Prince Kuhio is a beloved figure in Hawaii, with many accomplishments to his name. But the celebration of his birthday last week got me thinking about a little remarked upon facet of his career.
Because of him, the Republican Party was able to crush the nascent Hawaiian opposition and gain a 50-year stranglehold on the politics of the territory.
It went like this.
Full democracy for male Hawaiians was granted through Lunalilo's efforts in 1873, but property qualifications were reimposed when the Bayonet Constitution was forced upon Kalakaua in 1887. That injustice was perpetuated when the Provisional Government overthrew Lili'uokalani in 1893 and again, by the Republic of Hawaii.
When Hawaii was annexed to the United States in 1898, Gov. Sanford B. Dole and Lorrin Thurston argued vehemently that Hawaiians were politically too immature to govern themselves. "I believe it is extremely necessary to keep out of politics this class of people, irresponsible people I mean," said Dole.
The U.S. Congress, however, was adamant that Hawaiians have the same voting rights as any American citizen. As long as they were male, of age, met residency requirements, and were capable of reading and writing in English or the Hawaiian language, Hawaiians could participate in all local elections.
Chinese were excluded from voting under the United States' Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Under the guise of requiring that voters spoke either Hawaiian or English, however, Hawaii's sizable Japanese population was excluded as well.
The Hawaiians were a shrinking race, with only 28,718 full-blooded and 9,536 part-Hawaiians counted in the census of 1900. This was a fraction of Hawaii's total population of 154,000, but now they possessed a huge advantage at the polls, with two-thirds of the vote in the territory.
It was a tremendous opportunity for Hawaiians to form their own political parties and wrest power back from those who had disenfranchised them for 30 years. Had they been able to accomplish this, the future of Hawaii would have been very different.
(Imagine large tracts of government lands leased to Hawaiian entrepreneurs, not haole ranchers and plantation owners! Imagine the government buying back the water channels from East Maui, and diverting it to small farms. Imagine initiatives for the health and education of the people!)
For a short time, it looked as though this could be.
In the election of 1900, elated Hawaiians supported neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, led by Prince David Kawananakoa, Kuhio's brother. Instead they flocked to their own newly minted Home Rule Party, derived from the intelligent and skillful followers of Hui Aloha 'Aina, who fought valiantly against annexation, along with the National Reform Party and other Native Hawaiian political organizations.
Its head was the fiery Robert Wilcox, a leader in the aborted counterrevolution of 1895 that sought to restore Lili'uokalani to the throne. Nana i ka ili, "Look to the skin," he told them - vote Hawaiian.
The Home Rule Party won an overwhelming victory, taking 14 seats in the territorial House of Representatives, versus nine for Republicans and four for Democrats, and nine of the 13 seats in the Senate. It won all the Maui seats, save those of the ever-popular Henry P. Baldwin, who was elected to the Senate, and his brother-in-law C.H. Dickey, to the House. Wilcox became Hawaii's delegate to the U.S. Congress.
Now was the chance for elected Hawaiians to prove the haole wrong. Instead, the Legislature of 1901 became a tragic joke. The Home Rulers insisted on conducting business in Hawaiian, attempted to free native prisoners from jails, and indulged in a lengthy and frivolous discussion about lowering the tax on female dogs to ease the hardship for Hawaiians fond of eating them. For this, they earned the nickname "the lady dog legislature."
When no appropriations had been made after two months, Dole called a special session to keep the wheels of government turning. The Home Rule Party, said The Maui News, "with the best of intentions in the world, has proved a monumental failure as lawmaking power."
The Republicans were disgusted, but there was no way that they, the party of the business elite, could prevail against the odds unless they could demonstrate that Wilcox was irresponsible and win over the Hawaiians themselves.
For this, they needed a new champion for the "natives," one who would want to help his people in the highest halls of power, but also one willing to be led by the haole.
Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, Baldwin thought, could be their man.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.