The 1840 Hawaiian Constitution and the Fourth of July
by Keli'i Akina, Ph.D., President/CEO, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, July 4, 2014
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted a statement known today as the Declaration of Independence. The 13 American colonies not only declared their independence from Great Britain, but established the foundation for a new nation of free and sovereign states - the United States. July 4, 1776 is familiar to all as the birthday of our country, but it is also the intellectual and spiritual birthday of all freedom-loving countries which trace their philosophical origins to the Declaration of Independence.
Hawaii was one such country.
In 1840 the Kingdom of Hawaii adopted a constitution with strong parallels to the Constitution of the United States, but its framers were concerned with more than the structure of government. They wanted to make certain that the proper philosophy underlying government would guide the interpretation of their constitution. Thus, they included the essential philosophy of the Declaration of Independence as the very preamble of their constitution:
"God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the earth, in unity and blessedness. God has also bestowed certain rights alike on all men and all chiefs, and all people of all lands. These are some of the rights which He has given alike to every man and every chief of correct deportment; life, limb, liberty, freedom from oppression; the earnings of his hands and the productions of his mind, not however to those who act in violation of laws."
The language which opens the Kingdom of Hawaii Constitution clearly echoes and amplifies the earlier language of the Declaration of Independence which states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Moreover, the constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii, as a comprehensive document, helped ensure that its constitutional laws were to be interpreted in light of its philosophy of unalienable, God-given rights.
In contrast, with the rise of American Pragmatism in the 19th Century and the progressive movement, the United States Constitution has been increasingly interpreted apart from the context of the Declaration of Independence. The consequence is that the rule of law is now often practiced without a fundamental commitment to the unalienable, God-given rights of the individual.
On this Fourth of July, let us come full circle and learn from the spirit of the Kingdom of Hawaii which now resides in the 50th state, that the philosophy of the Declaration of Independence must precede and inform our nation's laws and practice of government.