Collaboration between Ali‘i and the American Protestant missionaries resulted in, among other things, the introduction of Christianity, the creation of the Hawaiian written language, widespread literacy, making Western medicine available, and the evolution of a new and distinctive musical tradition with harmony and choral singing.
In addition, the missionaries collaborated with the Chiefs on the promulgation of a constitutional government. Reverend William Richards came to Hawai‘i in 1823 as a member of the Second Company of missionaries sent to the Islands by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions; he was instrumental in transforming Hawaiian governance, through a constitution with individual rights.
It was a time of transition. when the Hawaiian people were faced with the difficult task of adjusting themselves to changing conditions. They turned to their teachers, the American missionaries, for guidance along this intricate path.
The king and chiefs, acknowledging their own inexperience, had sought for a man of probity and some legal training who could act as their advisor in matters dealing with other nations and with foreigners within the Islands. (Judd)
Richards “accepted the invitation of the Chiefs to become their teacher, and entered into engagements with them which were signed on the 3d of July (1838). According to those engagements, (he) was to devote (his) time at (his) discretion to the instruction of the King and chiefs, as far as (he) could and remain at Lahaina, and do the public preaching.”
“(He) was also to accompany the King to O‘ahu if important public business called him there. (He) engaged to act as interpreter and translator in government business of a public nature when called to it, and was to receive for (his) services 600 dollars a year, to be paid in quarterly enstalments of 150 dollars each.”
“As soon as the arrangements were completed, (he) commenced the compilation and translation of a work on political economy, following the general plan of Wayland, but consulting Lay, Newman and others, and translating considerable portions from the 1st mentioned work.”
“(He) also met king & chiefs daily when other public business did not prevent, and as fast as (he) could prepare matter read it to them in the form of lectures. (He) endeavored to make the lectures as familiar as possible, by repeating them, and drawing the chiefs into free conversation on the subject of the Lecture.”
“They uniformly manifested a becoming interest in the school thus conducted, and took an active part in the discussion of the various topics introduced in the Lectures. The Lectures themselves were mere outlines of general principles of political economy, which of course could not have been understood except by full illustration drawn from Hawaiian custom and Hawaiian circumstances.”
“In these illustrations (he) endeavored as much as possible to draw their minds to the defects in the Hawaiian government, and Hawaiian practices, and often contrasted them with the government and practices of enlighted nations.”
“The conversation frequently took so wide a range that there was abundant opportunity to refer to any and to every fault of the present system of government. But when the faults of the present system were pointed out & the chiefs felt them & then pressed me with the question, ‘Pehea la e pono ai,’ (How will it be bettered?)”
“During the year (Richards had) been called on to translate various documents and laws, some of which were transmitted to the USA & some were for promulgation at the Islands.”
“(He had) said scarcely nothing to the king and chiefs respecting the existing evils or defects in the government, except as the subject has come up naturally and almost necessarily while discussing established principles of Political Economy.”
“A system of laws has been written out by (Boaz) Mahune, a graduate of the (Lahainaluna) high school, and he was directed by the King to conform them to the principles of Political Economy which they had learned. Those laws are some what extensive and protect all private property.”
“According to this code, no chief has any authority over any man, any farther than it is given him by specific enactment, and no tax can be levied, other than that which is specified in the printed law …”
“… and no chief can act as a judge in a case where he is personally interested, and no man can be dispossessed of land which he has put under cultivation except for crimes specified in the law.” (Richards Report to the Sandwich Islands Mission, May 1, 1839)
No Ke Kālai‘āina (translation of William Richards’ Book)
Classes in political economy were taught by Mr. Richards for the chiefs; these laid the foundation for the political reforms started soon after. Indeed, it can be said that Mr. Richards exercised a profound, though somewhat intangible, influence on Hawaii’s evolution towards a constitution form of government.
Richards translated portions of Dr Francis Wayland’s ‘Elements of Political Economy’ into Hawaiian and organized discussions with the Chiefs on constitutional governance.
The Chiefs proposed themselves to publish the work which I have compiled, & they are to have the Copy Right & defray the expense of the publication.” (The book was known as No ke Kālai‘āina.)
Richards was instrumental in helping to transform Hawai‘i into a modern constitutional state with a bill of rights (1839) and a constitution (1840).
A project of the Hawaiian Mission Houses bicentennial commemoration involves translating the Hawaiian text into English and research William Richards and process of constitution in Hawaiian language sources.