Kamehameha V and the United States

Kamehameha V and the United States

One of the least written about monarchs is that of Kamehameha V. While Kamehameha III gave the country not one but two constitutions, Kamehameha IV and V were monarchs who were uncompromising in their belief that the Hawaiian nation should remain independent at all costs. Sadly, they are among the least understood monarchs as well.  In this post, we will examine the foreign policy of Kamehameha V involving the United States.

King Kamehameha V

After Kamehameha V was elected to the throne–remember Kamehameha IV did not name an heir after his son passed away so the House of Nobles and the Kuhina Nui had to hold an emergency session to name Lot Kapu’aiwa Kamehameha as Kamehameha IV’s successor–he retained many of the old cabinet members of his late brother including Richard Wyllie (whom some may remember helped shape Hawaiian policy on secularism and tried to create an anti-corruption drive with the government). 

Kamehameha V himself was a veteran of the Hawaiian government system. While he served as Minister of the Interior under his late brother, he had proven himself a person who followed the letter of the law even though he disliked many of the laws that were inherited by them from Kamehameha III. He once remarked that he would order the arrest of his own brother if the law required it. Kamehameha V was largely shaped by what he saw as the ali’i being weak corrupt leaders and by the British occupation in 1843. During the occupation, Kamehameha V and fellow Chief’s Children School class mate, David Kalākaua, had tried to organize a resistance movement. During the occupation, many of the ali’i had either tried to petition for annexation to the United States or had collaborated with the British. The ones who organized a non-cooperation policy with the British were mostly from the middle and lower class who ironically blamed Kamehameha III for his refusal to meet with Lord Paulet in the first place. Kamehameha V’s own perception of the ali’i as a class was further shaped by the joie de vivre behavior of the latter years of Kamehameha III and his own cousins including Prince William Charles Lunalilo. In many aspects, Kamehameha V was very similar to Kamehameha I in temperament and in demands from his advisers. He also held the belief that Hawaiian independence could never be secured simply by the exchange of ambassadors and by treaties. He strongly believed that the only way to secure Hawaiian independence was through economics (Kuykendall, Vol 2. p196). Let me re-emphasis that point. Kamehameha V believed that treaties were not guarantees of independence; but, what guaranteed independence was a developed nation with a people who owned industries, land, and wealth.  

Although to the minds of some Hawaiians, this might seem rather radical, Kamehameha V’s assessment would later prove to be right. Japan, which has very little natural resources other than nice clay, some metal, a few deer and hot baths— avoided colonialism precisely because it learned how to adapt Western knowledge and became an economic power to protect its independence.  Kamehameha V dreamed of Hawai’i becoming an economic superpower. Only then, he felt could Hawaiian independence be secured and once independence was secured, then Hawaiian culture–which was suppressed during the reign of Kamehameha III–could then be revitalized. This would later rub off on his aid-de-camp, chamberlain, and postmaster-general, David Kalākaua.

At the same time, Kamehameha V also believed that in a Hawaiian version of a credo Porfirio Diaz allegedly uttered about Mexico. That is to say, “So far from God and so close to the United States.” Kamehameha V had no illusions about the United States, even though it was in the throes of its own Civil War. He believed that the United States would be the greatest threat to the security and stability of the Kingdom.  This was also shaped by his travels to the United States, in particular an incident in 1849 where he and his brother were told that colored people were not allowed in the first class cabin of the train. This would particularly bother Kamehameha IV’s mind throughout his reign and could explain the friendliness Kamehameha V had with US President Lincoln, despite US-Hawaiian relations.  

File:Judd and Kamehameha princes.jpg
The future Kamehameha IV, V, and G. Judd in Paris, c1850

When Wyllie passed away in 1865, he appointed French consul and fellow French Freemason, Charles de Varigny, as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Minister de Varigny As quoted in Kuykendall’s Volume II of the Hawaiian Kingdom:

I had by no means concealed, on many occasions, the uneasiness which the covetousness and the ambition of the United States inspired in me. Being convinced of the necessity of rallying against them and of grouping together all the European interests in the Islands in order to make a force capable of resistance, I had cultivated with Mr. Synge, then Consul General for England, intimate relations, which were based upon a perfect harmony of views. (197) 

Kamehameha V then moved to reshape the entire government by removing those–including ali’i–he suspected of having American sympathies. Kuykendall adds that:

Relations with the United States were not cordial. Formal diplomatic intercourse between the two governments was kept on a friendly plane, although irritating disputes arose from time to time. But there existed in the minds of many Americans a belief that Hawaiian official sentiment was anti-American. The two diplomatic agents, Thomas J. Dryer and James McBride, who represented the United States in Hawaii during the Civil War period were imbued with this idea and wrote of it in many of their dispatches to the secretary of state in Washington. Newspapers in the United States and thePacific Commercial Advertiser in Honolulu frequently expressed the same view. On the other side, many Hawaiians, official and nonofficial, were distrustful of American intentions with respect to Hawaii. This feeling found apparent justification in the recurrent talk about the possibility or probability of annexation at some indefinite time in the future.

However, Kamehameha V was as mentioned before interested in national development. Although the United States was still at war with itself, it was the only industrial power outside of Europe at the time. Kamehameha V was deeply interested in developing Hawaiian industrial strength and sought to: abrogate and replace the previous Treaty of Friendship with the United States of 1849 with that of a new treaty that included free trade (reciprocity). The King furthermore wanted the United States, France, and Great Britain to sign a tripartite treaty which one: affirm Hawaiian neutrality; declare that the three powers would not intervene in Hawaiian internal affairs; and limit the docking of their gunboats and the use their marines. In exchange, in a separate convention, the Hawaiian Kingdom would monitor its debt and would boost its military and police force to protect their citizens in the islands. Had Kamehameha V been successful in that latter treaty, 1893 probably would not have happened. While France and Great Britain were willing to sign a new treaty recognizing those concerns providing that the United States would also sign it, but the United States used the pretext that since it was in the middle of its Civil War, it could not agree.    

To the reciprocity treaty, Kamehameha V dispatched Chief Justice E. Allen. When Chief Justice Allen had arrived in 1864, members of US President Lincoln’s cabinet were in favor of a reciprocity as they saw that it would make Hawai’i basically a neo-colony of the United States. In the mind of Kamehameha V, the reciprocity treaty was necessary to ensure the economic well being of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the mean time through the exportation of sugar, potatoes, and other crops which the North was already importing in large numbers since the South was devastated but in the long term the treaty could eventually gain Hawai’i access to American industrial know how. In exchange, for this treaty, Kamehameha V was willing to grant a fee-simple lease to the United States at Pearl Harbor. However, it was made clear to Allen that it was to be a fee simple and should the United States abrogate the treaty, the fee-simple lease would also be voided. This was one of the first times that Pearl Harbor was mentioned as a potential American naval base.  US Secretary of State  William Seward was interested but the United States Senate was not. Allen ended up returning empty handed while Seward would eventually buy Alaska from the Russians. 

Having failed at making any changes in the treaty relations with the United States, Kamehameha V worked towards informal reforms. Originally, Kamehameha V did not want to swear to the Constitution of 1852 as he saw it as a weak constitution granted by a king who was well probably had by that time given up any desire to rule as a king. When the United States had heard about this, US Secretary of State Seward had authorized a show of force by keeping an American warship at dock at all times. At the same time, Seward  
did not want the United States to interfere in Hawaiian domestic affairs. This was classic double speak and Kamehameha V knew it. Kamehameha V then did swear to the constitution but while he was negotiating for the above mentioned treaty changes and with the United States still in its Civil War, he moved towards calling for a Constitutional Convention. One of the matters that were debated upon was naturalization and the definition of citizenship. The previous Hawaiian laws were based on the principles of jus soli (law of the soil)–anyone who was born in Hawai’i was a Hawaiian subject. Some in the convention including members of Kamehameha V’s cabinet, felt that citizenship should be based on the European and Asian principle of jus sanguinis (law of the bloodline).  Jus sanguinis meant that citizenship was only automatic if one or both parents were citizens at the time of the creation of the state or constitution. This also was more in keeping with Hawaiian tradition and even until today most nations use that criteria for citizenship. So it was no something new or radical.  However, it would mean that those had naturalized under the flimsy citizenship laws of Kamehameha III as well as their children might lose their citizenship since normally under jus sanguinis, dual citizenship is not allowed unless you acquired citizenship from being born in a particularly place–an advantage that many of the missionary children did not want to lose.  For example, if both of your parents were Native Hawaiian but you were born in Boston, you could acquire dual citizenship due to the citizenship of your Native Hawaiian parents and from being born on US soil. However, if your parents were American but you were born and lived in France which operates under jus sanguinis, you were not a French citizen because your parents were American. The same would happen with the missionaries in Hawai’i. The United States Secretary Seward commented that

Citizens of the United States, who have gone to that country for the purpose of remaining, and have been naturalized there, must expect to incur the risks as well as enjoy the advantages from their migration. (Kuykendall, p201)

In the end the proposed new citizenship requirement was thrown out as there was a fear that it could create serious economic problems as well as  a pool of disgruntled immigrants.  But had it been allowed, Native Hawaiians today would still be the majority of citizenship and would have secured Native Hawaiian political leadership throughout the 19th century. Had the treaties Kamehameha V had began to be ratified, 1893 would have looked very different.  

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