The 1840 Hawaiian Kingdom Constitution

– one of the world’s first modern constitutions

The first modern constitution (the Magna Carta is not considered an actually constitution, but rather a precursor to constitutions) was the US Constitution of 1788. Fifty-one years later, the Hawaiian Kingdom, having proclaimed a Declaration of Rights in 1839, promulgated the Constitution of 1840, of which the Declaration became a preamble. It always struck me that 50 years, in the slow process of “constitutionalism” was quite a short period of time. Today, constitutions are standard documents, but in the mid-1800s most governments were absolute monarchies, without constitutions. I had my students look up the answer to the question: How many constitutions were made in that 50 year period? The answer, excluding Hawaiʻi, is four! So if my information is correct, the Hawaiian Kingdom’s 1840 Constitution was only the fifth modern constitution in history! (Correction of GK: There is Kingdom of Poland, 1791, if you count this Constitution and also the Constitution of  Cherokee 1839, so Hawai’i Kingdom would be on place sixth).The four constitutions that predate Hawaiʻi’s are: the United States (1788), The Kingdom of Norway (1814), the Netherlands (1815), and Belgium (1831). Hawaiʻi followed in 1843 and Denmark was next in 1849. Now this list is of constitutions that are still in effect and only counts independent states, not federated states like New York, etc.

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-2-17-35-pmConstitution 1839

Those who question the credibility and viability of “The Kingdom” should contemplate this revelation, and consider the significance of the fact that Kamehameha III gave this constitution voluntarily, rather than being forced as King John was when the Magna Carta was created. The constitution was revised in 1852 by Kamehameha III and 1864 by Kamehameha IV to better adopt concepts such as separation of powers, before the 1887 Bayonet Constitution (according to Dr. Willie Kauai the first time race was used to delineate citizens) was illegally forced on King Kalākaua.


The World first Constitutions

United States of America

September 17, 1787

Jurisdiction United States of America
Created September 17, 1787
Presented September 28, 1787
Ratified June 21, 1788
Date effective March 4, 1789[1]
System Constitutional presidential republic

Kingdom of Poland

May 3, 1791

Created 6 October 1788 – 3 May 1791
Ratified 3 May 1791; 229 years ago
Location Central Archives of Historical Records,


May 17, 1814

Jurisdiction Norway
Adopted 16 May 1814
Signed 17 May 1814


August 24, 1815

Reformed Constitution 1848
Aantekeningen Thorbecke op de grondwet 1839, Johan Rudolph Thorbecke, 1839


February 7, 1831

The Belgian constitution was a balanced synthesis of the French constitutions of 1791, 1814 and 1830, the Dutch constitution of 1814, and of English constitutional law. However, it did not become an amalgam.

Kingdom of Hawai`i

October 8, 1840

The 1840 Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom titled Ke Kumukānāwai a me nā Kānāwai o ko Hawaiʻi Pae ʻĀina, Honolulu, 1840 was the first fully written constitution for the Hawaiian Kingdom. The constitution was enacted on October 8, 1840, by King Kamehameha III


June 5, 1849

The Constitutional Act of the Realm of Denmark, also known as the Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark, or simply the Constitution, is the constitution of the Kingdom of Denmark, applying equally in Denmark proper, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.


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