From TheMorganReport
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Previous Page Next Page

Reports of Committee on Foreign Relations 1789-1901 Volume 6 pp458-459 300dpi scan (VERY LARGE!)

Text Only


both because it would be dangerous and impolitic to do so, and because their assistance was desired. A curious survival of this feudal custom of redistribution of power and land upon the accession of a new ruler is recognizable in the equally reprehensible sentiment of modern politics expressed in the well-known words, "to the victors belong the spoils."

When Kamehameha I conquered the group, excepting the island of Kauai, which was accomplished only after the most desperate fighting, his success carried with it the fullest and severest application of this custom, and it meant to his defeated enemies loss of all political power and of the lands which were the basis of such power. The island of Kauai, through the treaty of annexation between the King of that islaud, Kaumualii, and Kamehameha, might have escaped such misfortunes but for the rebellion of Humehume, the son of Kaumualii, some years later, which, being suppressed, subjected the insurgent chiefs to the rigorous rule of confiscation of their lands and the annihilation of their political influence.

Thus Kamehameha became at last, through these feudal customs and by virtue of his conquest, the fountain head of land tenures for the whole group. The principles adopted by the land commission in 1847 opens with the following statement:

"When the islands were conquered by Kamehameha I he followed the example of his predecessors and divided the lands among his principal warrior chiefs, retaining, however, a portion in his hands to be cultivated or managed by his own immediate servants or attendants. Each principal chief divided his lands anew, and gave them out to an inferior order of chiefs or persons of rank, by whom they were subdivided again and again, passing through the hands of four, five, or six persons, from the King down to the lowest class of tenants. All these persons were considered to have rights in the lands or the productions of them. The proportions of these rights were not very clearly defined, but were, nevertheless, universally acknowledged."

During Kamehamena's long and vigorous reign affairs became settled to an extent to which the country had been unaccustomed. Long and undisturbed possession of their lands by chiefs was a preparation for the development of a sentiment favorable to permanent individual rights in land. Such a sentiment had become well defined in the mind of Kamehameha before his death, and may be regarded as the seed germ of the system of land tenures which afterwards developed.

Many of those who have been interested in this subject have been accustomed to regard the idea of private rights in land in these islands as one of foreign introduction during the reign of Kamehameha III, at which time the remarkable change from feudal to private real estate control took place. But the landed reforms of that reign were the results of causes which had been long and powerfully at work. The century plant had slowly grown, but when its full time came it swiftly and abundantly blossomed. At the meeting of chiefs at Honolulu, upon the arrival of the frigate Blonde, in 1825, with the remains of Kamehameha II and his wife, to consider the question of the succession to the throne and other matters, as reported in the Voyage of the Blonde, page 152 and following, Kalaimoku, the regent, in his address to the council, referred to the inconveniences arising from the reversion of lands to the King on the death of their occupants—a custom partially revived under Kamehameha II, but which it had been the object of Kamehameha I to


exchange for that of hereditary succession. This project of their great King he proposed to adopt as the law, excepting in such cases as when a chief or landholder should infringe the laws, then his lands should be forfeited and himself tabooed. Several chiefs at once exclaimed: "All the laws of the great Kamehameha were good; let us have the same!"

Lord Byron, captain of the Blonde, presented the council some written suggestions in regard to the administration of affairs which are contained the following article: "That the lands which are now held by the chiefs shall not be taken from them, but shall descend to their legitimate children, except in cases of rebellion, and then all their property shall be forfeited to the King." The account proceeds as follows (page 157): "These hints, it will be at once perceived, are little more than a recommendation quietly to pursue the old habits and regulations of the islands. Kamehameha I had begun to establish the hereditary transmission of estates, and Lord Byron's notice only adds the sanction of the British name to it."

This principle, adopted previous to the reign of Kamehameha III, greatly influenced the progress of events.

When, after the death of Kamehameha I, his son, Liholiho, came to the throne as Kamehameha II, the administration of the Government was shared with him by Kaahumanu, the Kuhina Nui,* one of Kamehameha's widows, and a woman of great force of character. It was the desire of Kamehameha II to make a redistribution of the lands of the realm according to custom, but Kaahumanu was opposed to it, and her influence, together with the united strength of the landed interests which had become firmly established in the chiefs during the long reign of Kamehameha I, was too strong for him, and beyond a few assignments among his intimate friends, he relinquished his purpose. The distribution of lands therefore by Kamehameha I remained for the most part as a permanent settlement of the landed interests of the Kingdom, to be afterwards modified in favor of the common people and the Government, but never ignored.

During the period from the distribution of lands by Kamehameha I, about 1795, till the year 1839, the sovereign held a feudal authority over the whole landed estate of the Kingdom, which included the right, as above set forth, summarily to cancel the rights in land of any chief or couimoner. There was a growing tendency, however, during this period toward the provision in favor of the descent of lauds from parent to child adopted by the chiefs upon the return of the Blonde, and the feudal right of the sovereign over the laud of the subject was more rarely exercised as time went on. Increasing security in tenure led to increasing activity in land transactions. Chiefs transferred lands to others, and they became a marketable commodity. There was buying and selling—some speculating. The sovereign gave away and sold lands here and there. Foreigners became landholders. Still there was no permanence in the tenure, the enactment by the chiefs at the time of the Blonde being in the nature rather of an expression of an opinion than a binding law. The Kingdom then was under the regency of Kaahumanu and Kalanimoku, and Kamehameha III, being still a minor, was not a party to this provision and it was not regarded as binding upon him.

The status of land matters at this time was similar to that which existed in England after the Norman conquest, but here the progress of events, owing undoubtedly to the influence of a foreign civilization,

* Kuhina Nui—a premier or minister having a veto on the King's acts.

Previous Page Next Page