Lunalilo is Elected by the People
Lunalilo was of higher social rank. The name given him showed that—“luna” (above) and “lilo” (lost)—being so “far above” others that he was “lost to view.” Indeed, he had come down through the line of Kamehameha the Great’s younger brother. He was brought up as an ali‘i and had no experience in public administration. However, he did go to the Royal School and was a strong student. Lunalilo had been a member of the Privy Council and the House of Nobles, the legislatures of the day, and he was well liked by the Hawaiian people. Kalākaua came from a family of high rank and had worked well with Kamehameha V. The people had a hard choice to make but it is said they favored Lunalilo because of his higher rank. By tradition, rank was of great importance to Hawaiians in choosing leaders.
Lunalilo held a public meeting. There he told the Hawaiian people, maka‘āinana and ali‘i alike, about the things in which he believed. Specifically, if he were to become king, the constitution of Kamehameha III would be brought back and he would govern by that constitution. This was a constitution that favored the common people’s rights, and so they were pleased about his promise. However, Lunalilo was more open to the influence of foreign ideas.
Kalākaua had a meeting with the Hawaiian people, too. With flowery language he told them, “Oh my people! My countrymen of old! Arise! This is the voice!” Among his promises were to cut taxes and put Hawaiians, not foreigners, in public office. Other countries would not control the Hawaiian kingdom. He was for Hawai‘i and Hawaiians first and last. He said, “Do not be led by the foreigners; they had no part in our hardships, in gaining the country. Do not be led by their false teachings.”
People did not know whether to believe Kalākaua, and Lunalilo was already a strong favorite. On New Year’s Day in 1873, Lunalilo was elected by almost total popular vote. The people’s choice for the first time became king. People thought he was honest and would be fair to all. However, the new king’s cabinet was made up of all Americans except for a Scotsman; none were Native Hawaiian.
While Lunalilo was king, he offered America the use of what is now called Pearl Harbor. It was felt that this body of water would be valuable as an American coaling and repair station for ships of war. At the time, the American government was not interested. That would soon change. Many Native Hawaiians were still strongly against granting or leasing any land to the Americans. They thought it would be the end of Hawaiian independence.
Lunalilo was not in good health because he had pulmonary tuberculosis. He would turn out to have the shortest reign of any Hawaiian monarch. It was decided that he should make a healing trip to the island of Hawai‘i. It was famous for its high mountains and its good climate. He had no queen, but Queen Emma (Kamehameha IV’s widow), Bernice Pauahi Bishop, and other friends went with him. From time to time, important people came from Honolulu to visit him. As he became weaker, he was urged to name the person who was to be king next. His reply was that he had been chosen by the people. They could do it again.
It was not long after this that he returned to Honolulu. After being king for little more than a year, he died. In that short time, he had proved to the people that he was their friend and helper. During his reign he even composed Hawai‘i’s first national anthem, “E Ola Ke Ali‘i Ke Akua.” His property and money were left to establish a home for aged and poor Hawaiians, the Lunalilo Home.