Robert Wilcox defeated Prince Kuhio’s brother David to become the first Hawaiian Delegate in the US Congress. Kuhio later joined Wilcox’s Home Rule Party. In July 1902, the Home Rule Party tapped Kuhio to lead a reorganization committee.
Kuhio’s proposals prioritized attracting younger moderates, but Wilcox preferred the status quo. On July 14, Kuhio and his followers left the Home Rule party and formed the Independent Party, or Hui Kokoa. Hui Kokoa’s platform read as a rebuke of Home Rulers’ racial politics.
Kuhio later joined the Republican party; ultimately, Republicans swept both the legislature and the delegacy and Kuhio was elected as Hawaii’s delegate to congress. Kuhio’s victory fatally weakened the Home Rule Party. For a few elections, they split votes with Democrats, who eventually absorbed the remaining Home Rulers.
In early years serving in Congress, Kuhio became aware that neither congressional colleagues nor federal bureaucrats knew much about Hawaii. So he dedicated himself to educating American administrators about the islands. Much of this process happened off the House Floor, and Kuhio reveled in these extracurricular venues.
Much of his time was spent in committee rooms hosting card games, playing golf, and attending various functions to expand his social circle and influence. Sometime after 1904, Kuhio set up a luxurious getaway for guests, dubbing it the Bird’s Nest. (GPO)
The house, which no longer exists, was built by a famous naturalist, ornithologist Spencer F Baird, who owned a remarkable collection of 3,696 stuffed birds, including many specimens he kept in his home. (Civil Beat)
Baird was Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution during the 1870s and 80s and he was also the curator of the US National Museum. (Adolf-Cluss) (The bird collection eventually was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.) (Civil Beat)
The house was in a block of row houses set back from Massachusetts Avenue on a slight elevation. A service road called Highland Terrace ran in front of the houses, creating the effect of a boulevard with shaded trees separating the residences from the busy street. (Adolf-Cluss)
The large three-story brick townhouse, built during 1878-1880 at 1445 Massachusetts Avenue, featured sandstone lintels, a decorative Mansard roof and stairs which led to an elevated entrance. (Adolf-Cluss)
The property was apparently left vacant after Baird’s death while his daughter prepared a biography of him. It makes sense that “Bird’s Nest” might have been a play on the name Baird, and where some of the preserved bird collection may have lingered in the house at the time Kuhio lived there, but it is hard to know for sure. (Civil Beat)
Furnished with a bar, poker tables, pool tables, and his African hunting trophies, it became a getaway for officials where Kuhio would hold forth on Hawaii’s beauty, fertility, and strategic position in the Pacific.
When Princess Kahanu made the trip to the capital, the couple hosted dinner parties for Members featuring the guest of honor from the islands. Kuhio even arranged for an exhibit on Hawaii in the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition of 1909 in Seattle, Washington. (US House)
Kuhio didn’t remain at that house very long. After 1906, city records show him living variously at the luxurious Dewey Hotel and the original Shoreham hotel at 15th Street and H Street NW.
He rented houses at other times, including possibly during long visits from Queen Liliuokalani, who he was helping as she sought restitution from the federal government for the loss of the crown lands. (Civil Beat)
However, starting in May 1907, Kuhio’s preferred method was to host colleagues on extended tours of Hawaii. The territorial legislature even chipped in for the three-week tour of Hawaii that spring.
These excursions became more popular over time. The 1915 entourage included 27 Representatives, 10 Senators, congressional family members, staff, and a gaggle of press.
Hawaiians sailed out to greet the congressional visitors before they reached land, presenting leis and playing Hawaiian music from an accompanying tugboat. The firsthand experience often helped grease the skids for legislative action afterward.
“I have a few things to take up with the prince about the merchant marine and transportation facilities that come within the jurisdiction of my committee,” wrote Representative William Wilson of Illinois after one tour, “and I intend to help rectify those unreasonable sailing conditions when we get together.” (GPO)