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  • The 1873 Election in Hawai‘i between Prince William Charles Lunalilo and the Other Candidate
  • Tiffany Ing-Tsai (bio)

While he lay on his deathbed on the morning of December 11, 1872, Lot Kapuāiwa, King Kamehameha V, was called upon to perform one last duty as mō‘ī (king). Attorney General Stephen H. Phillips and Governor John O. Dominis implored Kapuāiwa to name his successor. A few names came up. Bernice Pauahi Bishop refused the title despite the mō‘ī’s insistence, and Kapuāiwa turned down Pauahi’s recommendations of Ruth Ke‘elikōlani and Queen Emma.1 Unfortunately, Kapuāiwa died before he selected a successor. The Constitution of 1864, the one Kapuāiwa created to replace Kauikeauoli, King Kamehameha III’s 1852 Constitution, mandated that if a sovereign failed to name a successor the next mō‘ī would be decided by legislative vote. Thus, Kapuāiwa’s passing marked a new epoch in Hawai‘i’s history. For the first time, the legislature would decide who would reign as king.

This article focuses on that 1873 election as documented by the newspapers printed in Hawai‘i during that time. Mainstream [End Page 53] English-language narratives about the 1873 election, such as Ralph S. Kuykendall’s Hawaiian Kingdom vol. 2: Twenty Critical Years, present maka‘āinana support for William Charles Lunalilo as one-dimensional.2 By utilizing a broader range of resources, this account provides a more nuanced sense of native and non-native backing for Lunalilo. In particular, this article will show how maka‘āinana and editors used the newspapers as a venue to publish their early united support for Lunalilo. Support of Lunalilo in light of his proposal to restore the 1852 Constitution can also be seen in the English-language Pacific Commercial Advertiser (PCA). Finally, this article will show that while Kapuāiwa’s death left the kingdom perplexed as to a successor, the newspapers’ reports of Hawai‘i’s first election demonstrate how a confident Lunalilo coolly settled into his title as mō‘ī long before the votes were cast.

The Candidates to Succeed Kapuāiwa

Albert Francis Judd, who served in both the House of Representatives and the House of Nobles beginning in 1868, remembered how he “called upon [Lunalilo] the morning the King died, and told him that the Nation naturally looked up to him as the probable next King.”3 This was surprising, because during his political career as a noble and representative, prior to ascending the throne, Lunalilo had been described as “having had the cold shoulder given him by the late Kings, and never having been entrusted with any Government responsibility.”4 Both Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V disliked Lunalilo, prohibited his courting of their sister, Victoria Kamāmalu, and limited his government experience under their reigns.5 Judd himself continued by noting, “Lunalilo was from mere boyhood addicted to the excessive use of intoxicating drinks.”6 The chief’s problem with alcohol was particularly serious. Lili‘uokalani made clear that “there were grave reasons” why Lunalilo was an “injudicious” choice as successor, and that at the time of Kapuāiwa’s death, Charles Reed Bishop was Lunalilo’s guardian, apportioning $25 per month to the prince as a result, in part, of his land being “out of his own control.”7 For this reason, although Lunalilo and Kalākaua were the main competitors for the title of mō‘ī in 1873, the names Pauahi, Ke‘elikōlani, and Queen Emma also appeared on the ballot.8 [End Page 54]

Nevertheless, Lunalilo’s high-ranking lineage, which linked him to Kamehameha I, and his official title as prince, which will be discussed in this article, appealed to most native voters because the Kamehamehas were mō‘ī.9 In Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, Lili‘uokalani confirms that “The foremost candidate for the vacancy was undoubtedly the king’s first cousin, Prince William Lunalilo; and in the matter of birth nothing could be said adverse to his claim.”10 Through his grandfather Kala‘imamahū, the half-brother of Kamehameha I, Lunalilo was the grandnephew of the great mō‘ī. He was also the son of the former...


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