Bayonet Constitution

Ever signed a document under duress? Today that is not legally binding. But it was when King Kalakaua signed the 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Dissatisfied with the king and his premier, Walter Murray Gibson, the leaders of the Hawaiian League (the Committee of Thirteen) coerced the king to adopt the constitution. On July 1, Kalakaua asked the whole cabinet to resign. Within five days, Kalakaua appointed his new cabinet, which included leaders of the Hawaiian League, and they developed a new constitution in their favor.

The Bayonet Constitution revised the Constitution of 1864 by Kamehameha V. Now, the cabinet wielded executive power, taking away most of King Kalakaua’s, and he could not do any official actions without the cabinet’s approval, including organizing any military or naval forces. While King Kalakaua would still appoint the members of the cabinet, the legislature must approve their dismissals.

The Bayonet Constitution limited the king’s influence over the legislature and legislation by limiting his government appointments and veto power. Instead of the king appointing the members of the House of Nobles, the elections would determine them. Furthermore, a two-thirds vote of the legislature could override the king’s veto. Thus, Kalakaua became mainly a figurehead.

The constitution expanded the voting population to all males over twenty who could read English, Hawaiian, or some European language and lived in Hawaii for at least a year, including non-citizens. However, Asians could not vote, and the voters must meet a financial requirement, which excluded most native Hawaiians.

Six years later, the Hawaiian League would orchestrate the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

– Alice Kim

Articles from Chronicling America

“Mass Meeting: A Large Gathering!”
The Daily bulletin, June 30, 1887, Image 2

“Reform!: Immense Mass Meeting”
The daily herald, July 1, 1887, Image 3

“Appointment of a New Cabinet!”
The Hawaiian gazette., July 05, 1887, Page 4, Image 4

“Government Reform! The People Roused! 2,500 Freemen in Mass Meeting!”
The Hawaiian gazette., July 05, 1887, Image 1

“New Hawaiian Constitution”
The Hawaiian gazette., July 07, 1887, Image 2

“Signed!: Hawaii’s Revised Charter”
The daily herald., July 07, 1887, Image 3

Hawaiian gazette., July 19, 1887, Page 2

“Another Mass Meeting: Natives and Orientals in Convention”
The daily herald, July 20, 1887, A, Image 2

“Waianae and Anti-Reform”
Hawaiian gazette, August 16, 1887, Image 4

“An Open Letter: To the Hawaiian Voters of Honolulu”
The Hawaiian gazette, August 16, 1887, Image 1

The Hawaiian gazette., October 11, 1887, Page 4, Image 5


3 Comments on “Bayonet Constitution”

  1. Tiki808 says:

    Thank you for this article. I realize this is a sensitive issue for some. I am happy to hear equity in the Haw

  2. Tiki808 says:

    I am happy to hear equity in the Hawaiian Kingdom. Great. But also must object to any anti-American ideas set forth, even now.

  3. […] language. And their descendants would greatly influence, if not control, the islands’ economy and government and overthrow the Hawaiian […]

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