Lunalilo, born William Charles Lunalilo, was the sixth monarch of the Hawaiʻi from January 8, 1873 until February 3, 1874. Due to his popularity and status as Hawaii's first elected monarch, he became known as "The People's King".
King Kamehameha V, the last of the Kamehameha kings, died on December 11, 1872 without naming a successor. Under the Kingdom's 1864 constitution, if the king did not appoint a successor, a new king would be elected by the legislature from the eligible Hawaiian royals still alive. The other candidate was David Kalākaua. Lunalilo was the more popular of the two. His grandfather was Kalaimamahu, a half brother of Kamehameha I and was thus a cousin of King Kamehameha V. His grandmother was Queen Kalakua Kaheiheimalie, sister of Queen Kaʻahumanu. Because of this, many people believed the throne rightly belonged to Lunalilo since the only person more closely related to Kamehameha V, Bernice Pauahi Bishop, made clear she did not want the throne. Another contender was Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani who was a half sister to King Kamehameha V. She was a favorite among the Hawaiian chiefs because of her adhering to the old Hawaiian ways. She was governess of Hawaii and refused to speak English even though she was fluent in it. Her genealogy, however, was too controversial and few people considered her suitable to take the throne. This left Kalākaua and Lunalilo, and of the two, Lunalilo was greatly favored. So great was Lunalilo's popularity that some people believed that Lunalilo could have simply walked into the capital and declared himself king. Lunalilo, however, insisted that the constitution be followed.
The popular vote was held on January 1, 1873 and Lunalilo won by an overwhelming majority. The week after, the legislature unanimously voted Lunalilo king. It has been speculated that the reason for the unanimous vote was because each legislator was required to sign his name on the back of his ballot, and the legislators were afraid to go against the wishes of the people. Queen Emma later wrote in a letter that hundreds of Hawaiians were ready to tear to pieces anyone who opposed Lunalilo.
Like his predecessor, Lunalilo did not designate an heir to the throne. It was said he had intended for Queen Emma to succeed him, but died before a formal proclamation could be made. The most prevalent explanation of this delay is regarding his democratic principles: he wished to have the people choose their next ruler. However, the constitution of 1864 had charged the legislature, not the people, with the task of electing the next king. In the end, Kalākaua of the House of Kalākaua was voted to succeed Lunalilo as king.