Aftermath: The 1840s and Resistance

Ke Ao Uli: A Changing World 1825 – 1841

During the 1840s, the Hawaiian government continued to reorganize, establishing departments and administrative structures. Key issues included securing recognition internationally and addressing land ownership in Hawai‘i. At the same time, Hawaiians protested the growing dominance of foreigners in government and feared the government’s rapid move to adopt private-land ownership. Perspectives differed widely on the evolving path of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i.
Formalizing the Government

  • In 1842, the National Treasury Board was established. The king appointed Dr. Gerrit Judd,1 Timothy Ha‘alilio and John ‘Ī‘ī as members, charging them with organizing the kingdom’s accounts and settling its debts.
  • American John Ricord was appointed Hawai‘i’s first attorney-general in 1844. On his advice, the ali‘i adopted legal traditions from Britain and America, which led to the Organic Acts of 1845 – 1847. These established executive departments and the Privy Council, defined the duties of island governors and further organized the judiciary. Significantly, the Board of Commissioners to Quiet Land Titles was also created to resolve land-tenure claims.
  • On May 20, 1845, the legislature opened in Honolulu for the first time, with great fanfare, formalizing a representative government “common to all liberal and enlightened governments.”2
  • Hawaiians protested the dominance of foreigners in government. These took the form of prayer meetings, letters published in Ka Elele newspaper and petitions to the king and legislature: “If this kingdom is to be ours, what is the good of filling the land with foreigners?”3
“Kauikeaouli’s reasoning was this: when one has problems with foreigners, especially with those who refuse to conform to Hawaiian notions of pono behavior, one should hire a foreigner to deal with them. … but it was at a price, and that price was greater political control.”
— Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa, Native Land and Foreign Desires, p. 181

International Relations

  • Following the enactment of the Bill of Rights and Constitution, “it was necessary, for the future security of the kingdom, to have its independence placed upon the solid basis of a formal recognition by the great powers.”4
  • In July 1842, William Richards and Timothy Ha‘alilio were sent as envoys of the king to visit Washington, D.C., France and Great Britain, and “secure the acknowledgement by those governments of the independence of this nation.”5
  • In March 1845, Richards returned with proclamations from Britain, France, America and Belgium that officially recognized Hawai‘i’s independence. Richards returned alone as Ha‘alilio had died on the return journey.

Land Ownership

  • Governmental reform was accompanied by a revolution in land. The Constitution declared that while all land belonged to Kamehameha, it was not his private property but rather belonged to the chiefs and people in common, of whom Kamehameha was the head.
  • Foreigners, both those seeking economic opportunities and missionaries, advocating for commoners’ rights, continued to pressure the government to adopt Western norms of land ownership. Many chiefs supported this, as they had been making land “agreements” for economic purposes.
  • From 1845 – 1850, the king’s Privy Council established a series of committees and adopted a process to divide up the lands, which had been owned in common.
  • The Māhele of 1848 documented the division of lands agreed among the king and 240 chiefs and konohiki. It defined the Crown lands, held by the king individually; the Government lands, given by the king to the government; and the Chief/Konohiki lands.
  • All lands were “subject to the rights of native tenants” and the Kuleana Act of 1850 detailed the process for these claimants, formalizing the Kuleana lands.
  • While initially prohibiting aliens from acquiring land, pressure by chiefs and foreigners led to the Resident Alien Act of 1850, which ended such restrictions subject to the laws of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
  • This rapid change addressed many cultural misunderstandings about land “agreements” but was confusing and disruptive, particularly for the maka‘āinana. The Māhele remains one of the most controversial decisions of Kauikeaouli’s reign.
“About law process a common native knows nothing. … John Young says in his Report common natives are afraid to go to law. A certain amount of that fear is well – but it is, as things now are, a great evil. They [maka‘āinana] abandon what they know are their rights in thousands of cases.”
— Dr. Dwight Baldwin, missionary on Maui, writing to William Richards, June 3, 18476


“[David Malo was] opposed to allowing land to be sold to foreigners and wanted a ten-year moratorium during which to educate native Hawaiians about land ownership.”
— Sarah Vowell, Unfamiliar Fishes, p. 157, quoting John H. Chambers

Voices of Resistance

  • Hawaiians raised their concerns about the changes. Petitions were submitted from all islands, with hundreds to thousands of signatures.
“Concerning the independence of your kingdom: That you dismiss the foreign officers whom you have appointed to be Hawaiian officers. We do not wish foreigners to take the oath of allegiance and become Hawaiian subjects. We do not wish you to sell any more land pertaining to your kingdom to foreigners.”
— A Petition to Your Gracious Majesty Kamehameha III, and to all your Chiefs in Council Assembled, English translation, Friend, Aug. 11, 1845, p. 1187


“Oh, Your Majesty, our king, oh Kauikeaouli, show love towards us, and free your people from this difficulty that is coming upon us, if so many foreigners enter into this kingdom! … Foreigners come with the property in dollars; they are prepared to buy the land; but we have no property, a people unprepared as we. … If you assent quickly, oh Chiefs, to the buying of land by foreigners, it will soon lead to our being reduced to servitude! The dwelling of many foreigners in this kingdom will tend to increase … though not to increase our prosperity.”
— Petition printed in Hawaiian in Ka Elele Hawai‘i, English translation in The Polynesian, August 9, 1845


“The king has chosen foreign ministers, foreign agents (luna). This is wrong. The Hawaiian people will be debased and the foreign exalted. The Hawaiian people will be trodden under foot by the foreigners. Perhaps not now, or perhaps it will not be long before we shall see it. The land will be diminished, the length and the breadth of it. … The laws of those [foreign] governments will not do for our government. Those are good laws for them, our laws are for us and are good laws for us, which we have made ourselves. We are not slaves to serve them. … Entertaining foreigners therefore is the beginning which will lead to the government’s coming into the hands of the foreigner, and the Hawaiian people becoming their servants to work for them.”
— Samuel M. Kamakau letter to Kauikeaouli, July 22, 1845, describing his conversation with elders, Ruling Chiefs of Hawai‘i, pp. 400 – 401

Even today, widely divergent views abound about the impact of foreign pressures, the bias of naturalized citizens, choices made by the government and the independence of those choices, as the Kingdom of Hawai‘i navigated the nineteenth century.



1 Note that foreigners appointed to government positions were required to take an oath of allegiance to Kamehameha III and renounce allegiance to their home country.

2 Polynesian, May 24, 1845.

3 Petition quoted in Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom 1778 – 1854 Revised, p. 259.

4 Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, p. 187.

5 Letter from Kamehameha III to Sir George Simpson and William Richards, April 8, 1842, quoted in Kuykendall, p. 192.

6 Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, p. 265.

7 Original Hawaiian language petition was called “Na Palapala Hoopii O Na Makaainana” (Petitions of the Maka‘āinana), printed July 1845, in Ka Elele newspaper.

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