David Kalakaua was descended from the chiefs of Kona who aided Kamehameha I in his conquests and consolidation of the Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom. He was educated, along with other future rulers of Hawaii, at the Royal School on Oahu. Fluent in Hawaiian and English, he was comfortable in both Hawaiian and Western society.
Before ascending the Hawaiian throne in 1874, Kalakaua held various government positions, including Aide-de-camp to Kamehameha IV, Chamberlain to Kamehameha V, and Postmaster General.When Kamehameha V died in December 1872 without having designated an heir, an election was held to determine his successor. Prince William Charles Lunalilo emerged victorious over Kalakaua by a wide margin. On 3 February 1874 Lunalilo died without naming a successor. Another election was held, and Kalakaua won over Queen Emma, widow of Kamehameha IV.
In the first year of his reign, he made history by being the first Hawaiian king to visit the United States. While there he was honored at a state dinner given by President Grant; he also addressed a joint session of Congress and successfully negotiated a reciprocity treaty which allowed Hawaiian sugar into the United States duty-free. In 1881, Kalakaua distinguished himself once again by being the first monarch to circumnavigate the globe.
The Hawaiian culture enjoyed a revival of sorts under Kalakaua, including hula and chants. In July 1887, however, an organization called the Hawaiian League forcibly took control of the government and presented the king with a new constitution. Called the "Bayonet Constitution" (for obvious reasons), Kalakaua had little choice but to sign it. The new constitution severely restricted his powers and signaled the end of the monarchy.
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