Lunalilo I, born William Charles Lunalilo (January 31, 1835 - February 3, 1874), was king of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i from January 8, 1873 until February 3, 1874. He was the most liberal king in Hawaiian history, but was the reigning monarch of the monarchy for the shortest period of time.
He was born the son of High Chieftess Miriam Auhea Kekauluohi) and High Chief Charles Kanaina. He was grandnephew of Kamehameha I. Through his mother who was the sister Elizabeth Kinau (Kaahumanu II), he was first cousin to Kamehameha V, Kamehameha IV, and Princess Victoria Kamamalu. His name translates Luna (high) lilo (lost) which means so high up as to be lost to sight. He was also named after King William IV of Great Britain, a great friend of Hawaiian royalty. He was educated at the Royal School and declared eligible to succeed by the royal decree of Kamehameha III.
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He was one of the only non-Kalakaua royals to write music. He would write Hawaii's first national anthem E Ola Ke Alii Ke Akua which was Hawaii's version of "God Save The King". It was said to be written in twenty minutes in a contest hosted by Kamehameha IV in 1860. He won the contest and was rewarded ten dollars.
Prospective royal brides
He was betrothed to his cousin Princess Victoria, which was a popular choice to most Hawaiians except for Victoria's brothers. They both refused to have her marry him. Their children would outrank the Kamehamehas in mana. He would try to seek the hand of Liliuokalani who refused through the advice of Kamehameha IV. He stated if she was his daughter he would not approve of it, but if each were pleased, he would not oppose it, but advise them to not marry. Liliuokalani would eventually marry John Owen Dominis and Victoria would die unmarried and childless at the age of 27.
King Kamehameha V, the last monarch of the House of Kamehameha, died on December 11, 1872 without naming a successor to the throne. Under the Kingdom's constitution, if the King did not appoint a successor, a new king would be elected by the legislature from the native Aliʻis. Several chief named David Kalakaua. Lunalilo was the more popular of the two candidates. His grandfather was Prince Kalaimamahu, a half brother of King Kamehameha I and was thus a cousin of King Kamehameha V. His grandmother was Queen Miriam Kalakua Kaheiheimaile, sister of Kamehameha’s favorite wife, Queen Kaahumanu. Because of this, many people believed the throne rightly belonged to Lunalilo since the only person more closely related to Kamehameha V, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, had already made clear her wish not to take the throne. Another contender for the throne was Ruth Keelikolani who was a half sister to King Kamehameha V. She was one of the favorites among the Hawaiian chiefs because she adhered to the old Hawaiian ways. She was governess of Hawaii and refused to speak English even though she was fluent in it. Her genealogy, however, was too controversial and few people considered her suitable to take the throne. This left Kalakaua and Lunalilo, and of the two, Lunalilo was greatly favored. So great was Lunalilo's popularity that some people in the kingdom believed that Lunalilo could have simply walked into the capital and declared himself king. Lunalilo, however, insisted that the constitution be followed. He issued the following message six days after the death of the King:
"Whereas, It is desirable that the wishes of the Hawaiian people be consulted as to a successor to the Throne, Therefore,
"Not with standing that according to the law of inheritance, I am the rightful her to the Throne, in order to preserve peace, harmony and good order, I desire to submit the decision of my claim to the voice of the people."
Lunalilo, unlike his more conservative opponent, wanted to reform the Hawaiian government and amend the constitution to make the government more democratic and give people a greater part in government.
It was decided that there would be a popular election to give the people a chance to have their voices heard. However, because the constitution gave the legislature the power to decide who would be the next king, the popular election would be unofficial. Lunalilo urged the people of the Kingdom to vote to have their voices heard.
The popular vote was held on January 1, 1873 and Lunalilo won by an overwhelming majority. The week after the legislature unanimously voted Lunalilo king. It has been speculated that the reason for the unanimous vote was because each legislator was required to sign his name on the back of his ballot, and the legislators were afraid to go against the wishes of the people. Queen Emma later wrote in a letter that hundreds of Hawaiians were ready to tear to pieces anyone who opposed Lunalilo (see Potter and Kasdon, 1964).
At Lunalilo's coronation ceremony, held on January 9, 1873 at Kawaiahao Church, the church courtyard was filled to capacity and a large crowd watched from outside, making evident the new king's popularity.
Because Lunalilo's popularity was so great, and because he became king through a democratic process, he became known as "The People's King."
Reign as King
When Lunalilo assumed the duties of the king, a huge change in the government's policy began to form. His predecessor, Kamehameha V, had spent his reign increasing the powers of his office and trying to restore the absolute monarchy that had existed during the reign of his grandfather, Kamehameha I. Lunalilo, however, spent his reign trying to make the Hawaiian government more democratic. He started by writing to the legislature, recommending that the constitution be amended. He wanted to undo some of the changes that his predecessor had made when he enacted the 1864 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Lunalilo was nicknamed "The People's Prince".
For example, the legislature prior to 1864 met in two houses: The House of Nobles and the House of Representatives. The members of the House of Nobles were appointed by the King and the Representatives were elected by popular vote. Under King Kamehameha V, the two houses of legislature were combined into one. Lunalilo wished to restore the bicameral legislature. He also wanted to add a provision to the constitution that required the king to include a written explanation to accompany any veto by the king. He wanted cabinet ministers to be heard in the House of Representatives.
The King also wanted to improve Hawai‘i's economic situation. The kingdom was in a state of depression, with the whaling industry failing. Commerce groups asked the king to look at sugar to improve the economy and recommended that a treaty be drawn with the United States to allow Hawaiian sugar to enter the nation tax-free. To make such a treaty, many thought that the kingdom would have to offer the Pearl Harbor area to the United States in exchange. There was much controversy over this, with both the public and in the legislature. When Lunalilo saw this opposition, he dropped the proposal.
During Lunalilo's reign, a mutiny took place in the small Hawaiian army. Some members of the army revolted against the drillmaster and the adjutant general. The king interviewed the troops involved in the mutiny and he persuaded them to lay down their arms. Following this, the king disbanded the army. From that point on, the Kingdom had no armed forces until King Kalākaua restored them.
Illness and death
King Lunalilo did not enjoy good health during his reign. He had some bad health habits; for example, he was an alcoholic like many of the Hawaiian kings. At about the time of the mutiny in the army, the King developed a lung infection. In hopes of regaining his health, he moved to Kailua. A few months later, on February 3, 1874, he died from tuberculosis at the age of 39. The King had reigned for one year and 25 days.
On his deathbed, he requested a burial at Kawaiahao Church, with his mother on the church's ground. He wanted, he said, to be "entombed among (my) people, rather than the kings and chiefs" at the Royal Mausoleum in Nuuanu Valley. This was due to a feud between Lunalilo and the Kamehameha family over his mother Miriam Auhea Kekauluohi's exclusion from the list of royal alii's to be buried in the Royal Mausoleum. Thus, in 1875, he was taken from the Mausoleum to the church. During this procession, eyewitness reports stated that a sudden storm arose, and that twenty-one rapid thunderclaps echoed across Honolulu, and came to be known as the "21-gun salute."
Like his predecessor, Lunalilo did not designate an heir to the throne. He had intended for Queen Emma to succeed him, but died before a formal proclamation could be made. A few reasons exist that explain this delay on Lunalilo's part, the most prevalent being that, in adherence to his democratic principles, he wished to have the people choose their next ruler. However, the Constitution of 1864 had charged the legislature, not the people, with the task of electing the next king. So in the end, David Kalākaua was voted to succeed Lunalilo as king.