dynasty took over. David Kalakaua was a man descended from a rival line of Hawaiian chieftains. While he did descend from some of Kamehameha I's relatives, it was not significant. Kalakaua began as a popular king. He travelled the islands early in his reign and then went to Washington, D.C., personally and spoke with President Ulysses Grant. During his visit, a new treaty was enacted allowing the trade of sugar and rice from Hawai'i to the United States with no import taxes. Kalakaua was not popular with the European crowd, though. He would dismiss cabinets on a whim and ignore the pleas of the legislature. Ignoring politics, he left his sister in charge of affairs at home and travelled the world, becoming the first monarch to circumnavigate the globe. During these years, he had also hired contractors to build 'lolani Palace, the royal residence that remains in Honolulu to this day.

Kalakaua's trip led to imperial aspirations, and he sought to create a trans-Pacific Polynesian Confederations. Samoa was the first (and only) nation to join. Unfortunately for him, unrest at home caused him to lose much of his political power. The Bayonet Constitution, created by the Reform Party, halted his progress and brought the globetrotting king home. It also was the first constitution that specifically favored European and American interests over native Hawaiian in the kingdom. The remainder of Kalakaua's life was filled with attempts to reclaim his royal prerogative. He never achieved that goal and eventually died in 1891, while trying to find a cure to his illness in San Francisco. Few other monarchs left as large a mark on modern Hawai'i than him.

Lili'uokalani, his sister, succeeded him to the throne, Hawai'i's only queen regnant. She had little power as a monarch due to the laws and constitution passed during her brother's reign. Apparent support caused the queen to hastily attempt to overturn the Bayonet Constitution through popular acclamation, but the attempt came to late with too little support. Early in 1893, American and European businessmen organized quickly to halt the queen in her tracks. Defections from every corner of the government, including her own cabinet, forced the queen to abdicate. Despite attempts by President Grover Cleveland to restore the monarchy later that year, it was too late. On July 4, 1894, the Republic of Hawai'i was officially created with Sanford Dole as governor. The republic was made into a protectorate of the United States with the ability of annexation and Hawai'i's monarchical history was finished.

Prince Quentin and his wife
Queen Lili'uokalani lived in Hawai'i the rest of her life, attempting to restore her rights as queen or protesting to the United States the unlawful annexation of her kingdom. In both cases, she failed to succeed though she was released from house arrest and granted a passport. She lived until 1917, the last monarch of an American state. She was succeeded in her royal claims by a close relative, Edward Kawananakoa, who lived until 1953. His death split the royal claim between the descendants of his two sisters. The representative of the elder line, Quentin, ran for Congress in 2006 and a seat in the Hawai'i House of Representatives in 2008. If he had won the 2006 election, he would have been the first royal pretender in U.S. history to be seated in the U.S. Congress. The other heir, Abigail, has actively claimed the titles and refuses to accept the claim of Quentin as her heir, instead choosing an adopted son.

In either case, the story of the Kingdom of Hawai'i is an interesting one, with American and European businessmen taking advantage of a native and, at times, naive people for their own advantage. Indeed, the overthrow was so malicious that President Bill Clinton felt it necessary to issue a formal apology to the current heirs for the revolution inspired by Americans 100 years prior. And while today Hawai'i is another state of the United States, for one brief century, it was a kingdom of its own, a legacy that Hawaiians today look at with fond memories and vacationers observe with wonder.


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