Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bayonet Constitution

“A conspiracy against the peace of the Hawaiian Kingdom had been taking shape since early spring.”  (Liliʻuokalani)

In 1887, the struggle for control of Hawaiʻi was at its height with David Kalākaua on the throne. But some of the businessmen were distrustful of him.

“So the mercantile element, as embodied in the Chamber of Commerce, the sugar planters, and the proprietors of the "missionary" stores, formed a distinct political party, called the "down-town" party, whose purpose was to minimize or entirely subvert other interests, and especially the prerogatives of the crown, which, based upon ancient custom and the authority of the island chiefs, were the sole guaranty of our nationality.”  (Liliʻuokalani)

“Kalākaua valued the commercial and industrial prosperity of his kingdom highly. … He freely gave his personal efforts to the securing of a reciprocity treaty with the United States, and sought the co-operation of that great and powerful nation, because he was persuaded it would enrich, or benefit, not one class, but, in a greater or less degree, all his subjects.”  (Liliʻuokalani)

The Hawaiian League (aka Committee of Thirteen, Committee of Public Safety and Annexation Club) were unhappy with the rule of Kalākaua and used threats to force the king to adopt a new constitution.

With firearms in hand, in 1887 members of the Hawaiian League presented King Kalākaua with a new constitution. Kalākaua signed the constitution under threat of use of force. (hawaiibar-org)

The opposition used the threat of violence to force the Kalākaua to accept a new constitution that stripped the monarchy of executive powers and replaced the cabinet with members of the businessmen's party.  (archives-gov)

The Hawaiian League came into control of the Honolulu Rifles (made of about 200 armed men.)  In June 1887, the Hawaiian League used the Rifles to force King Kalākaua to enact a new Constitution.  (Kukendall)

As a result, the new constitution earned the nickname, The Bayonet Constitution.

On July 1, Kalākaua asked his entire cabinet to resign.

The Constitution of 1887 was a revision of the constitution of 1864, just as the latter was a revision of the constitution of 1852. In the revision, the main objects sought were to take from the king the greater part of the power exercised by him under the constitution of 1864 and to make him in effect a ceremonial figure somewhat like the sovereign of Great Britain.  (ksbe-edu)

The Bayonet Constitution greatly curtailed the monarch's power, making him a mere figurehead; it placed executive power in the hands of a cabinet whose members could no longer be dismissed by the monarch but only by the legislature; it provided for election of the House of Nobles, formerly appointed by  the monarch.  (hawaiibar-org)

As to voting rights, it extended the vote to non-citizen, foreign residents of European and American background (Asians were excluded), thereby ending Native Hawaiian majority rule in the legislature. And it required that voters and candidates for the legislature meet high property ownership or income requirements.  (hawaiibar-org)

This requirement excluded two-thirds of the formerly eligible Native Hawaiians from voting. For those who could still vote, they first had to swear allegiance to the Bayonet Constitution.  (hawaiibar-org)

“… the King asked the Diplomatic Representatives present to name a Cabinet for him which they declined to do, provided   Mr Green was allowed to do so for himself.  The following is the Cabinet selected by Mr Green, which has been approved by the King and they have entered upon their official duties: WL Green, Minister of Finance and Premier; Godfrey Brown, Minister of Foreign Affairs; LA Thurston, Minister of the Interior; and CV Ashford, Attorney General” (the Hawaiian Gazette, July 5, 1887)

Kalākaua signed the document July 6, 1887, despite arguments over the scope of the changes. It created a constitutional monarchy like that of the United Kingdom.

In addition, it placed the executive power, as a practical matter, in the hands of a cabinet appointed by the king but responsible to the legislature; changed the character of the legislature by making the nobles as well as the representatives elective, by redefining the qualifications of nobles, representatives and electors; and made it less easy for the king to exercise a personal influence over members of the legislature.  (ksbe-edu)

The king's authority as commander-in-chief of the military forces was modified by a new clause providing that "no military or naval force shall be organized except by the authority of the Legislature."

LA Thurston touched briefly on this subject in his account of the Revolution of 1887: “An allegation has been made that the 1887 constitution was not legally enacted ... Unquestionably the constitution was not in accordance with law; neither was the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Both were revolutionary documents, which had to be forcibly effected and forcibly maintained.”  (kuykendall)

On July 30, 1889, Robert William Wilcox led a rebellion to restore the rights of the monarchy, two years after the Bayonet Constitution of 1887 had left King Kalākaua a mere figurehead.

By the evening, Wilcox became a prisoner and charged with high treason by the government.  He was tried for treason, but acquitted by the jury.

Two years later, Kalākaua retired to Waikīkī.  His health began to fail by 1890 and under the advice of his physician he traveled to San Francisco, where he was given a warm welcome. "A title was a title, and (the Americans) enjoyed him as a personality." (Tabrah))

Kalākaua died on January 20, 1891, at the age 54, at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.  Kalākaua, Hawaiʻi’s last King, is said to have uttered his last words: "Tell my people I tried."

The image shows some of the “Honolulu Rifles,” the militia in support of the 1887 Constitution.  In addition, I have included other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Google+ page.

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