Ke Ea o ka ʻĀina: Becoming Sovereign

#105 in the Moʻolelo series

In response to events in the Pacific such as the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi in Aotearoa/New Zealand, which granted governance, if not sovereignty over Maori lands to the British, Kauikeaouli sent envoys to secure Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty. Kauikeaouli had employed William Richards as teacher of political economy to the chiefs. The phrase “Pehea lā e Pono ai?” [“what is the pono thing to do?” – my rough translation] used as the subtitle of Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa’s book Native Land and Foreign Desires, was a question asked at these lessons. Richards admits in his journals that he had not a satisfactory answer to this question, though he had ample criticism of the Hawaiian way of doing economics.

Through these efforts, Kauikeaouli built a small but extremely impressive library of books on international law, with titles such as Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, a book that would be considered a classic international law text even today. Based on this understanding, Kauikeaouli knew that in order to secure Hawaiʻi as a sovereign state, it would require the recognition of major countries – especially the three major naval powers at the time; the US, Great Britain and France. Other countries would follow suit if those three could be secured.

In 1842, Kauikeaouli secretly sent Timoteo Haʻalilio, Richards and Sir George Simpson (a British knight who had been stationed in British Canadian territory previously) as envoys to secure this recognition. Between the three, they circumnavigated the globe, with Simpson traveling West toward Europe through Siberia and Haʻalilio and Richards traveling East, braving cold at night and heat during the day as they made their way through Mexico to the US (what is now the US Southwest was still Mexico then, before the 1848 Mexican American War).

Haʻalilio and Richards arrived in Washington, D.C. and secured verbal recognition of Hawaiʻi from President Tyler in December, 1842. They then travelled to Europe to meet Simpson, who was securing recognition from Belgium – King Leopold of Belgium was the uncle of Queen Victoria and the cousin of the King of France, and could recommend Hawaiʻi’s recognition with his royal family members.

Haʻalilio endured racism – Beamer relates (in the video Ua Mau ke Ea) an incident (from an account translated by Lorenz Gonschor) where Haʻalilio was refused the right to eat with the diplomats and made to eat with the servants. After failing to impress upon the hosts that this was the Hawaiian Ambassador, Richards (Haʻalilio’s secretary) also ate with the servants.

The trio first achieved verbal recognition from France and Britain, but stayed in Europe longer to secure this recognition in writing. For its part, Britain had a policy toward Hawaiʻi that held that it did not need to “exercise a paramount influence” in the islands as long as no other power did so. Meanwhile, the Paulet affair was occurring in Hawaiʻi and their mission took on even more urgency!

On November 28th, 1843, the trio received the written recognition they had been tasked with in the Anglo-Franco Proclamation. Proclaimed jointly because each country wanted to ensure that the other didn’t colonize Hawaiʻi, this agreement stated that “His Majesty the King of France and her Majesty Queen [of Britain and Ireland] … taking into account the existence in the islands of a government capable of providing for relations with foreign nations … have thought it right to engage, reciprocally, to consider the Sandwich Islands as an independent state.”

The phrase “a government capable of providing for relations with foreign nations” refers to one of the attributes of a state (country): the ability to speak to other countries on behalf of the sovereign and enter into treaties (this is why envoys, ministers, consuls and ambassadors have to be accredited, not just any citizen can speak on behalf of the state – the supposed lack of this status was used against Kaʻiulani after the overthrow, that despite being the heir to the throne she was not a “statesman”). The other attributes include a defined territory, a population and a unitary government.

On the journey home, Haʻalilio was ill. In Richards’s journals, one can see the care that Richard has for his compatriot (Richards had forsaken his American citizenship and become a Hawaiian subject). Haʻalilio did not make it back to Hawaiʻi with his life – a martyr for Hawaiian sovereignty.

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