MANY subtle influences were at work in the evolution of Hawaiian civilisation. Between the years 1835-1840 there was a culmination of several forces, each one important in itself and all uniting to bring about the exceedingly interesting series of events which marked the Hawaiian history of that time. Missionary instruction commenced in 1820. The work of translating the Bible into the Hawaiian language was completed and the book published in 1839. For several years the thoughts of the Bible had been studied and preached with great clearness and power as the result of the labour of translating and criticising the different books. Then came one of the most remarkable religious revivals in history. These years of religious instruction, with their resultant awakening of conscience and yearning for a better life, could not escape a close connection with the contemporaneous demands of civilisation. The double development could not be separated.
During these same years there came a new relation to the larger nations of the world. International
complications succeeded each other with great rapidity. A controversy with Roman Catholic priests, much as it was deprecated by the missionaries, was nevertheless a very useful factor in making the king and chiefs realise that they must be better prepared to deal with foreign interference. There was plain necessity for a knowledge of law and government. Schools and churches and the first newspapers published in the Pacific Ocean were all enforcing the demand for better government.
In 1833 King Ka-meha-meha III was thinking seriously of holding unbridled sway over his people. Alexander says that he "announced to his chiefs his intention to take into his possession the land for which his father had toiled, the power of life and death, and the undivided sovereignty." His purpose was to have no government distinct from the will of the king.
The earthquake changes in civil conditions occurring at that time throughout the islands speedily made the king and the chiefs conscious of their ignorance of methods of government, and in 1836 they applied to the United States "for a legal adviser and instructor in the science of government." This was a request difficult to grant speedily. In 1838 the right man for the place was selected from among the American missionaries in the islands. His name was William Richards. Under his instruction an outline of forms of civil government
was rapidly given to the leading men of the kingdom. Ka-meha-meha III determined to put the lessons into practice, and in 1839 issued what he called "A Declaration of Rights--Both of the People and the Chiefs," and in October, 1840, promulgated the first Constitution of the Hawaiian Islands, quickly following these documents with a code of laws agreed to unanimously by the council of chiefs and signed by both the king and his premier.
These laws and the Constitution and Declaration of Rights were first published in English in 1842. The Declaration and Constitution owe much of their remarkably clear and broad conceptions of the relation of ruler and subject to Mr. Richards. Nevertheless, it is a somewhat remarkable fact that men of such limited civilisation as the king and chiefs should have been willing to voluntarily give up so large a use of power as is marked in the adoption of such a radically new form of government as arose in 1839-1840. It was a revolution of ideas and purposes and customs remarkable in its extent and thoroughness.
Laws had been made by kings and chiefs as far back as the year 1823. Many difficulties had been decided according to the tabu, or practices of the chiefs, or according to the general principles of common law. The established customs of civilised nations had considerable force in disputes between natives and foreigners. But at last the rulers of
the land began to put their government into permanent shape. Mr. Richards had much to do in the preparation of the new system of rule. The foreign consuls assisted and even wrote some of the earlier laws. Commanders of warships made suggestions. Missionaries were consulted. David Malo, John and Daniel Ii and other pupils of the early missionaries wrote some of the original laws. The king and the high chiefs ratified these laws, explained them to the people and put them in force. This is in brief the situation immediately preceding and accompanying the peaceable and yet irreclaimable establishment of constitutional rights and privileges in Hawaii.
Three steps are to be noticed in the growth of the recognition of the rights of the common people. The Declaration of Rights, the Constitution, and the Enactment of Laws by an elected legislature. Once taken, no royal will could ever retrace these steps. The king and his chiefs made a gulf between their past and their future history and could not bridge it or re-cross it. The Hawaiian Magna Charta, like that of King John Lackland, was irrevocable, because, like the great charter of England, it was a step in the evolution of human liberty. It is interesting to note the similarity of thought and language when the leading principle of the Magna Charta is placed beside the supreme gift of the king granted in the Hawaiian Declaration of Rights.
What has been called "The essence and glory of Magna Charta" reads as follows: "No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or dis-seized, or outlawed, or banished, or anyways injured, nor will we pass upon him, nor send upon him, unless by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land."
The Hawaiian Declaration of Rights, issued June 7, 1839, stated first the principle upon which the American Declaration of Independence was founded, viz.:
"That God has bestowed certain rights alike on all men, and all chiefs, and on all people of all lands."
Then the further fundamental principle was outlined that:
"In making laws for the nations, it is by no means proper to enact laws for the protection of the rulers only, without also providing protection for their subjects."
Then came the necessary conclusion, which is very similar to the crux of Magna Charta:
"Protection is hereby secured to the persons of all the people, together with their lands, their building lots, and all their property while they conform to the laws of the kingdom, and nothing whatever shall be taken from any individual, except by express provision of the laws."
In order to carry out this Declaration of Rights Ka-meha-meha III and his high chiefs were led
irresistibly to the promulgation of a Constitution which should differentiate the functions of the different branches of government and provide for a proper presentation of the needs of the people. As surely as the sunlight follows the morning star so certainly came the provision for a House of Nobles representing the chiefs and a House of Representatives representing the people.
The Constitution was promulgated October 8, 1840. After reiterating the Declaration of Rights the king defines the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government and establishes the legislature and bestows upon it the power of enacting laws. Previously he had enacted law with the advice of his council of high chiefs.
The laws which were passed after this Constitution was promulgated are both curious and instructive. There is a very large concession on the part of the king and the high chiefs who constituted his advisers, and a correspondingly large increase of privileges on the part of the common people. This is especially noticeable in the enactment of laws concerning taxation. Before the days of the Constitution and legislature the king held all power in his own hands, although the Aha-alii, or Council of Chiefs, was a factor with which he continually reckoned. The common people were not taken very much into account before the influence of Christianity was felt by both king and chiefs.
In the act of the Legislature and House of Nobles
signed by the king November 9, 1840, three forms of taxation are specified--the poll tax, the land tax, and the labour tax.
The poll tax could be paid in arrowroot, cotton, sugar or anything which had a specific money value. The most important exemption looked toward the preservation of large families. "If any parents have five, six, or more children, whom they sup-port . . . then these parents shall by no means be required to pay any poll, land or labour tax until their children are old enough to work, which is at fourteen years of age."
The land tax was to be paid in swine.
If lands were forfeited they were to go back into the hands of the king, "and he shall give them out again at his discretion, or lease them, or put them into the hands of those who have no lands, as he shall think best."
The labour tax would be considered an exceedingly heavy burden by the public of the present time and yet that labour law was very much less oppressive than the semi-civilisation which preceded it. The native who sighs for the return of the days of the olden time would speedily try to get back out of the fire into what he considers a frying pan. Twelve days' public labour out of every month would be considered exceedingly oppressive if exacted by the government of to-day. Yet thus reads a part of the enactment of 1840:
"When public labour is to be done of such a
nature as to be a common benefit to king and people, and therefore, twelve days in a month are devoted to labour; then all persons, whether connected with the land or not, and also all servants shall go to the work or pay a fine of half a dollar a day."
Fines were exacted from the late and lazy. The man coming after 7 o'clock in the morning was fined an eighth of a dollar, and after dinner a fourth of a dollar. While the man who was lazy and idle one day was fined two days' extra labour. There were, of course, exemptions for infirmity, large families and other good reasons.
There was enacted a special law for the lazy and worthless element of the community.
The words of the law seem to come from the lips of the king. "As for the idler, let the industrious man put him to shame, and sound his name from one end of the country to the other." The chiefs were exhorted "to disperse those lazy persons who live in hordes around you, through whom heavy burdens are imposed upon your labouring tenants." "Treat with kindness those who devote their strength to labour, till their tattered garments are blown about their necks, while those who live with you in indolence wear the clean apparel for which the industrious poor have laboured."
It is well known that laws are applied sermons, but these laws are sometimes primarily sermons, as the introduction to Act III well says: "A portion
of this law is simply instruction and a portion is direct law. That part which simply disapproves of certain evils is instruction. If a penalty is affixed that is absolute law." Hence the following exhortations are made to the chiefs: "That the land agents and that lazy class of persons who live about us should be enriched to the impoverishment of the lower classes, who with patience toil under their burdens, is not in accordance with the designs of this law. This law condemns the old system of the king, chiefs, land agents and tax officers. That merciless treatment of common people must end."
It is worthy of notice that the fourth act of these early laws practically recognised the New England system of "local" or "town" government. The words are peculiar, "If the people of any village, township, district, or state consider themselves afflicted by any particular evils in consequence of there being no law which is applicable . . . then they may devise a law which will remedy their difficulties. If they shall agree to any rule, then that rule shall become a law for that place, but for no other." This was to apply especially to any community's desire concerning fences, animals at large, and roads. "Though no such law can be at variance with the general spirit of the laws of the nation nor can there be any oppressive law nor one of evil tendency."
In 1842 an act was signed by the king and the
premier, in which the evident intent is a lesson for the common people--a lesson to be enforced by contrasts. "The people are wailing on account of their present burdens. Formerly they were not called burdens. Never did the people complain of burdens until of late. This complaint of the people, however, would have a much better grace if they with energy improved their time on their own free days; but lo! this is not the case. They spend their days in idleness, and therefore their lands are grown over with weeds and there is little food growing. The chiefs, of their own unsolicited kindness, removed the grievous burdens. The people did not first call for a removal of them. The chiefs removed them of their own accord. Therefore the saying of some of the people that they are oppressed is not correct. They are not oppressed, but they are idle."
For that reason a new law was enacted stating that it "shall be the duty of the tax officer whenever he sees a man sitting idle or doing nothing on the free days of the people (i.e., the days, when they were not required to work for the king or chiefs) to take that man and set him at work for the government, and he shall work till night."
Accompanying this act compelling idlers to toil there was a clear statement of the strong contrast between the burdens of the time immediately preceding and those after the passage of the new laws. These changes are worth noting because of their
historical bearing upon the past and present condition of the native Hawaiians.
"Formerly if the king wished the property of any man he took it without reward, seized it by force or took a portion only, as he chose, and no man could refuse him. The same was true of every chief and even the landlords treated their tenants thus." This was so changed that if a chief should attempt it "he would instantly cease to be a chief on this archipelago."
"Formerly the chief could call the people from one end of the islands to the other to perform labour." "If the king wished the people to work for him they could not refuse. They must work from month to month. So also at the call of every chief and every landlord."
"Formerly if the people did not go to the work of the king when required, the punishment was that their houses were set on fire and consumed." The fact must be recognised that before the adoption of this Constitution under the influence of the American missionaries the common people never owned any land or had any especial rights.
The power of the king and chiefs up to the time of their freely giving this constitution and new set of laws was practically unlimited. The fact that they voluntarily limited themselves for the benefit of the people must be noted to the credit of an awakened conscience under missionary guidance.