The young Alexander Liholiho, a grandson of Kamehameha the Great, was educated by American missionaries and toured the West before he took the Hawaiian throne as Kamehameha IV (1834-1863) in 1855. As king, he sought to reduce the influence of the United States in Hawaii and build a stronger relationship with Great Britain. He was an extremely popular ruler and won great public support in 1860 with the construction of Queens Medical Center, where all Hawaiians could receive free medical care. Tragedy struck in 1862, when the king’s only son died suddenly. After withdrawing from public life, Kamehameha IV died in 1863, at the age of 29.

Early Life and Reign of Kamehameha IV

Alexander Liholiho, born in 1834 on the island of Oahu, was the son of Kekuanaoa, governor of Oahu, and Kinau, a female chief who had served as kuhina nui (Hawaii’s prime minister or co-regent). His maternal grandfather was Kamehameha I, known as Kamehameha the Great. Adopted as a child by his uncle, King Kamehameha III, Prince Alexander was educated at the Royal School by American Protestant missionaries until he was 14. He then left school to tour the United States, England and France, accompanied by his brother Lot and the missionary and doctor Gerritt P. Judd.

Did you know? In 1810, Kamehameha the Great, grandfather of Kamehameha IV, united all the Hawaiian islands under one ruling dynasty for the first time. Hawaii would remain a unified kingdom for less than 85 years before the forced abdication of Queen Liliuokalani and Hawaii's subsequent annexation by the United States.

Declared his uncle’s heir apparent in 1853, Prince Alexander strongly opposed the movement spearheaded by many American missionaries on behalf of the U.S. annexation of Hawaii. Kamehameha III died in 1855, and the prince was crowned King Kamehameha IV. The following year, he married Emma Rooke, a female chief and great-grandniece of Kamehameha I; his wife would exert a strong influence during the remainder of his reign.

Kamehameha’s Foreign and Domestic Policy

Fearing (with good reason) the possibility of Hawaii’s future annexation, Kamehameha IV sought to cultivate a diplomatic relationship with Great Britain as a counterweight to U.S. influence in his country. In particular, he invited the Church of England to establish itself in Hawaii. The king also removed all Americans from cabinet posts in his government, and encouraged Hawaiian trade with other nations. In efforts to build up his kingdom’s economy and lessen its dependence on the United States, Kamehameha IV also supported an agricultural program aimed at fostering native interest in farming, established the first Hawaiian chamber of commerce and improved Hawaii’s harbors.

Ever since the arrival of the first missionaries, foreign diseases had ravaged Hawaii’s population. Kamehameha IV and his wife waged a campaign to combat this devastation, personally soliciting funds for the building of a new hospital in Honolulu where Hawaiians could get free medical care. The Queen’s Hospital, opened in 1859, is still one of Hawaii’s leading medical centers.

Untimely Death of Kamehameha IV

Tragically, Prince Albert Edward Kauikeaouli, the only son of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, died suddenly in 1862, when he was only four years old. His father, who had long suffered from asthma and nerve disorders, never recovered from his shock and grief. He withdrew from public life, and died in 1863, at the age of 29.