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Last reigning king of the kingdom of hawaii
The basics
Date of birth Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii, U.S.A.
Date of death Jan 20, 1891 San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, U.S.A.
Brother(s): Leleiohoku II
Spouse: Queen Kapiolani
Mother: Keohokālole
Sister(s): Liliuokalani Likelike Anna Kaiulani
Father: Kapaakea
Awards Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, collar of the Order of Isabella the Catholic‎, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Authority ISNI id VIAF id Library of congress id Discogs id Musicbrainz id
The details

Kalākaua (November 16, 1836 – January 20, 1891), born David Laʻamea Kamananakapu Mahinulani Naloiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua and sometimes called The Merrie Monarch, was the last king (and second to last monarch) of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. He reigned from February 12, 1874 until his death in San Francisco, California, on January 20, 1891. Kalākaua had a convivial personality and enjoyed entertaining guests with his singing and ukulele playing. At his coronation and his birthday jubilee, the hula that had been banned from public in the kingdom became a celebration of Hawaiian culture.

During his reign, the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 brought great prosperity to the kingdom. Its renewal continued the prosperity, but allowed the United States to have exclusive use of Pearl Harbor. In 1881, he took a trip around the world to encourage the immigration of contract sugar plantation workers. Kalākaua wanted Hawaiians to broaden their educations beyond their nation, and instituted a government program to financially sponsor students who qualified to be sent abroad to further their educations. Two of Kalākaua's accomplishments, the statue of Kamehameha and the building of ʻIolani Palace, were expensive endeavors but are today popular tourist attractions.

Extravagant expenditures and his plans for a Polynesian confederation played into the hands of annexationists who were already working towards a United States takeover of Hawaii. In 1887, he was pressured to sign a new constitution that made the monarchy little more than a figurehead position. He had faith in his sister Liliuokalani's abilities to rule as regent when he named her as his heir-apparent in 1877. After his death, she became the last monarch of Hawaii.

Early life and family

Kalākaua in his youth, c. 1850.

Kalākaua was born on November 16, 1836, to Caesar Kaluaiku Kapaʻakea and Analea Keohokālole, in the grass hut compound, belonging to his maternal grandfather ʻAikanaka, at the base of Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu on the island of Oʻahu. Of the aliʻi class of Hawaiian nobility, his family were considered collateral relations of the reigning House of Kamehameha sharing common descent from the 18th-century aliʻi nui Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku. From his biological parents, he descended from Keaweaheulu and Kameʻeiamoku, two of the five royal counselors of Kamehameha I during his conquest of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Kameʻeiamoku, the grandfather of both his mother and father, was one of the royal twins alongside Kamanawa depicted on the Hawaiian coat of arms. However, Kalākaua and his siblings traced their high rank from their mother's line of descent, referring to themselves as members the "Keawe-a-Heulu line", although later historians would refer to the family as the House of Kalākaua. The second surviving child of a large family, his biological siblings included his elder brother James Kaliokalani, and younger siblings Lyda Kamakaʻeha (later renamed Liliʻuokalani), Anna Kaʻiulani, Kaʻiminaʻauao, Miriam Likelike and William Pitt Leleiohoku II.

Given the name Kalākaua which translates into "The Day [of] Battle", the date of his birth coincided with the signing of the unequal treaty imposed by British Captain Lord Edward Russell of the Actaeon on Kamehameha III. He along with his siblings were hānai (informally adopted) to other family members in the Native Hawaiian tradition. Prior to birth, his parents had promised to give their child in hānai to Kuini Liliha, a high ranking chiefess and the widow of High Chief Boki. However, after he was born, Kuhina Nui (regent) Elizabeth Kīnaʻu, who disliked Liliha, order his parents to give him to Haʻaheo Kaniu and her husband Keaweamahi Kinimaka instead. When Haʻaheo died in 1843 she bequeathed all her properties to him. After Haʻaheo's death, his guardianship was entrusted in his hānai father, who was a chief of lesser rank; he took Kalākaua to live in Lāhainā. Kinimaka would later marry Pai, a subordinate Tahitian chiefess, who treated Kalākaua as her own until the birth of her own son.

At the age of four, Kalākaua returned to Oʻahu to live with his biological parents and to begin his education at the Chiefs' Children's School. At the school, Kalākaua became fluent in English and the Hawaiian language. After graduating from the Royal School, he studied law under Charles Coffin Harris, who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Hawaii.

Kalākaua was briefly engaged to marry Princess Victoria Kamāmalu, the younger sister of Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V. However, the match was terminated when the princess decided to renew her on and off betrothal to her cousin William Charles Lunalilo. On December 8, 1863, Kalākaua married Kapiʻolani in a quiet ceremony conducted by a minister of the Episcopal Church of Hawaii. The timing of the wedding was heavily criticized since it fell during the mourning period for King Kamehameha IV. A descendant of King Kaumualiʻi of Kauai, Kapiʻolani had been the widow aunt and lady-in-waiting of Kamehameha IV's wife Queen Emma.

Political ascendancy

His various government positions, however, prevented him from fully completing his legal training. In 1853, Crown Prince Liholiho, who would later reign as Kamehameha IV, commissioned Kalākaua as Brevet Captain of the Infantry. He initially received his military training under Major Francis Funk and later served as military secretary to Major John William Elliott Maikai, the adjutant general of the army. He was promoted to Major in the personal staff of King Kamehameha IV by 1856. Kalākaua served as 3rd Chief Clerk of the Department of the Interior in 1859. In 1863,he was appointed Postmaster General. He was also appointed to the House of Nobles of the Legislature of the Kingdom of Hawaii that same year, serving there until 1873.

He was a personal associate and friend of Prince Lot, the future Kamehameha V, who instill his mission of "Hawaii for Hawaiian" in the young Kalākaua. In 1860, he accompanied Prince Lot on his trip to California and Canada.

1873 election

King Kamehameha V, the last monarch of the Kamehameha dynasty, died on December 12, 1872 without naming a successor to the throne. Under the 1864 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii, if the King did not appoint a successor, a new king would be appointed by the legislature to start a new royal line of succession.

There were several candidates for the Hawaiian throne including Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who had been asked to succeed to the throne by Kamehameha V on his deathbed but had declined the offer. However, the contest was centered on the two high-ranking male aliʻi, or chiefs: William Charles Lunalilo and Kalākaua. Lunalilo was more popular, partially because he was a higher-ranking chief than Kalākaua and was the immediate cousin of Kamehameha V. Lunalilo was also the more liberal of the two—he promised to amend the constitution to give the people a greater voice in the government. According to historian Ralph S. Kuykendall, there was an enthusiasm among Lunalilo's supporters to have Lunalilo declared King without having an election. In response, Lunalilo issued a proclamation stating that, even though he believed himself to be the rightful heir to the throne, he would submit to an election for the good of the kingdom. On January 1, 1873, a popular election was held for the office of King of Hawaii. Lunalilo won with an overwhelming majority while Kalākaua performed extremely poorly receiving 12 votes out of the more than 11,000 votes cast. The next day, the legislature confirmed the popular vote and elected Lunalilo unanimously. Kalākaua conceded.

1874 election

Following Lunalilo's ascension, Kalākaua was appointed as Colonel on the military staff of the King. He kept politically active during Lunalilo's reign, including leadership involvement with a political organization known as the Young Hawaiians; the group's motto was "Hawaii for the Hawaiians." He had gained political capital with his staunch opposition to ceding any part of the Hawaiian islands to foreign interests. During the ʻIolani Barracks mutiny of the Royal Guards of Hawaii in September 1873, Kalākaua was suspected to have incited the native guards to rebel against their white officers. Lunalilo responded to the insurrection by disbanding the military unit altogether, leaving Hawaii without a standing army for the remainder of his reign.

The issue of succession was a major concern especially since Lunalilo was unmarried and childless at the time. Queen Dowager Emma, the widow of Kamehameha IV, was considered to be Lunalilo's favorite choice as his presumptive heir. On the other hand, Kalākaua and his political cohorts actively campaigned for him to be named successor in the event of the King's death. Among the other candidates considered viable as Lunalilo's successor was the previously mentioned Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who had strong ties to the United States through her marriage to wealthy American businessman Charles Reed Bishop who also served as one of Lunalilo's cabinet ministers. When Lunalilo, became ill several months after his election, Native Hawaiians counseled with him to appoint a successor to avoid another election. However he may have personally felt about Emma, he never put it in writing. He failed to act on the issue of a successor, and died on February 3, 1874, setting in motion a bitter election.

Bishop chose not to run. Kalākaua's political platform was that he would reign in strict accordance with the kingdom's constitution. Emma campaigned on her assurance that Lunalilo had personally told her he wanted her to succeed him, backed publicly by several individuals who claimed first-hand knowledge of Lunalilo's wishes. With Lunalilo's privy counsel issuing a public denial of that, the kingdom was divided on the issue. British Commissioner James Hay Wodehouse put the British and American forces docked at Honolulu on the alert to possible violence.

The election was held on February 12, and Kalākaua was elected by the Legislative Assembly, with a margin of 39 to 6. His election provoked the Honolulu Courthouse riot in which supporters of Queen Emma targeted legislators who supported Kalākaua; thirteen legislators were injured. The kingdom was without an army since the mutiny the year before and many police officers sent quell the riot joined the mob or did nothing. Unable to control the mob, Kalākaua and Lunalilo's former ministers had to request the military aid of American and British forces docked in the harbor to land and quell the uprising. Given the unfavorable political climate, Kalākaua was quickly sworn in the following day, in a ceremony witnessed by government officials, family members, foreign representatives and some spectators. This inauguration ceremony was held at Kīnaʻu Hale, the residence of the Royal Chamberlain, instead of Kawaiahaʻo Church, as was custom, and the hastiness of the affair would prompt him to hold a coronation ceremony in 1883. Upon ascending to the throne, Kalākaua named his brother, William Pitt Leleiohoku, Leleiohoku II, as his heir-apparent. When Leleiohoku II died in 1877, Kalākaua changed the name of his sister Lydia Dominis to Liliuokalani and designated her as his heir-apparent.

From March to May 1874, he toured the main Hawaiian Islands of Kauai, Maui, Hawaii Island, Molokai and Oahu and visited the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement.


Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 and its extension

Illustration of Kalākaua's state dinner at the White House, meeting with President Ulysses S. Grant.

Within a year of Kalākaua's election, he helped negotiate the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875, a free trade agreement between the United States and Hawaii, that allowed sugar and other products to be exported the US to be duty free. He led the Reciprocity Commission consisting of sugar planter Henry A. P. Carter of C. Brewer & Co., Hawaii Chief Justice Elisha Hunt Allen, and Minister of Foreign Affairs William Lowthian Green. Kalākaua became the first reigning monarch to visit America. The state dinner in his honor hosted by President Ulysses S. Grant was the first White House state dinner ever given.

Many in the Hawaii business community were willing to cede Pearl Harbor to the United States in exchange for the treaty, but Kalākaua was opposed to the idea. A 7-year treaty was signed on January 30, 1875, without giving away any Hawaiian land. San Francisco sugar refiner Claus Spreckels became a major investor in Hawaii's sugar industry, initially buying half of the first year's production, and ultimately being the major shareholder in the plantations. Spreckels became one of Kalākaua's close associates.

At its expiration, an extension of the treaty was negotiated, giving exclusive use of Pearl Harbor to the United States. The ratifications of both parties took 2 years and 11 months, and were exchanged on December 9, 1887, extending the agreement for an additional 7 years.

Over the term of Kalākaua's reign, the treaty had a major effect on the kingdom's income. In 1874, Hawaii exported $1,839,620.27 in products. The value of exported products for 1890, the last full year of his reign, was $13,282,729.48, an increase of 722%. The exportation of sugar during that time period went from 24,566,611 pounds to 330,822,879 pounds.

Education of Hawaiian Youths Abroad

The Education of Hawaiian Youths Abroad was a governmentally funded educational program during Kalākaua's reign aimed at helping students further their educations beyond the institutions available in Hawaii at that time. Between 1880 and 1887, 18 students were selected by Kalākaua for enrollment in a university, or apprenticeship to a trade, outside of the kingdom of Hawaii. The students furthered their educations in Italy, England, Scotland, China, Japan and California. During the life of the program, the legislature appropriated $100, 000 to support it. When the Bayonet Constitution went into effect, the students were recalled back to Hawaii.

Trip around the world

Journey of King Kalākaua in 1881

King Kalākaua and his boyhood friends William Nevins Armstrong and Charles Hastings Judd, along with personal cook Robert von Oelhoffen, circumnavigated the globe in 1881. The 281-day trip was to encourage the importation of contract labor for plantations, and set a world's record for the first monarch to achieve the feat. He appointed his sister and heir-apparent Liliuokalani to act as Regent during his absence.

Setting sail on January 20, they visited California before sailing to Asia where they spent four months opening contract labor dialogue in Japan and China, while sightseeing and spreading good will through nations that were potential sources of contract labor. They continued through Southeast Asia, and then headed for Europe in June, where they stayed until mid-September. Their most productive immigration talks were in Portugal, where Armstrong stayed behind to negotiate an expansion of Hawaii's existing treaty with the government.

President James A. Garfield in Washington, D.C. had been assassinated in their absence, and on their return trip to the United States, Kalākaua paid a courtesy call on Garafield's successor President Chester A. Arthur. Before embarking on a train ride across the United States, Kalākaua visited Thomas Edison for a demonstration of electric lighting, discussing its potential use in Honolulu.

They departed for Hawaii from San Francisco on October 22, arriving in Honolulu on October 31. His homecoming celebration went on for days. He had brought the small island nation to the attention of world leaders, but the trip had sparked rumors that the kingdom was for sale. In Hawaii there were critics who believed the labor negotiations were just his excuse to see the world. Eventually his efforts bore fruit in increased contract labor for Hawaii.

Thrum's Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1883 reported Kalākaua's tour expense appropriated by the government as $22,500, although his personal correspondence indicates he exceeded that early on, and exact tallies of the trip are not known. Any non-government private expenses or debts would not necessarily have become public.

ʻIolani Palace

ʻIolani Palace is the only royal palace that exists on American soil today. Governor of Oʻahu Kekūanāoʻa built the first coral and wood palace on the grounds. It served primarily as office space for the kingdom's monarchs beginning with Kamehameha III in 1845. By the time Kalākaua became king, the structure had decayed, and he ordered it destroyed to be replaced with a new building. During the 1878 session of the legislature Finance Chairman Walter Murray Gibson, a political supporter of Kalākaua's, pushed through appropriations of $50,000 for the new palace.

Construction was begun in 1879, with an additional $80,000 later to furnish it and complete the construction. Three architects worked on the design, Thomas J. Baker, Charles J. Wall and Issac Moore. December 31, 1879, the 45th birthday of Queen Kapiolani, was the date Kalākaua chose for the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone. Minister of Foreign Relations John Makini Kapena delivered the formal address for the ceremony in the Hawaiian language. As Master of the Freemason Lodge Le Progres de L'Oceanie, Kalākaua charged the freemasons with orchestrating the ceremonies. The parade preceding the laying of the cornerstone involved every civilian and military organization in Hawaii, and noted by The Pacific Commercial Advertiser as "one of the largest seen in Honolulu for some years." A copper time capsule containing photographs, documents, currency, and the Hawaiian census were sealed inside the cornerstone. After speeches were made, the freemasons presented the King with "the working tools of a mason", a plumb bob, level, square tool, and a trowel.

Even though it was not fully completed until December 1882, the King was living there prior to his leaving for his world tour. In between the laying of the cornerstone and the finishing of the new palace, Kalākaua had seen how other monarchies lived, and he wanted ʻIolani to measure up to the standards of the rest of the world. The furnishing and interiors of the finished palace were reflective of that. Immediately upon completion, the King invited all 120 members of Lodge Le Progres de L'Oceanie to the palace for a lodge meeting.

Kalākaua had also seen during his visit to Edison's studio how effective electric lighting could be for the kingdom. In 1886, ʻIolani Palace led the way with the first electric lights in the kingdom, and showcased the technology. The monarchy invited the public to attend the first-night lighting ceremonies, and 5,000 people showed up. The Royal Hawaiian Band entertained, refreshments were served, and the King on horseback paraded his troops around the grounds.

The total cost of building and furnishing the new palace was $343.595.

1883 Coronation

Kalākaua and Kapiolani had been denied a coronation ceremony in 1874, due to the civil unrest that happened after the election. Under Finance Chairman Gibson, the 1880 legislature appropriated $10,000 for a coronation. Gibson was believed to be the main proponent behind the event, and on October 10, 1882, the Saturday Press indicated that not all of the public was in favor of the coronation. By this point in time, Gibson's role in the kingdom's finances and his influence on Kalākaua were beginning to come under scrutiny, "Our versatile Premier...is pulling another string in this puppet farce." At the same time, the newspaper rebuked many of the recent actions and policies of not only Gibson, but also of the King's cabinet in general.

The coronation ceremony and related celebratory events, were spread out over a two-week period. A special octagon-shaped pavilion and grandstand were built for the February 12, 1883 ceremony. Preparations were made for an anticipated crowd exceeding 5,000, with lawn chairs to accommodate any overflow. Prior the actual event, a procession of 630 adults and children paraded from downtown to the palace. Kalākaua and Kapiolani, accompanied by their royal retinue, came out of the palace onto the event grounds. The actual coronation was preceded by the singing of a choir and the formal recitation of all the King's official titles. The news coverage noted, "The King looked ill at ease." Chief Justice of Hawaii's Supreme Court Albert Francis Judd officiated and delivered the oath of office to the King. The crown was then handed to Kalākaua, and he placed it upon his head. The ceremony ended with the singing of the choir, and a prayer. A planned post-coronation reception by Kalākaua and Kapiolani was cancelled without advance notice. Today, Kalākaua's coronation pavilion serves as the bandstand for the Royal Hawaiian Band.

Following the ceremony, Kalākaua unveiled the Kamehameha Statue in front of Aliiolani Hale, the government building, with Gibson delivering the unveiling speech. This statue was a second replica. Originally intended for the centennial of Captain James Cook's landing Hawaii, the statue, which was the brainchild of Gibson, had been originally cast by Thomas Ridgeway Gould but had been lost during the shipment off the Falkland Islands. By the time the replica arrived, the intended date had passed and it was decided to unveil the statue as a part of the coronation ceremony. Afterward, the original statue had been salvaged, and after restoration, it was sent to Kohala, Hawaii, Kamehameha's birthplace, where it was unveiled by the King on May 8. The legislature had allocated $10,000 for the first statue and insured at $12,000 while a further $7,000 was allocated for the second statue with an additional $4,000 from the insurance money spent for the addition of four bas relief panels depicting historic moments during Kamehamena's reign.

That evening, the royal couple hosted a state dinner, and there was a luau at a later day. The hula was performed every night on palace grounds. Boat regattas, horse races and a number of events filled the celebration period. Due to weather conditions, the planned illumination of the palace and grounds for the day of the coronation happened a week later, and the public was invited to attend. Fireworks displays lit up the sky at both the palace and at Punchbowl Crater. A grand ball was held the evening of February 20.

Although exact figures are unknown, historian Kuykendall stated that the final cost of the coronation exceeded $50,000.

Kalākaua coinage

Kalākaua 1883 dime

The Kalākaua coinage was minted to boost Hawaiian pride. At this time, United States gold coins had been accepted for any debt over $50; Any debt under $50 was payable by US silver coins. In 1880, the legislature of the kingdom passed a currency law that allowed the kingdom to purchase the bullion for the United States mint to produce Hawaii's own coins. The design would have the King's image on the obverse side, with Hawaii's coat of arms and motto Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono on the reverse. In a deal with Claus Spreckels, he sponsored the minting by purchasing the silver to be used. In return, he was guaranteed an equal amount of 6% gold bonds, thereby giving him a guaranteed profit.

When silver coins began circulating in December 1883, the business community was reluctant to accept them for fear they would drive the US gold coins out of the market. Spreckels opened his own bank to circulate the new silver coins. Business owners feared economic inflation and lost faith in the government, as did foreign governments. Political fallout of the coinage was the 1884 election-year shift towards the Kuokoa (independent) Party in the legislature, which passed the Currency Act to restrict acceptance of silver coin as payment for debts under $10. Exchange of silver for gold at the treasury was then limited to $150,000 a month. In 1903, the Hawaii silver coins were redeemed for US silver and melted down at the San Francisco Mint.

Birthday Jubilee, November 15–29, 1886

Kalākaua's 50th birthday on November 16, 1886 was celebrated with a two-week jubilee. Gibson had by this time joined the King's cabinet as Prime Minister of Hawaii. He and Minister of the Interior Luther Aholo on September 20 put forth a motion for the legislature to form a committee to oversee the birthday jubilee. The motion was approved, and upon Gibson's subsequent request, the legislature appropriated $15,000 for the jubilee. An announcement was made on November 3 that all government schools would be closed the week of November 15.

Gifts for the King began arriving on November 15. At midnight, the jubilee officially began with fireworks at the Punchbowl crater. At sunrise, the kingdom's police force arrived at ʻIolani Palace to pay tribute, followed by the King's Cabinet, Supreme Court justices, the kingdom diplomats, and officials of individual government departments. School student bodies and civic organizations also paid tribute. The Royal Hawaiian Band played throughout the day. In the afternoon, the doors of the palace were opened to all the officials and organizations, and the general public. In the evening, the palace was aglow with lanterns, candles and electric lighting, "The electric light at once threw in a flood of radiance over the Palace and grounds." The evening ended with a Fireman's Parade and fireworks. Throughout the next two weeks, there was a regatta, a Jubilee Ball, a luau, athletic competitions, a state dinner, and a marksmanship contest won by the Honolulu Rifles.

Harper's Weekly reported in 1891 that the final cost of the jubilee was $75,000.

Military pomp

Kalakaua with his military staff officers, 1882

The reign of Kalakaua was characterized by the monarch's emphasis on military pomp. During the early part of his reign, he restored the Household Guards which had been defunct since his predecessor Lunalilo abolished it in 1874 and initially created three volunteer companies: the Leleiohoku Guard, a cavalry unit, the Prince's Own, an artillery unit, and the Hawaiian Guards, an infantry unit. By the latter part of his reign, the army of the Kingdom of Hawaii consisted of six volunteer companies, including the King's Own, the Queen's Own, the Prince's Own, the Leleiohoku Guard, the Mamalahoa Guard and the Honolulu Rifles, and the regular troops of the King's Household Guard. The ranks of these regiments were composed mainly of Hawaiian and part-Hawaiian officers with a few white officers including his brother-in-law John Owen Dominis. Each units were subject to call for active service when necessary. The king and the Governor of Oahu also had their own personal staff of military officers with the ranks of Colonel and Major.

On October 1, 1886, the military act of 1886 was passed which created a Department of War and of the Navy under the Minister of Foreign Affairs as Secretary of War and of the Navy. Dominis was appointed Lieutenant General and Commander-in-Chief and other officers were commissioned while the king was made the Supreme Commander and Generalissimo of the Hawaiian Army. Around this time, the government also bought and commissioned the His Hawaiian Majesty's Ship (HHMS) Kaimiloa, the first and only vessel of the Hawaiian Royal Navy, under the command of Captain was George E. Gresley Jackson. The military commissions creating Dominis and his staff officers were recalled for economic reasons and the military act of 1886 was later declared unconstitutional. A 1888 military act was passed reducing the size of the army to four volunteer companies: the Honolulu Rifles, the King's Own, the Queen's Own, the Prince's Own, and the Leleiohoku Guard. In 1890, another military act further restricted the army to just the King's Royal Guards.

Polynesian confederation

Portrait of Kalakaua

The idea of Hawaii's involvement in the internal affairs of Polynesian nations had been around at least two decades before Kalākaua's election, when Australian Charles St Julian volunteered to be a political liaison to Hawaii in 1853. Nothing of any significance was accomplished by St Julian. Kalākaua's interest in forming a Polynesian coalition, with him at the head, was influenced by both Walter M. Gibson and Italian soldier of fortune Celso Caesar Moreno. The latter urged the King in 1879 to create such a realm with Hawaii at the top of the empire, " ... uniting under your sceptre the whole Polynesian race and make Honolulu a monarchical Washington, where the representatives of all the islands would convene in Congress."

In response to activities of Germany and Great Britain in Oceania, Gibson's Pacific Commercial Advertiser urged Hawaii's involvement in protecting the island nations from international aggression. Gibson was appointed to Kalākaua's cabinet as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1882. In 1883, he introduced the approved legislation to convey in writing to foreign governments that Hawaii fully supported the independence of Polynesian nations. The subsequent "Hawaiian protest" letter he drafted was mostly ignored by nations that received it, and The Daily Bulletin in Honolulu issued its own response, "Hawaii's true policy is to confine her attention to herself, ...". The Hawaiian Gazette criticized Gibson's character and mockingly referred to the proposed venture as the "Empire of the Calabash".

In 1885, Gibson dispatched Minister to the United States Henry A. P. Carter to Washington D. C. and Europe to convey Hawaii's intentions towards Polynesia. Carter made little headway for Gibson's instructions. Gibson pushed for direct intervention into a political upheaval in Samoa, where rebels under their leader Tamasese were backed by the German Empire in an attempt to overthrow King Malietoa Laupepa. In an effort to keep Malietoa Laupepa in power, Gibson convinced the 1886 legislature to allocate $100,000 to purchase the steamship Zealandia, $50,000 for its operating expenses, and $35,000 for foreign missions. United States special commissioner to Samoa, George H. Bates advised Kalākaua that Hawaii should mind its own business and stay out of Samoan affairs. Instead, Hawaii sent a delegation headed by John E. Bush to Samoa, where Samoan King Malietoa Laupepa signed a Samoan-Hawaiian confederation treaty on February 17, 1887. Bush also presented Malietoa with the Royal Order of the Star of Oceania, which Kalakaua had created to honor the monarchs and chiefs of the Polynesian confederation. The HHMS Kaimiloa was sent by government for Bush's use in visiting the chiefs of the other islands of Polynesia.

The United States and Great Britain joined with Germany in expressing their disapproval of the treaty. Germany warned the United States and Great Britain, "In case Hawaii ... should try to interfere in favor of Malietoa, the King of the Sandwich Islands would thereby enter into [a] state of war with us." When German warships arrived in Samoan waters, Malietoa surrendered and was sent into exile. The Kaimiloa and Bush's delegation were also recalled back to Honolulu after the ousting of the Gibson administration. Kalākaua's later explanation of Hawaii's interference in Samoa was, "Our Mission was simply a Mission of phylanthropy more than any thing, but the arogance [sic] of the Germans prevented our good intentions and . . . we had to withdraw the Mission."

1887 Bayonet Constitution

Kalākaua was a man of searching intelligence, who sought to enhance Hawaii's position among nations. He was fascinated with scientific advancements, and sought spiritual knowledge without limitations to any particular faith. The king was also someone who made errors of judgement in choosing his friends and advisors, a liability that helped lead to a new constitution. Caesar Celso Moreno, while ingratiating his way into Kalākaua's favor, also made several attempts at manipulating the legislature into passing bills that would financially benefit himself. The king also chose Jewish immigrant Elias Abraham Rosenberg as his personal kahuna, and named him to several low-level government positions. There were rumors about Rosenberg's background, but nobody really knew much about him. He specialized in reading the king's horoscope while he taught him Hebrew. Many in Kalākaua's inner circle, Gibson in particular, viewed Rosenberg with suspicion and deemed him to be nothing more than a fortune teller. Rosenberg left Hawaii three weeks before the forced change in the constitution.

In Memoirs of the Hawaiian Revolution, Sanford B. Dole devoted a chapter to the Bayonet constitution. He stated that King Kalākaua appointed cabinet members not for their ability to do the job, but for their ability to bend to his will. Consequently, according to Dole, appropriated funds were shifted from one account to another, "for fantastic enterprises and for the personal aggrandizement of the royal family." Dole placed much of the blame on Gibson, and accused Kalākaua of taking a bribe of $71,000 from Tong Kee to grant an opium license, an action done via one of the king's henchmen Junius Kaʻae.

The Hawaiian League was formed to change the status quo of government "by all means necessary", and had joined forces with the Honolulu Rifles militia group. Kalākaua and Gibson anticipated a forced upheaval and reacted with the resignation of the entire cabinet on June 28. The Hawaiian Gazette published the resignations as an unconfirmed report. Fearing an assassination was not out of the question, Kalākaua barricaded himself inside the palace. The Hawaiian League on June 30 presented a Resolution to the King that not only demanded the resignation of Gibson, but also required the King's restitution for the alleged bribe. Appointed to present the Resolution to Kalākaua were the "committee of thirteen": Paul Isenberg, William W. Hall, James A. Kennedy, William Hyde Rice, Captain James A. King, E. B. Thomas, H. C. Reed, John Mark Vivas, W. P. A. Brewer, Rev. W. B. Oleson, Cecil Brown, Captain George Ross and Joseph Ballard Atherton.

The new cabinet appointed were William Lowthian Green as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Clarence W. Ashford as Attorney General, Lorrin A. Thurston as Minister of the Interior, and Godfrey Brown as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

A new constitution was immediately drafted by the Hawaiian Committee, and presented to Kalākaua for his signature on July 6. The next day he issued a proclamation of the abrogation of the 1864 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The new constitution was nicknamed the Bayonet Constitution because of the duress under which it was signed. His sister Liliuokalani stated in Hawaii's Story that her brother was convinced that if he didn't sign, he would be assassinated. She wrote that he no longer knew who was friend or foe, felt betrayed by people he once trusted, and had told her that everywhere he went he was under constant surveillance.

The Bayonet Constitution allowed the King to appoint his cabinet, but placed that cabinet under the authority of only the legislature. It required any executive actions of the monarch to be approved by the cabinet. Previous suffrage (voting rights) was restricted to male subjects of the kingdom. The new constitution restricted suffrage to only Hawaiian, American or European male residing in Hawaii, as long as they were 21 years old, literate with no back unpaid taxes, and would take an oath to support the law of the land. By placing a new minimum qualifier of $3,000 in property ownership and a minimum income of $600, the new constitution disqualified many Native Hawaiians and naturalized Asians from voting.

Gibson was arrested on July 1 and charged with embezzlement of public funds. The case was soon dropped for lack of evidence. Gibson fled to California on July 12, and died there 6 months later on January 21, 1888.

When the new constitution went into effect, state-sponsored students studying abroad were recalled. One of those was Robert William Wilcox who had been sent to Italy for military training. Wilcox's initial reaction to the turn of events was advocating Liliuokalani's being installed as Regent, but on July 30, 1889, he and Robert Boyd, another state-sponsored student, led a rebellion aimed at restoring the 1864 constitution, and, thereby, the King's power. Kalākaua, possibly fearing Wilcox intended to force him to abdicate in favor of his sister, was not in the palace when the insurrection happened, and the government's military defense led to the surrender of the Wilcox's insurgents.

Death and succession

Kalākaua (in white slacks) aboard the USS Charleston en route to San Francisco

Kalākaua sailed for California aboard the USS Charleston on November 25, 1890. Accompanying him were his trusted friends George W. Macfarlane and Robert Hoapili Baker. There were uncertainties with the purpose of the King's trip. Minister of Foreign Affairs John Adams Cummins reported that the trip was solely for the King's health and would not extend beyond California while local newspapers and the British commissioner Wodehouse worried that the King may go further east to Washington, DC for negotiating a treaty and the cessation of Pearl Harbor or the annexation of the kingdom. His sister Liliʻuokalani, after unsuccessfully dissuading his departure, wrote that he meant to discuss the McKinley Tariff in Washington with the Hawaiian ambassador to the United States Henry A. P. Carter. She was once again appointed to serve as regent during his absence.

Upon arriving in California, the party landed in San Francisco on December 5. Kalākaua, whose health had been declining, stayed in a suite at the Palace Hotel. Traveling throughout Southern California and Northern Mexico, he suffered a minor stroke in Santa Barbara and was rushed back to San Francisco. He was placed under the care of George W. Woods, surgeon of the United States Pacific fleet. Against the advice of Dr. Woods, Kalākaua insisted on going to his initiation at Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.) on January 14. He was given a tonic of Vin Mariani that got him on his feet, and he was accompanied to the rites by an escort from the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. The ceremonies did not take long, and he was returned to his suite within an hour. Two days before his death, he lapsed into a coma. Kalākaua died at 2:35 pm on Tuesday on January 20, 1891. The official cause of death, listed by US Navy officials was that the King had died from Bright's Disease (inflammation of the kidneys).

His final words were, "Aue, he kanaka au, eia i loko o ke kukonukonu o ka maʻi!," or "Alas, I am a man who is seriously ill." The more popular quote, "Tell my people I tried," attributed as his last words, was actually invented by novelist Eugene Burns in his 1952 biography of Kalākaua, The Last King of Paradise. Shortly before his death his voice was recorded on a phonograph cylinder, which is now in the Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

The news of Kalākaua's death did not reach Hawaii until January 29 when the Charleston returned to Honolulu with the remains of the King. As his designated heir-apparent, Liliuokalani ascended to the throne on January 29.


The reign of Kalākaua is generally regarded as the first Hawaiian Renaissance, for both his influence on Hawaii's music, and also for other contributions he made to reinvigorate Hawaiian culture. This movement inspired the reawakening Hawaiian pride and nationalism for the kingdom.

During the earlier reign of Christian convert Kaʻahumanu, dancing the hula became punishable by law. Subsequent monarchs gradually began allowing the hula, but it was Kalākaua who brought it back in full force. Chants, meles and the hula were on the official entertainment at Kalākaua's coronation and his birthday jubilee. He issued an invitation to all Hawaiians with knowledge of the old meles and chants to participate in the coronation, and arranged for musicologist A. Marques to observe the celebrations. Kalākaua's cultural legacy lives on in the Merrie Monarch Festival, a large-scale annual hula competition in Hilo, Hawaii, begun in 1964 and named in his honor. A composer of the ancient chants or mele, Kalākaua published the Kumulipo, a 2,102-line chant that had traditionally been passed down orally, putting it into writing for the first time. It traces the royal lineage and the creation of the cosmos. He is also known to have revived the Hawaiian martial art of Lua, and surfing.

The Hawaiian Board of Health (different from the governmental Board of Health) passed by the 1886 legislature consisted of five Native Hawaiians, appointed by Kalākaua, who oversaw the licensing and regulation of the traditional practice of native healing arts. He also appointed Emma Kaili Metcalf Beckley Nakuina as the first Native Hawaiian curator of the Hawaiian National Museum and increased funding for the institution.

In 1886, Kalākaua had his Privy Council license the ancient Hale Naua secret society for persons of Hawaiian ancestry. The original Hale Naua had not been active since Kamehameha I, when it had functioned as a genealogical research organization for claims of royal lineage. When Kalākaua reactivated it, he expanded its purpose to encompass Hawaiian culture as well as modern-day arts and sciences, and included women as equals. The ranks of the society grew to more than 200 members, and was a political support for Kalākaua that lasted until his death in 1891. In 2004, the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History displayed Kalākaua's red-and-yellow feathered Hale Naua ʻahuʻula and feathered kāhili as part of its Hawaiian special exhibit.

Kalākaua and his brother and sisters have been honored by the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame as the Na Lani 'Ehā (The Royal Four) for their patronage and enrichment of Hawaii's musical culture and history. "Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī" was officially designated the Hawaii state anthem in 1967. Originally titled "Hymn to Kamehameha I", Henri Berger, leader of the Royal Hawaiian Band, wrote the instrumental melody in 1872, influenced by the Prussian anthem "Heil dir im Siegerkranz". Kalākaua added the lyrics in 1874, and the Kawaiahaʻo Church Choir sang it on his birthday that year. In 1876, it became the official anthem of the Kingdom of Hawaii until the overthrow of the monarchy. Other works by the King include "Sweet Lei Lehua", "ʻAkahi Hoʻi", "E Nihi Ka Hele", "Ka Momi", and "Koni Au I Ka Wai" and seven of his songs were published in Ka Buke O Na Leo Mele Hawaii (1888) using the pseudonym "Figgs". He generally only wrote the lyrics for most of his surviving works.

King Kalākaua, Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, and "Kalākaua's Singing Boys", his own personal headed choir, c. 1889

The ukulele was introduced to the Hawaiian islands during the reign of Kalākaua, by Portuguese immigrants from Madeira and Cape Verde: Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias. The King became proficient on the instrument. He would often play the ukulele and perform meles for his visitors, accompanied by his personal musical group Kalākaua's Singing Boys (aka King's Singing Boys), according to American journalist Mary Hannah Krout and Hawaii resident Isobel Osbourne Strong, wife of artist Joseph Dwight Strong and stepdaughter of Robert Louis Stevenson. Strong recalled the Singing Boys as "the best singers and performers on the ukulele and guitar in the whole islands." He was inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame in 1997.

Kalākaua Avenue was created in March, 1905, by the House and Senate of the Hawaii Territorial Legislature renaming the highway known as Waikiki Road, "to commemorate the name of his late Majesty Kalākaua, during whose reign Hawaii made great advancement in material prosperity".

The King David Kalakaua Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 under its former name U.S. Post Office, Customhouse, and Courthouse. Located at 335 Merchant Street in Honolulu, it was once the official seat of administration for the Territory of Hawaii. The building was renamed for Kalākaua in 2003.

In 1985, a bronze statue of Kalākaua was donated to the City and County of Honolulu to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese laborers after the King's visit to Japan. It was commissioned by the Oahu Kanyaku Imin Centennial Committee on behalf of the Japanese-American community of Hawaii. The statue was designed and created by musician Palani Vaughan, architect Leland Onekea and Native Hawaiian sculptor Sean Kekamakupaa Kaonohiokalani Lee Loy Browne. It is located at the corner of Kalakaua and Kapiolani avenues in Waikiki.

A Hawaiian song about Kalākaua can be heard in the Disney movie Lilo & Stitch. It is heard when Lilo is introduced in the movie. The mele was written as a mele inoa, its original title being He Inoa No Kalani Kalākaua Kulele (a namesong for the chief, Kalākaua). On the Lilo & Stitch soundtrack, it was retitled as "He Mele No Lilo".

Arms and monograms

Royal Monogram of Kalakaua I of Hawaii without crown.svg
Royal Coat of Arms of Hawaii (Kalakaua).svg
Royal Monogram of King Kalakaua of Hawaii, Variant.svg
Monogram of King Kalakaua
Coat of arms of the Kalākaua Dynasty
Monogram of King Kalakaua


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