As noted above, the power of the king to unilaterally abrogate the constitution was accepted by native Hawaiians. Of the action of Kamehameha V, Liliokalani says:
- It has already been seen that the right of life and death was unchallenged; that whatever it may be in other countries, as late as an epoch thirty years in the past [i.e., mid-1860's] it belonged to the highest chief of the Hawaiian people...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. 86/
F. LUNALILO (1873-1874)
Kamehameha V died in December 1872 without naming a successor. On his deathbed he asked the High Chiefess Bernice Pauahi (Mrs. Charles R. Bishop) to be his successor, but she declined. As provided for in the constitution, the national legislature was responsible for choosing the new monarch. An informal popular vote was held and the result was a large majority for Lunalilo, a cousin of Kamehameha V (the other contender was David Kalakaua). The legislature confirmed the election.
The kingdom that Lunalilo took over was encountering severe economic difficulties. The islands' economy became more and more dependent upon the United States as the sugar industry continued to expand. The reciprocity treaty became more important with the serious financial depression in Hawaii in 1872. Talk of annexation surfaced, but the weight of public opinion, even among the haole population, was against it. The king and legislature submitted for U.S. review the idea of a reciprocity treaty in return for the cession of Pearl Harbor. Some of the king's advisors had told him that this would make passage of the treaty much more probable. There was a public outcry against such a scheme by the native population, however, and the latter proposal was withdrawn.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Government was ascertaining the military importance of the Hawaiian Islands in general and Pearl Harbor in particular. Early in 1873 Major General John M. Schofield, commander of the United States Army Military Division of the Pacific, and Brevet Brigadier General B. S. Alexander, a lieutenant colonel in the Corps of Engineers, arrived in Honolulu. 87/ Ostensibly on a vacation trip, the secret purpose of the men's visit was to report to U.S. Secretary of War W. W. Belknap on the "defensive capabilities of the different ports and their commercial facilities." 88/ The report, which was made public twenty years later, "emphasized the value of Pearl Harbor and discussed the means of making it available for naval and commercial purposes." 89/
In the political realm, Lunalilo did succeed in having some amendments to the Constitution of 1864 adopted, including the repeal of the property qualifications for voters. Other policies were not as popular, however. The continuing public health problem with leprosy resulted in strict enforcement of the law sending lepers to Molokai—in two years over 500 lepers were sent to facilities there that were already over-extended. This policy caused the government to lose much popular support.