The First Election in the Kingdom

#131 in the Moʻolelo series

William Charles Lunalilo was the first elected monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. As I wrote in “The People’s King:”

Although the constitution required only a vote of the legislature, Lunalilo requested and was granted a popular election. He won all the votes of the legislature and the popular vote in a landslide (according to Willy Kauai, it was something like all but 6 votes in the popular vote). Efforts like the popular election led to his being given the nickname “the people’s King.”

The Constitution of 1864 provided that:

Should there be no [heir] … then the Cabinet council … shall cause a meeting of the legislative assmembly, who shall elect by ballot some native Aliʻi of the Kingdom as Successor, so elected shall become a new stirps for a Royal Family; and the succession from the Sovereign thus elected, shall be regulated by the same law as the present Royal Family of Hawaiʻi.

Constitution of 1864, Article 22
King William Charles Lunalilo (reign: 1872-1874)

Voting in Hawaiʻi, however, had begun much earlier, in 1840. Makaʻāinana could vote for members of the House of Representatives. (The House of Nobles represented the Aliʻi, and was appointed). So it was these elected Representatives who voted for monarch – but only in the case of their being no heir.

It is possible that Kalākaua’s tenure as a newspaper editor, when he published Hawaiian moʻokūʻauahu, was a preparation for the time when he would run for monarch. With his sister Liliʻukalani’s translation of Kumulipo, what became the Kalākaua dynasty could claim an ancestry that was truly ancient and royal. By some accounts, Kalākaua could trace his genealogy back 850 generations – not years, generations! That is so ancient, in fact, that it places that line in Asia – that is to say, prior to there even being Polynesians.

Personal belongings of Kalākaua (Bishop Museum)

All this genealogical work did not succeed in allowing Kalākaua to defeat Lunalilo, who, as a descendant of Keoua (Kamehameha’s father), was one of the closest people to a Kamehameha decendant, an “imperfect” descendant, if you will.

It is important to keep in mind that at the time of this first election, the Constitution required property and literacy for voting (and it was restricted to men aged 20 or over). This is not to be confused with the Bayonet Constitution, which required a specific amount of property – $3000 worth, and an income of $600. Lot Kapuaiwa’s reasoning for the property requirement was one that was common at the time – that property owners alone had a real stake, and investment in the society. It is possible that, this being in the post-Māhele period, there was a concern about “vagabonds” and “drifters” (a traditional Hawaiian concern to some extent, over those who take advantage of the hospitality of others), who might vote irresponsibly.

Kalākaua took his defeat graciously, knowing that another election would happen eventually, and perhaps soon. It did, and he won the next election just over a year later.

1 Comment

Filed under Education

One response to “The First Election in the Kingdom

  1. Lorenz Gonschor

    Thanks for sharing, ‘Umi. But the title is confusing and you should change it. What you are describing is nit the first election in the Kingdom (which was the election of the people’s representatives in the legislature in 1840) but more specifically the first election of a monarch in the Kingdom.


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