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Hawai`i Legal History: Timeline

A guide to materials that were formative in the legal history of Hawaii.

Timeline 1778-1941

1778 British Captain James Cook arrives and the era of Western contact begins January 18.  Cook names Hawaii the "Sandwich Islands" after the Earl of Sandwich.

"Westerners Arrive in Hawaii" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

By the late 1770s about a dozen chiefs had risen to the level of supreme chief. Hawaii was divided under these warriors when James Cook arrived in the islands. He was an insatiable explorer searching for a northwest passage.

1779 Cook is killed at Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii on February 14.

1819 Kamehameha I dies and Liholiho, Kamehameha II, becomes king. Ka'ahumanu, wife of Kamehameha I, has equal power as Kuhina Nui (Chief Counselor).

"King Kamehameha's Final Act" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

In 1819 King Kamehameha got sick. On his death bed he followed the British monarchy's lead and named his eldest son as his heir. He named his favorite wife chief counselor. There were rumors that she was responsible for his death.

"Foundation of Hawaiian Law Destroyed" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

After King Kamehameha's death Ka'ahumanu did not want to give up any land so she broke tradition as well as the kapu her husband had lived by. She ordered all religious images burned and the temples destroyed.

1820 Congregational Church missionaries from New England arrive.

"Missionaries Arrive in Hawaii" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

Pioneer missionaries left New England without any knowledge of the death of King Kamehameha or the overthrow of the ancient religious system. The party was led by Hiram Bingham and Reverend Thurston.

1822 Ka'ahumanu has the first laws printed by Elisha Loomis, the missionary printer. There are two and they are labeled "Notices." Available at http://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/philamer/afj6777.0001.001?view=toc page 128.

"Unintended Effect of Western Education" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

Queen Ka'ahumanu wrote new laws based on the Ten Commandments. She heeded the demands of the missionaries that the traditional Hawaiian way of life be abolished. All traditional forms of passing on history, including hula, were outlawed.

1823 Kamehameha II (Liholiho) and Queen Kamamalu contract measles in England and die. Kamehameha III, Kauikeaouli, is a minor, but becomes king with Ka'ahumanu as Kuhina Nui.

1825 Hereditary holding of land becomes part of the Hawaiian legal system.  Prior to this, all land belonged to the Akua (gods) and was administered by the ali'i nui (chiefs).

1826 First Hawaiian/U.S. treaty of "friendship, commerce, and navigation."

1827 Law against adultery passed. Other, missionary-inspired laws like the prohibition against hula are passed.

1832 Ka'ahumanu dies.  Kamehameha III repeals all recent Christian laws.

1833-36 Kamehameha III revives hula and other cultural practices once prohibited.

1836 Nahi'en'ena, sister of Kamehameha III, dies.  Kamehameha III converts to Christianity and mourns for the next eight years. Kina'u, half-sister of Kamehameha III, becomes Kuhina Nui (Chief Counselor).

1840 Constitution - King Kamehameha III and Kuhina Nui continue to share executive authority; four governors appointed with subordinate executive powers; elected bicameral legislature created; supreme court created.

1841 New law allows Governors to enter into 50-year leases with foreigners.

1842 The "Tyler Doctrine" - the U.S. holds a greater interest in Hawaii than any other nation; no other power will be allowed to seek exclusive commercial privileges in Hawaii.

1843 Kamehameha III cedes the islands to Great Britain on Feb. 25.

The Paulet Episode (Feb. 25 to July 31, 1843) - Hawaii under British rule; commission headed by Lord George Paulet, commander of the British ship, Carysfort.

1848 The "Great Mahele" - Kamehameha III's land distribution

"Western Land Law in Hawaii" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

With Britain and France gone and the U.S. steering clear of claims on its land, Hawaii was peaceful and prosperous. King Kamehameha III filled his cabinet with foreign ministers. Not everyone was pleased with the growing influence of missionaries.

"Annexationist Element in Hawaii" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

The majority of Hawaiian people became landless after 1850. It was a new era of prosperity for missionary families. They started sugar and pineapple plantations. With wealth came a desire for greater political control.

1849 Second Hawaiian/U.S. treaty of "friendship, commerce, and navigation."

1850 The "Kuleana Act" - commoners are allowed to apply for an individual kuleana (land parcel) but are required to "prove" their claim by 1854 and pay survey costs.  Commoners receive fewer than 30,000 acres as a result.

1852 New Constitution

1854 Kamehameha III dies; Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho) becomes king.

1856 Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho) marries Emma Rooke, great-grandniece of Kamehameha I, grand-daughter of John Young.

1863 Kamehameha IV dies (15 months after the death of his only son, Albert); Prince Lot (Lota Kapuaiwa), Kamehameha V, becomes king and calls for a new constitution.

1864 Constitutional convention deadlocks on Aug. 13 and Kamehameha V dissolves the Convention and declares a new Constitution reasserting the powers of the Mo'i Ali'i (King).  The 1864 Constitution increased the power of the King and changed the way the kingdom's legislature worked.  It also required voters born after 1840 to pass a literacy test and meet certain property requirements, later repealed in 1874.

1865 Act is passed designating all of the King's lands as "Crown Lands" and declaring them inalienable.

1872 Kamehameha V dies. No successor is named.  William Lunalilo is elected king by popular vote. 

1873 Lunalilo takes the throne Jan. 12.

1874 Lunalilo dies on Feb. 5 without naming a successor.  The next ruler will either be Queen Emma, widow of Kamehameha IV, or Kalakaua.  Kalakaua is elected by the Legislative Assembly and becomes king.

"Treaty of Reciprocity of 1876" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

In 1874 the last Hawaiian king related by blood to the Kamehameha family (Lunalilo) died without leaving an heir. Two members of the royal family claimed title. A king who supported economic transformation was chosen. The U.S. had its eye on Pearl Harbor.

1887  King Kalakaua, a believer in the absolute right of kings, signs the "Bayonet Constitution" on July 6.  This Constitution was drafted by a group from the Hawaiian League including Lorrin Thurston, Sanford Dole, William Ansel Kinney, William Owen Smith, George Norton Wilcox, and Edward Griffin Hitchcock, who threated to use force if King Kalakaua refused to sign it. Despite arguments over the scope of the changes to the Constitution that severely limited the monarch's powers Kalakaua signed it.

1891 Kalakaua dies in San Francisco on Jan. 20.  His sister, Lili'uokalani becomes queen (Jan. 29).

"Beginning of the End" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

Hawaii's king died while on a trip to California. His sister Princess Lili'uokalani became the next and last queen. She pledged to avenge her brother's death.

1892 Native Hawaiians ask Queen Lili'uokalani for a new Constitution. Lili'uokalani signed bills licensing the sale of opium and granting a franchise to establish a lottery.  The Committee of Thirteen plan a coup d'etat.

1893 The Committee of Thirteen renames itself the "Committee on Public Safety" and declares the throne vacant on Jan. 15.  The U.S. overthrows the Hawaiian monarchy and Sanford Dole, a missionary descendant, negotiates an annexation treaty with the Harrison Administration. The treaty is not ratified before the Harrison Administration is replaced by the Cleveland Administration.  President Cleveland delivers a message to Dole asking for his resignation and to restore "the legitimate government of Hawaii" to power.  Dole refuses.

"Annexing Hawaii" in America Becomes a World Power. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Id=36214.

In the 1800s Americans established missions and built huge plantations, railways, docks, and hotels in Hawaii. Queen Liliuokalani opposed U.S. influence but surrendered her throne after a revolt by plantation owners, pressure from ambassador John L. Stevens, and the arrival of an American battleship. President Cleveland opposed annexation of the sovereign nation but Hawaii was annexed in 1898 after William McKinley took office.

"Hawaiian Monarchy Overthrown" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

On January 16, 1893 the independent kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown with the help of the U.S. Supporting the efforts of the Committee of Safety was the U.S. minister to Hawaii.

"Overthrow of the Monarchy" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

On January 16, 1893 the Committee of Safety asked U.S. troops to protect Americans as they brought down the Hawaiian monarchy by force. She yielded her thrown believing that the legitimate U.S. government would do the right thing.

1894 The Dole government declares itself the "Republic of Hawaii."

"Attempt to Restore the Monarchy" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

July 4, 1894 the provisional government declared itself a Republic of Hawaii. Queen Lili'uokalani was powerless but she still had supporters. Rebels were targeted for retribution and the queen was imprisoned in the palace.

1896 William McKinley is elected president of the U.S. and is receptive to the annexation of Hawaii proposed by Dole.

"End of the Hawaiian People" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

Queen Lili'uokalani abdicated to save the lives of her people. She was allowed to return home but was denied reinstatement of her monarchy. McKinley wanted Pearl Harbor and brought the question of annexation before Congress.

1898 Through a joint resolution of Congress Hawaii is annexed (the Newlands Resolution) on July 7.  All Hawaiian Crown Lands are ceded to the U.S.

"Truth About Annexation" in Conquest of Hawaii. Films Media Group, 2003. Films On Demand. Item Number: 43044

June 11, 1898, Theobold Otjen of Wisconsin, speech on the annexation of Hawaii.  31 Cong. Rec. 496-502.  Available via Heinonline.

June 15, 1898, House debate on the Annexation of Hawaii.  31 Cong. Rec. 5967-6019. Available via Heinonline.

July 7, 1898, Joint Resolution (no. 55) to Provide for Annexing the Hawaiian Islands to the United States. 30 Stat. 750-51. Available via Heinonline.

On August 12, 1898 the Hawaiian flag was lowered. President of the Hawaiian Republic, Sanford Dole, presided over the ceremony. There were many still loyal to the former queen who questioned the legality of the joint resolution.

Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen is published.  It is freely available at http://archive.org/details/hawaiisstorybyh00goog.

See also:  The Morgan Report

April 30, 1900  President McKinley signs the Organic Act making Hawaii a territory.  Sanford Dole is appointed the first governor.  The Organic Act requires all voters to be citizens, over 21 years of age, reside in the territory at least one year before they can vote, and speak and read either English or Hawaiian.  Once on the roll books, a voter's name stays there unless he fails to vote.

1917 Queen Lili'uokalani dies.

1931-32 The Massie Case.

Dec. 7, 1941 Japan strikes Pearl Harbor.  Martial Law is declared.