Mr. Merrill to Mr. Blaine.

No. 257.]

Sir: Realizing that the Department is desirous of being in posession of the latest information regarding affairs here, and availing myself of an opportunity offered by the departure of a sailing vessel for San Francisco, I have the honor to inform you that on Saturday, the 3d instant, in compliance with a request from the minister of foreign affairs, received on the preceding day, I attended a meeting of His Majesty’s ministers at which meeting were also present the British, French, Portuguese, and Japanese commissioners.

On assembling, the ministers stated that in a few hours a cabinet council would be held, and that they desired to fully inform us of the propositions they intended submitting and insisting upon to His Majesty the King.

[Page 285]

This information they desired to communicate in order that we might not be misled by false rumors in the event His Majesty declined acceding to their proposed demands.

They stated that they were convinced the time had arrived when, in the interest of peace and good government, the powers and responsibility of the ministers and His Majesty should be clearly understood and precisely defined. As the “Advertiser” daily, published here, in its issue of the 5th and 6th instants, authoritatively and correctly states, the demands of the cabinet and the termination of the controversy, I inclose clippings from that paper for the information of the Department. After being informed of the demands, the foreign representatives withdrew.

The cabinet met the King at noon of the 3d instant, and soon after the adjournment of the council I was informed that no settlement had been effected.

About 5 o’clock p.m. of the same day I was informed His Majesty wished to meet the British commissioner and myself, and at once we held an interview with him, in which he stated as his opinion that until the supreme court decided otherwise he had a constitutional right to exercise his discretion and withhold his approval of any of the acts embraced in the demands presented by his ministers; but, in reply to my question, he distinctly stated he would be governed by whatever decision the judges of the supreme court might make.

This gave confidence that a final and favorable termination could be reached.

On Monday, the 5th instant, it became known that His Majesty was to meet his ministers at noon when the opinion of the judges would be presented.

I, having previously learned the tenor of the opinion, did not have doubts about the amicable settlement of the matter, but as the news of the difference between His Majesty and the cabinet spread, a feeling of unrest, aggravated by many false rumors, pervaded the community, and, at the request? of a prominent American resident here, I, in company with the British commissioner who chanced to be at the legation, after first stating our purpose to and obtaining the consent and cordial approval of the ministers, proceeded to the palace for the purpose of interviewing the King before he met the ministers in council.

His Majesty received us with much cordiality, and, upon his reference to the disagreement between himself and cabinet, I embraced the opportunity to assure him that the people felt great interest and much anxiety regarding the settlement of the matter, and it was hoped an amicable and honorable settlement of the controversy would be effected, which was certain to restore permanent confidence among the people.

Similar views were expressed by the British commissioner. His Majesty at once assured us he had decided to yield the points and consent to the requests of his ministers.

At the present time appearances indicate a cessation of disquietude.

Since my No. 255 of the 1st instant, a report has gained credence that the object of the leaders of the insurrection was not so much for the purpose of dethroning the King as to obtain from him the promulgation of a new constitution and the dismissal of the present ministry.

However, the purpose of the insurgents and all the parties, directly and indirectly, connected with the insurrection are not yet known, but the whole affair is being investigated, and probably 1 may be able to inform the Department more fully by the next regular mail.

I have, etc.,

Geo. W. Merrill.
[Page 286]
[Inclosure 1 in No. 257. Advertiser, August 5, 1880.]

the king and the cabinet.

Numbers of exaggerated reports have been circulating through the city concerning the relations existing between the king and the cabinet. We are authorized to state that the following are the main points at issue: The King claims the right of exercising his personal discretion in executive matters coming before him and requiring his signature or act, while the cabinet claim that he has no such right, but is constitutionally bound to take the advice of the cabinet. The King has acted upon his claim in a number of cases, the particular one which has brought the question to issue being his refusal to sign the commission of Col. V. V. Ashford as colonel of the Hawaiian Volunteers. Mr. Ashford was elected to this office some months ago, but the King has continuously refused and still refuses to sign the commission, although advised then and now by the cabinet that it was his duty so to do.

The King also claims that he has the control of the military and munitions of war belonging to the Government, and refuses to recognize the authority of the minister of foreign affairs relative to the disposition of certain munitions of war stored at the barracks, although the statute gives such minister the express control of the same. Under these circumstances the cabinet felt the necessity of settling this question before going further, and accordingly submitted the following proposition to His Majesty on Saturday last:

“Before going further, the cabinet desire a thorough understanding with Your Majesty upon the following point, viz: The Government in all its departments must be conducted by the cabinet, who will be solely and absolutely responsible for such conduct. Your Majesty shall in future sign all documents and do all acts which, under the laws or the constitution, require the signature or act of the Sovereign, when advised so to do by the cabinet, the cabinet being solely and absolutely responsible for any signature of any document or act so done or performed by their advice.”

The King declined to assent to this proposition, unless advised by the supreme court that it was in accordance with the constitution, he claiming that it was unconstitutional.

The cabinet have submitted the question to the supreme court for an opinion, and an answer will probably be received and made public to-day.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 257. Advertiser, August 6, 1889.]

The King conforms. He concedes all the points asked for by the Government upon learning that the supreme court had decided against the stand he had taken.

As was stated in the Advertiser yesterday, the King had refused to sign the commission of Col. V. V. Ashford, as commander of the Hawaiian Volunteers, although advised by the cabinet so to do. He also disputed the authority of the minister of foreign affairs to dispose of arms and ammunition then in charge of the corps known as the “King’s Guard.”

His Majesty has now receded from the position above stated, and the following documents explain how the change came about:

Honolula, H. I., August 3, 1889.

Hon. A. Francis Judd,
Chief Justice Supreme Court:

Sir: The cabinet desire to submit for your consideration the following statement of facts, and respectfully request the opinion of the supreme court upon the question hereinbelow stated:

statement of facts.

His Majesty the King claims the right to exercise his personal discretion in and concerning the performance of official executive duties of the Sovereign, such as making appointments requiring the royal signature; appointment and removal of diplomatic and consular officers accredited by the Hawaiian Government abroad; the acknowledgment of foreign diplomatic and consular representatives from abroad to the Hawaiian Kingdom; the authority over and control of the military forces and munitions of war belonging to the Hawaiian Government, etc.

[Page 287]

His assertion of and action in pursuance with this claim has now come to such a point that the orderly progress of the business of the Government is seriously interfered with and the presrvation of the public peace menaced.

Under these circumstances the cabinet this day formulated and presented to His Majesty the following statement of principles, viz:

“Before going further, the cabinet desire a thorough understanding with Your Majesty upon the following point, viz: The Government in all its departments must be conducted by the cabinet, who will be solely and absolutely responsible for such conduct. Your Majesty shall in future sign all documents and do all acts which under the laws or the constitution require the signature or act of the Sovereign, when advised so to do by the cabinet, the cabinet being solely and absolutely responsible for any signature of any document or act so done or performed by their advice.”

The cabinet advised His Majesty that such statement of principles is in accordance with the constitution and that it was his duty to assent thereto.

In reply to such advice by the cabinet His Majesty replied that he considered the request to consent to such statement of principles as uncalled for and insulting, and declined to assent thereto.

The cabinet, therefore, respectfully request the opinion of the supreme court upon the following question, viz:

Is the authority and responsibility of the cabinet, as set forth in the above statement of principles, in accordance with and in pursuance of the constitution or not?

  • L. A. Thurston,
    Minister Interior.
  • Jona. Austin,
    Minister Foreign Affairs.,
  • S. M. Damon,
    Minister of Finance.
  • C. W. Ashford,
    Attorney General.

To His Majesty’s Cabinet:

Gentlemen: The justices of the supreme court have received your letter of today’s date, in which you state certain circumstances under which you to-day formulated and presented to His Majesty the following statement of principles:

“Before going further the cabinet desire a thorough understanding with Your Majesty upon the following point, viz:

“The Government, in all its departments, must be conducted by the cabinet, who will be solely and absolutely responsible for such conduct.

“Your Majesty shall in future sign all documents and do all acts which, under the laws or the constitution, require the signature or act of the Sovereign, when advised so to do by the cabinet, the cabinet being solely and absolutely responsible for any signature of any document or act so done or performed by their advice.”

You further state that you advised His Majesty that such statement of principles is in accordance with the constitution, and that it was his duty to assent thereto.

You request the opinion of the justices of the supreme court upon the following question, viz:

“Is the authority and responsibility of the cabinet, as set forth in the above statement of principles, in accordance with and in pursuance of the constitution or not?”

We respectfully submit the following reply:

By article 21 of the constitution “the Government of this Kingdom is that of a constitutional monarchy,” and although the constitution devolves upon the King, as the head of the Government, certain powers and directs that certain acts shall be done by him, so far certainly as these are executive powers and acts, the exercise of them is controlled by article 78 of the constitution, which reads that “wherever by this constitution any act is to be done or performed by the King or Sovereign, it shall, unless otherwise expressed, mean that such act shall be done and performed by and with the advice and consent of the cabinet.”

Article 31 of the constitution declares that the King’s person is sacred and inviolable and that his ministers are responsible, and article 41 prescribes that “no act of the King shall have any effect unless it be countersigned by a member of the cabinet who, by that signature, makes himself responsible.”

There can be no dual government. There can be no authority without responsibility. The King is without responsibility. The constitution confirms the responsibility [Page 288]of government upon the cabinet; they, therefore, have the authority. With this in view, we are unanimously of opinion that the principles formulated by you and presented to His Majesty, above set forth, are in accordance with and in pursuance of the constitution.

We wish to say, further, that on the occasion of His Majesty’s considering the propriety of his approval of an act of the legislature of 1887 (which is now chap. 25 of the acts of 1887) the justices of the supreme court, at his request, sent him an opinion upon the proposed act. Its title is “An act to provide for and declare the construction to be placed upon the words ‘the king’ or ‘the sovereign’ in certain cases.”

The opinion was as follows:

“We see no conflict of this act with article 16 or 48 of the constitution. This act is consistent with article 78 of the constitution, the principle of which is hereby applied in terms to statutes also.

“And we understand that it has always been the true intent of statutes that the acts of the King are done upon the responsibility of his cabinet unless it appears from express words or by the very nature of the case that the act is of a personal character.”

We remain yours, respectfully,

  • A. F. Judd,
  • Laurence McCully,
  • Edward Preston,
  • Richd. F. Blckerton,
  • Sanford B. Dole.

At 12 o’clock Monday, August 5, the cabinet met His Majesty at the palace and submitted to him the opinion of the supreme court, and again requested his assent to the principle involved. His Majesty replied that he accepted the decision of the court, and assented to the proposition submitted by the cabinet, and requested that his assent be entered on the minutes of the council.

Upon presentation of the commission of Col. Ashford for signature, His Majesty stated that since last Saturday he had reread the military law and was convinced that the position taken by him was incorrect.

He therefore signed the commission.

In pursuance of the power given to the minister of foreign affairs he has, with the consent of the cabinet, removed Capt. Kahalewai, commander of the King’s Guards, for complicity in the late insurrection, the command thereby devolving upon Lieut. Robert Parker.

Orders were issued for the immediate transfer of all arms, ammunition, and munitions of war, except those arms and ammunition individually in use by the King’s Guards, from the palace and barracks to the station house. These orders were carried out by the marshal yesterday afternoon, with the assistance of the police and special officers; and among other material transferred were three beautiful brass fieldpieces of 3-inch bore, ordered by the King from Austria.

His Majesty has now conformed to the provisions of the constitution in the matters above related; and the anxiety manifested before he did so is now allayed and confidence in future peace restored.