Kepakemapa 27: Haʻalele Noho Aliʻi

September 27, 1859: Abdication of the Throne

Henry Neilson, est. date 1855. Photo Credits: Hawaiʻi State Archives; republished by Honolulu Magazine.

On September 10, 1859, King Alexander Liholiho shot his friend and personal secretary, Henry Neilson. The motive for this scandalous shooting? Liholiho had heard unfounded gossip that Neilson had engaged in improper relations with his wife, Queen Emma. After some time, Liholiho realized his grave error and determined that it was best to submit himself to a trial and abdicate the throne.  It would appear, however, that the public was quick to denounce this proposed plan. As reported in one paper, “The Course which His Majesty has pursued . . . in seeking to make the utmost reparation in his power–the feelings of self-condemnation which have since possessed him–show him to be a MAN in every sense of the word . . . and worthy of the position he holds.” See Pacific Commercial Advertiser (pg. 2, Sept. 28, 1859). However, it was felt that Liholiho’s course of action would “create a deep feeling of regret in the bosom of everyone who cherishes the honor of our Sovereign Kamehameha, or desires the prosperity of his Kingdom.”  Id. The article went on to state:

There is not a person in his realm who will not vehemently protest against his resigning his high and responsible position, or consent to his doing it . . . The interests of the  kingdom–the interests of every subject or resident, demand that the King banish forever the idea from his mind, and maintain the position which the God of nations has decreed to him, and in which every subject will loyally support and defend him.

These sentiments were echoed by the Privy Council and House of Nobles. Indeed, as documented in the ministerial cabinet conference minutes dated September 27, 1859, the Privy Council strongly advised against abdication. Below are excerpts from the minutes, followed by a transcription.

Available in Cabinet & Executive Councils, Ministerial Conferences 1856-1863, Manuscript.

Cabinet Conference 27th September
Present Prince Kamehameha
” Mr. Allen
” Mr. Gregg
” Mr. Wyllie

Prince Kamehameha submitted certain communications from the King. After some solemn discussions the following declaration was unanimously adopted

“The abdication of the King is a self-sacrifice, that, however honorable its intention, would produce the most injurious consequences to the Sovereign and His people.”

Available in Cabinet & Executive Councils, Ministerial Conferences 1856-1863, Manuscript.

“It is without any adequate cause, either in morality, christian obligation, or Kingly duty.”

“It would discredit the Hawaiian Government and people to such a degree, as to render the future Government of the nation as an independent state and extremely difficult, if not impracticable.”

“It is a measure which would condemned by all the sound party of the foreign community and by the Hawaiian people generally.”

“The honor and duty of the King, the happiness of the Queen, the hopes of the Young Prince of Hawaii, and the welfare and independence of the Hawaiian people require that His Majesty not abdicate.”