- Historic Sites
“The Isles Shall Wait For His Law”
So the Bible said, but American missionaries found Hawaii a paradise where pleasure reigned, and the sense of sin was difficult to teach
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
“Have compassion on a nation of little children, very small and young, who are yet in mental darkness,” they begged him, “and help us to do right, and follow with us that which will be for the best good of our country.” But Charlton was not built that way. His personal pique would later bear bitter fruit.
Meanwhile there was trouble with the French. In 1839 a French frigate of war sailed into Honolulu’s harbor. Captain Cyrille LaPlace threatened to flatten the town unless Catholic worship was declared free, French brandy was admitted at a duty no higher than five per cent, and $20,000 to guarantee these demands was immediately turned over to him. He offered safe asylum to all but those villains the missionaries.
The chiefs had outlawed liquor in the hope of putting an end to the debilitating drunkenness of their people. But they had no army, no weapons. They had to give in. Thereafter one Hawaiian word— palani —meant both “brandy” and “Frenchman.”
After Charlton had let his anger against the mission smolder for years, he departed in 1842 for London, hoping to persuade his government to annex the Islands. No sooner had he left than the man he had appointed consul in his absence, Alexander Simpson, sent a highly colored account of events to Admiral Richard Thomas of the British squadron in the Pacific. The Admiral sent Lord George Paulet to see what it was all about.
Paulet, taking a supercilious attitude toward the chiefs and listening to no one but Simpson, made such outrageous demands that the king finally said: “Let them take the Islands.”
Paulet ran up the British flag, demanded $80,000 in damages though he had sustained none, destroyed every Hawaiian flag in the Islands, and ran the government to suit himself.
Again the chiefs relied on the Yankee missionaries to pull them through. They had already sent a mission member, William Richards, to present their case in Washington and London. Dr. Gerrit Judd, also of the mission, had become their chief counselor after Bingham had been forced to return home because of ill health—his own and his wife’s. But Judd at last could stand no more of Paulet’s behavior and resigned his office, after first carrying the public archives into the royal tomb, where he hoped they would be safe from the British.
On July 26, 1843, Admiral Thomas sailed into port, alarmed by reports of Paulet’s behavior. Where Paulet had been haughty, Thomas was the soul of courtesy. And he immediately promised to restore the Islands to independence if the rights of British subjects were guaranteed. On July 31 all Honolulu crowded the parade ground, now known as Thomas Square, in the Admiral’s honor. Four hundred British marines in their white, tight-fitting trousers and scarlet coats marched briskly onto the field. As the broad Hawaiian banner with its crown and olive branch was unfurled in the soft sea breeze, all the ships in port roared a salute that was echoed by the guns high on top of Punchbowl, the extinct crater behind the town.
“The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness,” said the king that afternoon at a service of thanksgiving in the big stone church that Bingham had designed and built in downtown Honolulu. The king’s words became the motto of Hawaii.
Dr. Judd now went to work to put the government in order once more. Under the leadership of mission advisers the chiefs next established a constitutional monarchy. In 1845, with solemn ceremony, the first legislature convened in the big coral stone church, and the king read his speech from a throne covered with one of the splendid old royal cloaks of yellow and crimson feathers.
For twenty-five years now the missionaries, reinforced by many additions to that first small band, had labored to save the Hawaiians from extinction, to educate both their minds and spirits, to draw them to the religion of Jesus, and to make the strictest kind of moral conduct, as they conceived it, the law of the land. Yet, despite all they could do, the Hawaiians died off at a fearful rate, unable to survive foreign diseases, clothing, and liquor.
In sum, therefore, the efforts of the missionaries in the Islands had been both a huge success and a dismal failure, depending on how one viewed the result. They had made Hawaii a literate nation. They had established a government fit to cope with the great powers. They had built schools and churches. They had, in 1838, led one of the most remarkable religious conversions in Christian history, when Hawaiians by the hundreds and thousands poured into the churches, confessed their sins, and resolved to lead new lives.
It all began on Hawaii, “the big island,” when the Reverend Titus Coan was preaching repentance at an outdoor meeting. Suddenly a man burst into fervent prayer. The sword of the spirit, he said, was thrusting him through and through. Tears streamed down his face as he said, “Lord have mercy on me; I am dead in sin.”
Others began to weep aloud, to tremble and to pray. For twenty minutes the preacher could not make himself heard. Then he tried to calm them.