Kamehameha (kämāˈhämāˈhä) [key], dynasty of Hawaiian monarchs. Kamehameha I (Kamehameha the Great), c.1738–1819, was king of the island of Hawaii after 1790. Through conquest he became (1810) ruler of all the Hawaiian islands, which were previously governed by warring chiefs. Law and order were established for the first time, and the islands became prosperous. Although he was cordial to the traders who visited the islands and encouraged the introduction of their technology, he also insisted on the preservation of the ancient customs and religious beliefs of Hawaii.
His son, Kamehameha II, 1797–1824, succeeded to the throne in 1819. During his short reign, American missionaries were admitted to the islands for the first time. Upon his death in London during a ceremonial visit, his younger brother, Kamehameha III, 1814–54, became (1824) king. His mother, Kaahumanu, who served as regent during his minority, encouraged the spread of Christianity in the islands. American traders entered the islands in large numbers, and there was a growing danger of filibustering expeditions and even annexation from the United States. Under these pressures, Kamehameha III gave in to Western influences. Hawaii was converted from semifeudalism into a constitutional monarchy. A constitution adopted in 1840 provided for religious freedom, representative government, and an independent judiciary; a later constitution (1852) granted suffrage to all adult males.
His son, Kamehameha IV, 1834–63, attempted to resist American influence during his reign (1854–63) but without much success. When his brother, Kamehameha V, 1831–72, became (1863) king, he tried to restore the old tribal ways. The constitution of 1852 was abrogated, and he proclaimed a new one that restored power to the monarch, weakened the legislature, and restricted suffrage. Under his reign, the influence of American missionaries waned rapidly. He died without an heir, however, and the legislature chose his successor, thus bringing to an end the Kamehameha dynasty.
See biographies of Kamehameha I by H. H. Gowen (1919) and J. T. Pole (1959).
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