Punawaiola Ka Huli Ao Digital Archives| Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law| William S. Richardson School of Law


Privy Council

Privy Council. (1845-1892)

The Kingdom of Hawai`i’s Privy Council was a body comprised, in 1845, of five ministers and the four governors along with other appointed members which served to advise the King. While the first official record of the Privy Council begins in July 1845, the body existed previously as the council of chiefs. It bears noting that the House of Nobles similarly comprised of the members of the council of chiefs. It was not until the October 1845 Act to Organize the Executive Ministry that the council was formally constituted. Article 41 of the 1864 Constitution, issued during the reign of Kamehameha V, reasserts the continuing need for a Council of State “…for advising the King in all matters for the good of the State … and for assisting him in administering the Executive affairs of the Government, … which Council shall be called the King’s Privy Council of State, and the members thereof shall be appointed by the King …” Article 42 of the 1864 Constitution further specifies that the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the Interior, and Finance and the Attorney General would be ex officio members of the Privy Council.

The Privy Council is an institution of European monarchies. The English Privy Council developed out of the royal court of ecclesiastics and high officials that advised the Crown. Privy, from Latin prīvātus, connotes the role of the council as private advisors to the monarch. Distinguishing the Privy Council from a modern cabinet of the executive is that in the monarchical tradition a Privy Council leant legislative powers to the monarch and served judicial functions.

The adoption of this western institution by the Kingdom of Hawaii reflected the effort of the time to conform the organization of the government to the norms of the community of nations with which Hawai’i was having increasing economic and diplomatic relations.

The Privy Council remained a part of the Kingdom of Hawaii up to the overthrow. We have in our digital collection the Minutes of the Privy Council in 16 volumes from 1845 through 1892. Attendance books (1850-56), resolutions (1851-62), special committee records (1847), letters (1886-1894) and memoranda of the Privy Council may be consulted at the Hawai`i State Archives.