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After deliberation by the chiefs and the king's advisors, a constitution was signed by the king and kuhina nui in 1840. The Constitution of 1840 put in writing for the first time a plan of the government and a description of the powers and duties of various officials within the government. In brief, the constitution provided that:

  • The king and the kuhina nui together wielded supreme executive authority.
  • Four governors, subject to the king and kuhina nui, would have charge of matters of government not assigned to other officials.
  • The lawmaking power was lodged in a legislative body consisting of two branches: a council of chiefs, including the king and kuhina nui (later called house of nobles), and a representative body chosen by the people.
  • A supreme court was created to be composed of the king, kuhina nui, and four other judges appointed by the lower branch of the legislature.

Three Organic Acts adopted from 1345 to 1847 elaborated on the constitution. They set up an administrative and judicial system of the Anglo-American type. The first act defined the organization of the executive branch. The second defined the functions of the five executive departments, including an article that established a Board of Commissioners to Quiet Land Titles. The third organized the judiciary.

Through these Organic Acts, the administrative and judicial systems developed more toward the Anglo-American style advocated by the foreigners holding positions in the government. As the number of these foreigners in the government increased, protests were made to the king by native Hawaiians. In 1845, a petition was sent to the king from Lahaina asking him to dismiss all naturalized foreigners he had appointed as officers of the kingdom. 61/ The petition was not acted upon.

At the same time, the land system was undergoing drastic changes from the previous system. The Great Mahele of 1848 divided land in the kingdom into two parts--land belonging to the king and land belonging to the konohiki, or chiefs. The next day, after the last mahele (division) with the konohiki, the king divided his land again m two parts with the larger part designated as "government" land under the control of the legislative council. The smaller part was known as the "Crown Lands" and belonged to the king. At about the same time, kuleana were awarded in fee simple to native Hawaiian tenants.*/

By 1851 the Constitution of 1840 was out of date, given the numerous developments in the government system since that time. A new constitution was approved by the legislature in 1852. The powers of Government were divided into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The king was declared the "Supreme Executive Magistrate," although his powers were somewhat limited by the kuhina nui. The privy council continued to play an important role. Ministers were appointed by the king, as were governors. Legislative power was vested in the king, the house of nobles, and the house of representatives, each with veto powers over the others.

*/ For a more complete explanation of the land system changes, see Part II, "Land Laws and Land Relationships."


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