The 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 stationed at Lahaina. where he engaged in the usual multitudinous duties of the missionary of the day.
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.
They asked Mr. Richards to become their teacher. chaplain and interpreter. Richards accepted this appointment, beginning his service on July 3, 1838. His resignation from the Mission as of that date was accepted by the American Board.
The classes in political economy held by Mr. Richards for the chiefs must have 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.
William Richards prepared a report to the mission following his first year in government service (1838-1839). Portions of the report follows:
“According to those engagements, l was to devote my time at my discretion to the instruction of the King & chiefs, as far as l could and remain at Lahaina, and do the public preaching. l was also to accompany the King to Oahu if important public business called him there.”
“As soon as the arrangements were completed, l 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.”
“l also met [the] king & chiefs daily when other public business did not prevent, and as fast as l could prepare matter read it to them in the form of lectures. l 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.”
“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?)”
“l have often felt that it is much easier to point out the defects of an old system than it is to devise a new one, suitable to take its place.”
“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 Kalaiaina.)
“All my intercourse with the king and chiefs has been of the most pleasant character, at least, I have found them uniformly ready to listen to instructions, and they have manifested a becoming wish to reform the government in those particulars where it is inconsistent with true Political Economy.”
“I have far greater fears at present that there is not sufficient skill to devise a truly wise policy than I have that the chiefs will not sanction it when devised.”
As part of this initial process, a system of laws had been written out by Boaz Mahune, who was directed by the King to conform them to the principles of Political Economy which they had learned.
(Mahune was a member of the first class at Lahainaluna Seminary, graduating in 1835 after four years there. He was considered one of the school’s most brilliant scholar and was one of the ten chosen to remain as monitors, teachers in the children’s school and assistants in translating.)
The laws were signed by Kamehameha III on June 7, 1839 and referred to as He kumu kanawai, a me ke kanawai hooponopono Waiawi, no ko Hawaii nei pae aina. 1839 (Declaration of Rights (1839). All of the above came from Richards’ report, dated May 1, 1839; HHS, 1943.