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In order to understand future constitutional activity of the kingdom, it is important here to point out the differences between constitutions of the Hawaiian Kingdom and of the United States. 62/ Unlike the system in the United States, the Hawaiian monarch was believed to have had the right to promulgate and abrogate constitutions, since the original constitution was granted by the king and not by "We the people." 63/ One Hawaiian writer states that: "By proposing the action of the constitution of 1852 the king set a precedent that he could, with the consent of the legislature, change the constitution." 64/
Relationships with Foreign Governments
These early years of the reign of Kamehameha III saw increasing problems with foreigners. The government, particularly its white members, struggled to achieve an aura of gravity that would command the respect of the foreigners m the islands. Calling upon warships to back up the claims of foreign citizenry continued unabated, however. The ability of the kingdom to survive on its own became increasingly questionable. David Malo wrote at this time that "such has always been the case with large countries, the small ones have been eaten up." Evil, he wrote, was at the door, ready to "come in and bite us." 65/ The treaties the king had already signed with foreign governments were disadvantageous to Hawaii and did little to protect the sovereignty of the kingdom.
Relations with the French were at a particularly low ebb. Besides the religious persecution of Catholics in Hawaii, the passage of an act in 1838 prohibiting importation and purchase of distilled liquors and imposing a duty of $l/gallon on imported wines was particularly irksome. The problem came to head in July 1839. The commander of a French frigate, Captain Laplace, threatened to use force if the king did not accede to several demands made by the French in Hawaii. To avoid bloodshed, the king signed a convention with the French (known as the "Laplace Convention") and announced a policy of religious toleration.
The convention the king was forced to sign contained two clauses that circumscribed the power of the king:
- Frenchmen accused of "any crime whatever" would be judged by a jury composed of foreigners, proposed by the French consul; and
- French merchandise was not to be prohibited nor pay a higher duty than 5 percent ad valorem. 66/
To prevent foreign governments from taking further advantage of Hawaii, the king and his council decided that more formal relationships should be established with foreign governments. To accomplish this, a delegation was sent by the Hawaiian Government in 1842 to negotiate for formal recognition and new treaties with the United States, Great Britain, and France, to replace the existing informal and disadvantageous conventions. The delegation was composed of Sir George Simpson (Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company), William Richards, and Timothy Haalilio (a Hawaiian in the Government).
The mission succeeded in the United States. The first formal recognition of Hawaii's independence was in the form of a document given to the Hawaiian envoys by U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster on December 30, 1842. The document stated that the United States was more interested in Hawaii than any other nation and that "no power ought either to take
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