Kamehameha III

Kamehameha III (ca. 1814-1854), king of the Hawaiian Islands for 30 years, reigned longer than any Hawaiian ruler. He gave his people a constitution and reformed the land laws.

Kamehameha III, son of Kamehameha I, was born at Keauhou, Hawaii. He became king in 1825 after his brother, Kamehameha II, died in England. Kaahumanu, who had been the favorite wife of Kamehameha I, served as regent until her death in 1832. She had become a devout Protestant, and after her death Kamehameha III was torn between Hawaiian ways and the ways of the Protestant missionaries from New England. After a few years of rebellious dissipation, he became one of Hawaii's great kings. In 1837 he took Kalama as his queen. Their two children died in infancy.

During the reign of Kamehameha III, Protestantism became practically a state religion. Repression of Catholics led in 1839 to troubles with France, which regarded itself as protector of Catholics in the Pacific. Kamehameha III proclaimed religious tolerance, and this became a fact long before the end of his reign.

With Kamehameha's encouragement, the missionaries helped Hawaii make one of the greatest advances in literacy in modern times. Government support of common schools began in 1840. By midcentury most of the population was literate in Hawaiian, and English had become the language of business.

In 1840 Kamehameha proclaimed Hawaii's first constitution. Its preamble included an earlier bill of rights that began, "God hath made of one blood all nations of men." For the first time commoners were chosen to sit in council with the chiefs. An even more liberal constitution in 1852 gave the vote to all male citizens. Three acts after 1845 created an executive ministry, reformed the judiciary, and created a land commission. In a far-reaching reform, land was divided among the chiefs, the king, and the government. By 1850 commoners and foreigners could own land outright.

A serious threat to Hawaii's independence came in 1843. Lord (George) Paulet forced Kamehameha to cede the islands to Great Britain. But 5 months later Adm. Richard Thomas revoked the cession. Kamehameha then uttered the words that have become the motto of Hawaii: "The life of the land is preserved in righteousness."

After a French attack on Honolulu in 1849, Hawaii obtained new treaties with Great Britain and the United States. During Kamehameha III's reign British influence declined, while American influence increased. A movement toward annexation by the United States ended with the King's death.

Further Reading on Kamehameha III

Most of Ralph S. Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, 1778-1854: Foundation and Transformation (1938), concerns Kamehameha III and is the most comprehensive account. For an accurate and interesting account see chapters 3 and 4 of Gavan Daws, Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands (1968).

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