Why Crown Lands are not public lands, 1909.

The Claim of Liliuokalani, Former Queen of Hawaii.


Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I am very glad to have the opportunity to appear before you to make a statement in regard to the claim of the late Queen, especially because I was concerned in the provisional government which carried on the contest with her some twelve years ago. I may state that I have been a resident of the Hawaiian Islands for thirty-one years. I was not in Honolulu at the moment of the overthrow of the throne, being in California attending to some private business. I returned within a few weeks after that event, and from that time to the time of the signing of the treaty of annexation I had something to do, as an advisor and minister of President Dole, with the revolutionary government.

Mr. Graham. And the former sovereigns who had to do with this land.

Mr. Hatch. That is what I, am going to explain in detail.

The first sovereign of the whole group was Kamehameha I, who reigned a little over a hundred years ago. Prior to that date the group of islands was divided up among a number of petty kings. Kamehameha I was the first king to reduce these lands to his rule. He reigned as an absolute monarch. His son, Kamehameha II, and Kamehameha III, who inherited the throne, were absolute monarchs. The title to every bit of land in the kingdom was vested in the sovereign. He could deprive anybody of their occupation or land by a simple decree.

Kamehameha following the advice of lawyers, in whom he had confidence concluded that it would be for the benefit of the kingdom to establish a constitutional monarchy, so he voluntarily promulgated a written constitution, containing a bill of rights, and guaranteeing private holdings in land. He also submitted to the legislature an act providing for a commission to pass upon all claims to real estate.

Mr. Graham. Who was appeared as a grantor in those titles?

Mr. Hatch. The sovereign. And a royal patent under the great seal, confirming the act of the land commission is the starting point of all Hawaiian titles to this day. This made a clean start in about 1840.

I wish to submit to you my view of the Queen’s interest in the portion of the land in Hawaii known as the “crown land.” I take it that she has an equitable life interest in the income of those crown lands and has never been deprived of that life interest by any sort of legal procedure. She was deprived of her throne by act of war. There was a revolution, and an actual state of warfare existing for over three years; practically during the whole term of President…

(Kuokoa Home Rula, 5/21/1909, p. 1)

The Claim of Liliuokalani, Former Queen of Hawaii.

Kuokoa Home Rula, Buke VII, Helu 21, Aoao 1. Mei 21, 1909.

…Cleveland’s administration. Through that state of war came the establishment of the Republic of Hawaii. This action was forced upon the revolutionary party in Honolulu in consequence of the action of President Cleveland in attempting to restore the Queen to the throne. As long as the government remained a provisional government, it was comparatively easy for the President of the United States to claim that the provisional government had no right to exist and that the Queen was the lawful sovereign, which would have defeated the whole revolution. Not submitting to President Cleveland’s view of the question, which had been in dispute since he became President of the United States, the provisional government, acting with the support of the people, represented the business interest of Hawaii, called a constitutional convention, and regularly proclaimed the Republic of Hawaii, which was granted recognition by the leading nations of the world. That was followed by the treaty, the Newland’s resolution, and the actual raising of the flag by the armed forces of the United States under the command of Admiral Miller.

I claim that from start of finish there was no procedure taken against private property, either by the provisional government or by the United States, that would deprive a party, from the Queen down, of one iota of private property. Certain people who conducted a conspiracy were tried by regularly constituted tribunals and were sentenced to [unclear] but there was never any intention to deprived them of their private estates. The constitutional convention declared by resolution that the crown-land estate was public property. There was no decision of a court, however, and no hearing given to the Queen. It was merely a [unclear] without any consideration of her interests. It was a [unclear] measure. A state of war was still existing.

After the heat of the contest passed there was a strong feeling that the Queen should be given some allowance in consequence of having been deprived of the income of the crown lands. A committee of the Senate, headed by Senator Mitchell, made a report that the sentiment was universal in Hawaii, irrespective of party, that the Queen should received some compensation for her loss of her life interest in the crown lands. They held that she had no legal title, but had a very strong equitable claim.

Mr. Fulton. Has the United States any control of those lands now?

Mr. Hatch. The fee simple title is in the United States subject to the Queen’s life interest. By the treaty and the resolution of annexation the title to all public property in Hawaii became vested in the United States. The Territory was given the use and benefit of the Crown lands, as well as the other government lands, to support the territory government. These lands are mostly under lease and produce an income. That income is applied to the support of the territorial government.

Resuming the narrative of the history of the Crown lands: There was left a very large area of land, the public domain, after all private claims had been met by the land commission. As to that, the King recognized the wisdom of this proposition, which of course did not originate in his own brain, but was suggested to him by his legal advisers, who were educated lawyers, that he held that public domain in two capacities to a certain extent as heir of his grandfather—that was a private interest—and that as a sovereign there was a public interest which he represented. Now he said, “I will divide these holdings; I will keep as my private portion one0third of the domain, and two-thirds I will deed to the government as government lands.” That was carried out by actual deed and approved by net of the legislature. The portion which he reserved as his private estate is the domain which is now in question. It has been considered to have acquired a quasi public character, I deny that it has ever lost its character as a private estate. It was and has remained a private estate down to this day, as I contend.

To throw some light upon the question whether these early sovereigns had the right of selling the land, I cite you the second volume of the Hawaiian reports, page 715. The case is entitled “In the matter of the Estate of his Majesty Kamehameha IV, late deceased,” and was decided by the supreme court in 1864. The King died without children. His widow, Queen Emma, made a claim to a share of these lands as a widow. The court held she was entitled to dower in this estate as wife of the King. I claim that this case is a very strong confirmation of m position—that this is private land. No court would hold that a widow of a King was entitled to dower in public lands. The court goes on to give a history of these lands, [partially unclear from here on down].

[This is also translated and printed in Hawaiian in Kuokoa Home Rula. “KOI A LILIUOKALANI, MOIWAHINE MUA O HAWAII.”

Although this document should be easily found elsewhere, there are other stories in newspapers like Kuokoa Home Rula that are not legible online. They need to be rescanned clearly, so that they can be read as they were written, for what good is information if it cannot be read?]

(Kuokoa Home Rula, 5/21/1909, p. 2)

The Claim of Liliuokalani, Former Queen of Hawaii

Kuokoa Home Rula, Buke VII, Helu 21, Aoao 2. Mei 21, 1909.

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