Lincoln reached out to grieving Hawaiian king in 1864
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
Archivist Dainan Skeem considered himself lucky yesterday to hold an original, four-page letter of condolence that President Lincoln wrote to King Kamehameha V 145 years ago and that ends with Lincoln's own squirrely signature.
"I didn't even know we had this," Skeem said yesterday as held the letter with his bare hands in the state archives on the grounds of 'Iolani Palace. "It definitely is thrilling."
The letter Lincoln wrote to the new king on Feb. 2, 1864, following the death of Kamehameha V's younger brother, King Kamehameha IV, is one of four documents signed by Lincoln that sit in a vault inside the state archives and are rarely seen — let alone touched.
Collectively, they help illustrate the connection between the Islands and Abraham Lincoln that continues on today's bicentennial of his birth and has been strengthened by President Obama, a son of Hawai'i who often quotes Lincoln and swore his presidential oath of office on Lincoln's bible.
Across the country today, America will honor the 200th anniversary of the birth of its 16th president, with celebrations that include the public reopening of Ford's Theatre in Washington where Lincoln was assassinated and a National Archives display of the original Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln.
Lincoln's home state of Illinois will be busy with several events at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield — and a reading of the Gettysburg Address by schoolchildren across the state. Obama is scheduled to be in Springfield for a dinner honoring Lincoln.
While new Lincoln pennies are being minted and the postal service is planning to release four new Lincoln stamps, the four documents signed by Lincoln suddenly have new energy around them in the Hawai'i state archives.
Three of the documents appear to be formal matters of state: the appointment of James McBride as U.S. "Minister Resident in Hawai'i," signed by Lincoln on March 16, 1863; the appointment of Alfred Caldwell of Virginia to the position of "Consul of the United States of Honolulu," signed by Lincoln on Aug. 12, 1861; and a Sept. 22, 1862, document that authorizes the U.S. secretary of state to affix the U.S. seal to a proclamation signed by Lincoln.
But the letter of condolence from an American president to a Hawaiian king is far more personal.
"It's gratifying to know that His Majesty's place on the throne and in the hearts of the Hawaiian people is occupied by one who was allied to him by the closest ties of blood, and by a long participation in the affairs of the Kingdom," Lincoln wrote to Kamehameha V. "These influences, controlled by the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, whose guidance your Majesty invokes, and by those aspirations which your Majesty cherishes for the good of your subjects, cannot fail to assure the well-being and prosperity of the Hawaiian Kingdom."
Lincoln ends the letter, "I remain Your Majesty's Good Friend"
CIVIL WAR PASSIONS
The salutation suggests a personal bond between Lincoln and Kamehameha. And James Oliver Horton, a Lincoln scholar who is a visiting professor of American studies at the University of Hawai'i, is convinced "there was a personal relationship between them."
Honolulu newspapers at the time documented the sometimes fierce attitudes in the Islands toward the Civil War and the fight to end slavery.
"You'll find substantial coverage of things that were happening in Hawai'i that were responses to the things that were going on at the national level," Horton said. "There was an interesting story of a Southern-born woman who hung a Confederate flag on her lanai that was destroyed by her neighbors."
In "Hawai'i and the Lincoln Bicentennial: Remembering a Special Relationship," an upcoming article in the Hawai'i Council for the Humanities' newsletter, Horton writes:
HAWAIIAN SHIPS SUNK
There have since been reports that whaling ships flying American or Hawaiian flags were conscripted to ship sugar from the Islands to the Mainland to support the war effort, but the executive director emeritus of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation yesterday said that's unlikely.
"Sugar started in Hawai'i in 1840 on Kaua'i and grew very slowly," Keoki Freeland said. "By the 1870s, the sugar industry was not going full scale at all and the whaling fleet of over 400 ships was virtually gone."
Some American and Hawaiian whaling ships did get pulled into the conflict, however, when they were attacked by the confederate ship CSS Shenandoah in the north and south Pacific, said Susan Lebo, a researcher who is compiling the names of Native Hawaiian sailors who worked on whale boats.
"A fair number of ships were overtaken and burned," Lebo said yesterday. "The CSS Shenandoah was indiscriminate whether it attacked American vessels or ones flying under the Hawaiian flag."The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com.