The first Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi adopted in 1840 replaced the informal council of chiefs with a formal legislature of the Hawaiian Kingdom and cabinet.
The Hawaiian government was a constitutional monarchy comprised of three branches: Executive (Monarch and Cabinet), Legislative (House of Nobles and Representatives) and Judicial (Supreme Court and lower courts).
The King also had a private council – the Privy Council is distinguished from a modern cabinet of the executive; in the monarchical tradition, a Privy Council lent legislative powers to the monarch and served judicial functions.
While the first official record of the Privy Council began in July 1845, the body existed previously as the council of chiefs (the House of Nobles similarly comprised of the members of the council of chiefs.)
Under the leadership of King Kamehameha III, the Privy Council was authorized by the Act to Organize the Executive Ministries on October 29, 1845. The Kingdom of Hawai`i’s Privy Council was a body comprised of five ministers and the four governors along with other appointed members that served to advise the King.
Kingdom of Hawai‘i Constitution of 1852, Article 49 noted, “There shall continue to be a Council of State for advising the King in the Executive part of the Government, and in directing the affairs of the Kingdom, according to the Constitution and laws of the land, to be called the King’s Privy Council of State.”
The Legislative Department of the Kingdom was composed of the House of Nobles and the House of Representatives. The King represented the vested right of the Government class, the House of Nobles were appointed by the King and the House of Representatives were elected by the people. (puhnawaiola)
The cabinet consisted of a Privy Council (officially formed in 1845) and five powerful government ministers. Gerrit P Judd was appointed to the most powerful post of Minister of Finance; Lawyer John Ricord was Attorney General; Robert Crichton Wyllie was Minister of Foreign Affairs; William Richards Minister of Public Instruction and Keoni Ana was Minister of the Interior.
Under the 1840 Constitution the Kuhina Nui’s (position similar to “Prime Minister” or “Premier”) approval was required before the “important business of the Kingdom” could be transacted; the king and the Kuhina Nui had veto power over each other’s acts; the Kuhina Nui was to be a special counselor to the king; and laws passed by the legislature had to be approved by both before becoming law. The Kuhina Nui was ex-officio a member of the House of Nobles and of the Supreme Court. (Gething)
The former council of chiefs became the House of Nobles, roughly modeled on the British House of Lords. Seven elected representatives would be the start of democratic government.
(The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is independent from, and complements the work of, the elected House of Commons – they share responsibility for making laws and checking government action. Members of the House of Lords are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister.) (parliament-uk)
The 1840 Hawaiʻi Constitution stated: “House of Nobles. At the present period, these are the persons who shall sit in the government councils, Kamehameha III, Kekāuluohi, Hoapiliwahine, Kuakini, Kekauōnohi, Kahekili, Paki, Konia, Keohokālole, Leleiōhoku, Kekūanāoʻa, Kealiʻiahonui, Kanaʻina, Keoni Ii, Keoni Ana and Haʻalilio.”
“Should any other person be received into the council, it shall be made known by law. These persons shall have part in the councils of the kingdom.”
“No law of the nation shall be passed without their assent. They shall act in the following manner: They shall assemble annually, for the purpose of seeking the welfare of the nation, and establishing laws for the kingdom. Their meetings shall commence in April, at such day and place as the King shall appoint.”
“It shall also be proper for the King to consult with the above persons respecting all the great concerns of the kingdom, in order to promote unanimity and secure the greatest good. They shall moreover transact such other business as the King shall commit to them.”
“They shall still retain their own appropriate lands, whether districts or plantations, or whatever divisions they may be, and they may conduct the business on said lands at their discretion, but not at variance with the laws of the kingdom.”
Members of its companion body, the House of Representatives, were elected by the people, with representatives from each of the major four islands. Proposed laws required majority approval from both the House of Nobles and the House of Representatives, and approval and signature by the King and the Premier. (Punawaiola)
This body was succeeded by a unicameral legislature in 1864, which also imposed property and literacy requirements for both legislature members and voters; these requirements were repealed in 1874. (Punawaiola)
That there even was a constitution, plus the basic outline of the government it established, clearly reflected the counsel of the American missionaries. Yet, many of the older Hawaiian traditions remained (ie the concept of the council of chiefs.) (Gething)
The House of Nobles originally consisted of the king plus five women and ten men (women did not get the right to vote in the US until 1920). After the overthrow and the subsequent annexation, it was renamed the Senate.
The first meeting of the House of Nobles was on April 1, 1841 in the ‘council house’ at Luaʻehu in Lāhainā. The image shows Lāhainā at about that time.)