Late one night at the Republican convention of 1902, Henry P. Baldwin shrewdly suggested that Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole could be the person to help the party of the planters win over the huge political majority of the Hawaiians, recently enfranchised by the United States.
Kuhio had the potential to capture the hearts of Hawaiians nostalgic for life under the monarchy. And he did not like the wild rhetoric of Robert Wilcox, leader of the newly formed the Home Rule Party through which Native Hawaiians had captured the Legislature and threatened to dominate the territory's politics.
The prince was a generous, congenial figure with a ready wit and abundant good humor. His tastes were expensive, and he was an avid sportsman who enjoyed hunting, fishing, yachting and polo. The Maui News considered Kuhio "an honorable, high-minded man who was not ambitious for office."
His nickname, "Prince Cupid," was bestowed by the French teacher at the private boarding school he attended in Honolulu, who was taken with the "fat little fellow whose eyes twinkled merrily and upon whose lips there was a perpetual smile. . . . He is so cute, just like the pictures of the little cupids."
Kuhio was married to Elizabeth Kahanu Kaauwai, daughter of a Maui chief. The young couple left Hawaii in 1899 for a trip around the world, including Paris and South Africa. They returned in 1901 to Pualeilani, their home on the beach at Waikiki that became famous for gracious hospitality.
It was Kuhio who, at the coronation of Kalakaua and Kapi'olani in 1874, came forward with the second crown. It was Kuhio who accompanied Lili'uokalani on a trip to the leprosy settlement on Molokai in April 1891. It was he, among others, who stood in the Blue Room of 'Iolani Palace on the fateful day of Jan. 17, 1893, when the queen renounced the throne under protest.
There are several versions of how Lili'uokalani's favorite was persuaded to support the party of the men who overthrew her.
According to Samuel Wilder King, a future governor of Hawaii, a secret meeting took place late at night at Honolulu's prestigious Pacific Club between Kuhio and Baldwin, who pressed him until 2 a.m. to accept. Kuhio's English was not good at the time, but Baldwin was fluent in Hawaiian.
A second version holds that Joe Cooke, head of Alexander & Baldwin, and Jack Atkinson, Kuhio's boyhood friend, were the ones involved. Atkinson left the convention late in the evening to rouse the prince at his home while Cooke waited at the Pacific Club. The prince accepted.
Baldwin put Kuhio's name in nomination on Sept. 2, 1902, as the Republican candidate for Hawaii's delegate to the U.S. Congress.
"I cannot forget the pleasure of the years I lived under the monarchy, as a youth, as a young man, as a man of business. My remembrances of all those days give me a heartfelt aloha for Hawaii and the Hawaiians," he said. Republicans should be proud to have a leader with the stature of Kuhio join their ranks, and "the prince himself should be proud that he has chosen to belong to that party, which is a party that stands for the good of the whole people."
Kuhio took the floor and announced to hearty cheers, "I am a Republican from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet."
He proved an excellent campaigner. "Aloha, alo-ha, kama-'aina," Kuhio greeted audiences in soft mellow tones, drawing out the words. His campaign tours were similar to the royal progresses through the islands his forbears made in days gone by.
The prince was welcomed at the homes of the most important people in each district, and plantation managers eagerly sought his presence. Republicans raised large sums to provide lavish entertainment at each stop, with a luau and the best musicians. Kuhio and his party arrived, dashingly, on horseback. Speechmaking began after the feast and took most of the afternoon.
Wilcox argued that a man who would kuhio ("bend away") from the Home Rule Party did not deserve Hawaiian support, and the Home Rulers took the majority of the Hawaiian vote throughout the territory. But the prince won huge pluralities in haole precincts, and enough votes in Kona and on Maui, where Hawaiian leaders joined forces with the Republicans, to clinch a substantial victory.
Robert Wilcox died a year later, and by 1912 the Home Rule Party was finished. Kuhio became a favorite in the U.S. Congress and went on to win 10 more elections.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.