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    Did Hawaiians lose sovereignty?

    (back to Essentials)

    One of the arguments sometimes made by the activists is that native Hawaiians lost their “inherent sovereignty as a people” to the United States as a result of annexation.

    The fact is that, as a people, native Hawaiians never possessed sovereignty, at least until they became citizens of the United States. Sovereignty of the people is an American political concept. It was not the law under the Kingdom of Hawaii. Sovereignty emanated from and resided in the ruling monarch and the monarch had the right to dispose of that sovereignty as he or she saw fit.

    As the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Hawaii said in Rex v. Booth, 2 Haw. 616, 630-631 (1863), the Hawaiian government was not established by the people; the Constitution did not emanate from them; they were not consulted in their aggregate capacity or in convention; and they had no direct voice in founding either the Government or the Constitution. King Kamehameha III originally possessed, in his own person, all the attributes of absolute sovereignty….Not a particle of power was derived from the people.

    This decision was wholly consistent with the positions taken by the monarchs. When in 1864 Kamehameha V became frustrated with the inability of the legislature to agree on amendments to the 1852 Constitution, he simply dissolved the legislature and promulgated a new constitution on his own with the statement:

    As we do not agree, it is useless to prolong the session, and as at the time His Majesty Kamehameha III gave the Constitution of the year 1852, He reserved to himself the power of taking it away if it was not for the interest of his Government and people, and as it is clear that King left the revision of the Constitution to my predecessor and myself therefore as I sit in His seat, on the part of the Sovereignty of the Hawaiian Islands I make known today that the Constitution of 1952 is abrogated. I will give you a Constitution.

    2 Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom 132 (1938).

    Of like mind was Queen Liliuokalani, who stated in 1898 (Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen 21 (Mutual Publishing edition, (1990)):

    Let it be repeated: the promulgation of a new constitution, adapted to the needs of the times and the demands of the people, has been an indisputable prerogative of the Hawaiian monarchy.

    At the overthrow of the monarchy, the sovereignty of the kingdom, resident exclusively in the monarch, passed to the Provisional Government which replaced that monarch, thence to the Republic, and ultimately to the United States. See Liliuokalani v. U.S. 48 Ct. Cl. 418 (1910).

    While the Apology Resolution (P.L. 103-150) referred to the “inherent sovereignty” of native Hawaiians, that reference was obviously made in ignorance of the general law concerning monarchies and the constitutional law of the Hawaiian Kingdom. If any apology is owed, it would be an apology from the proponents of the resolution to Congress for misleading it on this issue.