David Kalakaua was the second son of the Hawaiian High Chief, and, according to national custom, he was given to the high chief Haaheo and her husband to raise as their own. He attended the Chiefs’ Children’s School, where he became fluent in English, and at the age of 16 he began studying law. His various political positions, however, prevented him from finishing his degree; by 20, he had been made a major on the staff of King Kamehameha IV, and he led a political organization known as the Young Hawaiians. In 1683, Kalakaua was also appointed postmaster general.

When King Kamehameha V passed away in 1872 without naming a successor, the Hawaiian constitution dictated that a new leader would be appointed by the government. There were several candidates, but two stood out as favorites: William Lunalilo and Kalakaua. Lunalilo was more popular and liberal than his opponent, and he insisted that a public election take place, which he won by a landslide. Within the year, though, Lunalilo had passed away and Kalakaua was elected to replace him. He named his brother as heir apparent, but after the latter’s untimely death, his sister Liliuokalani was chosen instead. Kalakaua began his reign with a tour of the Hawaiian Islands, closely followed by the drafting of a treaty with the U.S., aimed at ending the ongoing economic depression in Hawaii. Kalakaua also began dismissing and appointing cabinet members, a decision that angered members of the Missionary Party, who felt that the monarchy should act as a figurehead instead of having any real power. In 1881, the king left Hawaii to travel around the world and improve foreign relations; he was the first ruler to do so. In his absence, his sister and heir Liliuokalani ruled.

Upon his return to Hawaii, Kalakaua erected a palace and several expensive statues, leading the frustrated Missionary Party to vie for his abdication, while others wished to annex the islands to the U.S. In 1887, the latter party forced Kalakaua to sign a new constitution, which removed much of the king’s power and deprived the natives of voting rights. A counter-revolution attempted to restore the King’s power but ultimately failed, and Kalakaua, by this time in poor health, traveled to San Francisco at the urging of his doctor. There he passed away in 1891, and his sister succeeded him to the throne.

Key events during the life of David Kalakaua:

Was made a major on the staff of King Kamehameha IV.
Appointed postmaster general.
Lost the Hawaiian presidencial election to Lunalilo.
Elected to the presidency following Lunalilo’s death.
  Sent representatives to the U.S. to negotiate a treaty to help end an ongoing depression in Hawaii.
Signed a treaty that allowed Hawaiian goods to be admitted into the U.S. tax-free.
Left Hawaii on a trip around the world to improve foreign relations.
Forced at gunpoint to sign the Bayonet Constitution.
Travelled to San Francisco when his health began to fail.
Died in San Francisco.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
How Hawaii Lost its Queen  in  Historical Tales, Vol I: American  by  Charles Morris

Short Biography
Liliokalani Last Queen of the Hawaiian Islands.
Ulysses Grant Commander and Chief of the Union forces in the Civil War, and President of the United States.