Faced with growing foreign influence and a declining native population, Kauikeaouli’s 30-year reign as Kamehameha III was marked with incredible challenges. In the end, however, the Hawaiian kingdom remained intact.
Born on August 11, 1813, on the Big Island of Hawaii, Kauikeaouli was the second son of Kamehameha the Great and Queen Keopuolani. Kauikeaouli was 11 years younger than his brother Liholiho, who ruled as Kamehameha II.
It’s said that Kauikeaouli had a troubled childhood. He was torn between the Christian guidelines imposed on the kingdom by the kuhina nui (prime minister) Kaahumanu and the desire to return to the ways of old Hawaii. Under the influence of Oahu governor Boki, Kauikeaouli turned to alcohol in a clear rejection of the Christian standards of morality.
Kauikeaouli was only 11 when he ascended to the throne in June 1825, 11 months after the death of Liholiho. For the next seven years, he was guided by Kaahumanu and the high chief Kalanimoku. When Kaahumanu died in 1832, she was replaced by Kauikeaouli’s half-sister, Kinau. Kinau died when Kauikeaouli was only 25, and the young king found himself consumed by the burdens of kingship.
When Kauikeaouli came to the throne, the native population numbered about 150,000, which was already less than half of the Hawaiian population at the time of Captain Cook’s arrival to Hawaii in 1778. During his reign, that number would be halved again, thanks in part to a smallpox epidemic.
In 1843, a British commander named George Paulet pressured Kauikeaouli into surrendering the Hawaiian kingdom to the British crown. It was during this brief period of uncertainty that the king uttered the phrase that eventually became Hawaii’s motto: “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono”—”The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” Less then five months later, Britain rejected the commander’s actions and the kingdom was restored to Kauikeaouli.
As the years passed, Kauikeaouli found himself resigned to the changing landscape of Hawaii. His rebellious nature softened as his authority was compromised by outside influences. In 1854, he had his foreign minister, Robert Wyllie, “ascertain the views of the United States in relation to the annexation thereto of these Islands.”
Kauikeaouli died on December 15 of that same year. He was 41.