Ululani Special Feature

Lāhui Rising Series

This educational series is designed to create a safe, respectful and enriching learning space for all audiences to hear and honor various perspectives on matters of Hawaiian interest.

Mission Accomplished: International Recognition of Hawaiʻi Achieved in 1843

Hoʻokaha Hawaiian Cultural Vibrancy Group

Most television and movie buffs are familiar with “Mission Impossible” and its premise: A mission that appears insurmountable is accomplished by a team of highly skilled operatives. On Friday, November 28, Hawaiʻi will commemorate Lā Kūʻokoʻa – Hawaiian Independence Day. This story pays tribute to the team of “operatives” whose efforts contributed to that very significant day.

In July, a KSOnline story shared the history of Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, Sovereignty Restoration Day, when Hawaiʻi’s government was rightfully restored by the British government. What many don’t know is the intertwining story of a seemingly impossible mission undertaken by Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) via Hawaiʻi representatives to secure international recognition as an independent nation state.


Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III acted quickly to dispatch Timoteo Haʻalilio and William Richards on a mission to secure international recognition of Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty.


In February of 1842, Sir George Simpson and Dr. John McLoughlin, both businessmen and British subjects, landed in Honolulu. While here, they were not only interested in the ongoing controversies between kingdom and British subjects in Hawaiʻi, but both became convinced that the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi was unjustly accused. Proactively, Sir George offered both a large cash loan to the government and also advice that the king dispatch representatives to the United States and Europe to secure agreements on the independence of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.

King Kauikeaouli acted quickly and empowered a team of highly skilled operatives to negotiate on the kingdom’s behalf: Sir George Simpson, Timoteo Haʻalilio (King Kauikeaouli’s secretary), and special envoy William Richards. On July 8, 1842, under the cloak of high secrecy, both Richards and Haʻalilio departed via a chartered schooner for Mazatlán, Mexico on route to the United States.


Hawaiʻi’s first diplomats, Timoteo Haʻalilio and William Richards.

Although top secret, British Consul Richard Charlton caught wind of the mission and hastily moved to defeat the kingdom’s objectives. Upon arrival in Mazatlán on route to London, Charlton shared his grievances with the infamous Lord George Paulet, commander of the British frigate Carysfort. The Carysfort was later dispatched to Honolulu by Rear-Admiral Richard Darton Thomas to investigate the claims. These actions were precursors to the events leading up to Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea.

In the United States, Richards and Haʻalilio arrived in Washington D.C. in early December and quickly engaged in several interviews with U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster to secure the United States’ recognition of the independence of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. In the official letter received on December 19, 1842, the United States formally recognized Hawaiʻi as an independent nation state stating that “no power ought to take possession… either as a conquest or for the purpose of the colonization…[nor] any undue control over the existing government.” One down, two to go.

Having secured the United States’ recognition, the envoys joined up with Sir George Simpson in England. The envoys first met with George Hamilton-Gordon the Earl of Aberdeen, Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs for Great Britain but were not initially received well. Unwavered, the envoys traveled to Brussels on March 8 to meet with King Leopold I, the King of the Belgians. They were graciously received and he promised to use his influence to obtain recognition of Hawaiʻi’s independence. Interestingly, King Leopold had a close relationship with both royal families of France and England.


Sir George Simpson, who urged Kauikeaouli to seek recognition of Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty.


On March 17, the envoys were received by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot, France's minister of foreign affairs, and engaged in dialogue to secure France's recognition of Hawaiʻi.  Following this productive meeting with France, the envoys immediately returned to London to attend to unfinished business. On June 13, Lord Aberdeen assured the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi's envoys that Great Britain had no intention to possess Hawaiʻi and made this known to both the United States and France.


King Kauikeaouli’s secretary, Timoteo Haʻalilio.


On November 28, 1843, the mission that may have once seemed impossible was accomplished. Both France and England jointly declared: “Her Majesty, the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and His Majesty, the King of the French, taking into consideration the existence in the Sandwich Islands of a government capable of providing for the regularity of its relations with foreign nations have thought it right to engage reciprocally to consider the Sandwich Islands as an independent state, and never to take possession, either directly or under the title of a protectorate, or under any other form…”

Remarkable! Unprecedented! World-class! The small, island kingdom was the first non-European-led government to be recognized as an independent nation state. So, while preparing to gorge on turkey and other holiday dishes, take some time to remember Lā Kūʻokoʻa, Hawaiian Independence Day, this Friday, November 28.