|Home -> Philopolis Press -> Chimes of Mission Bells -> Chapter VI - California Passes from Spanish to Mexican Rule. Secularization of the Missions|
California Passes From Mexican to American Rule
The year 1846 found the Mexican government in California struggling with a poor exchequer and some of its leaders in an unfriendly mood towards one another on account of petty differences, while France, England and United States waited eagerly for an opportunity to seize California, nor may their desire be termed dishonest since a change of government each day seemed more inevitable.
Americans had often been treated with hostility and not given their lawful rights under the existing form of government in California. Just about this time United States Consul, Thomas O. Larkin had been sent to Monterey and Captain John Fremont to Northern California, the latter presumably to survey the country of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast in the interests of travel, but the real reason of the presence of these gentlemen in California was thought to be, that they should keep a close watch on the turn of affairs.
When circumstances shaped themselves for the worst, a party of Americans at Sonoma headed by Captain Ezekiel Merritt gave the first signal of uprising which led to the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic of California. These men applied to Captain Fremont for help, but as Fremont was an officer in the United States army, he could not personally take a hand in the affair without authority from the United States Government, but left his men free to join Captain Merritt's ranks, and many did so. Under Captain Merritt the Americans captured horses and arms from a Mexican regiment on the march for Sonoma, also the garrison of Sonoma; encouraged by this William B. Ide, one of Merritt's chief advisers and successor issued a Proclamation which launched the Bear Flag Republic into its existence of twenty-four days. This Proclamation was a praiseworthy document, stating the grievances of the American settlers, namely unfriendliness and threats of expulsion, also declaring the justice of overthrowing a government which had confiscated mission property calling upon the assistance of peace-loving citizens of California and promising not to molest persons who had not taken up arms. The Bear Flag of the Republic of California was then designed by a Mr. William Todd and hoisted in Sonoma on June 14, 1846, also in Monterey. The American flag could not be hoisted because the actions of this party of Americans had virtually been unauthorized, and they would have been responsible to the United States for so doing, however, it was their intention to turn over their conquests to the United States as soon as possible. But the Mexican military authorities regarded the actions of these Americans as a gross hostility, and from all sides prepared to attack them. The position of this plucky little band now became very perilous, and again they laid their cause and dangers before Fremont, who was in his camp on the American River. Now the Captain did not hesitate in his decision and with a small mounted force began action on the field. Fremont was a man of many commendable qualities, possessed of bright mentality, unwavering and extremely loyal to the American cause, but he had his failings, among them being that on several occasions he took advantage of the tangled state of affairs, to seize upon personal property considered without the range of his lawful power to take, hence the dislike that exists for him among many old California residents; still it was the "Pathfinder" as he was called, who with Commodore Robert Stockton, Lieutenant Archibald Giliespie in command at Los Angeles, General Stephen Kearny and some others fought the brief battles which terminated in the raising of the American flag at the Custom House of Monterey on July 7, 1846, thus was California admitted into the Union as a territory. By a treaty of peace which followed the Mexican War, California was ceded to the United States for the sum of $15,000,000 in 1848. Among Monterey's landmarks Colton Hall is pointed out as the place where representative men from various parts of California convened and framed the first American Constitution for the State, September 3, 1849. On November third of the same year the first election was held, with the result that Peter H. Burnett was elected Governor, John McDougall, Lieutenant-Governor, and Edward Gilbert and John Wright first Congressmen from California. From Monterey the State Capital was removed to San José, where John Fremont and William Gwin were appointed senators, and it was they who pressed the Government to admit California as a state, with the result that California was admitted as such on September 9, 1850. Major Robert Selden Garnett, U. S. A. designed the state seal.
In 1854 the capital was removed to Sacramento from Benicia which held it one year, San José having held it two years as, also Vallejo.
The discovery of gold in 1849 brought on a mad rush of all classes of people into California and acts of lawlessness and violence became numerous and frequent; for the purpose of checking these disorders the "Committee of Vigilance" was formed in San Francisco in 1851. This committee was composed of responsible men and much good came of it but like in so many enterprises of the kind, many abuses were committed and many innocent persons were unjustly punished.
As soon as affairs became settled and order established, American rule in California became marked by progress and order, the discovery of gold brought on a wonderful increase in population and more towns and cities sprung throughout the state.
Much indeed could be said of the present, but as our story is only a brief sketch intended to deal chiefly with the beloved old missions and missionaries, and unravel if but a few of the tangled skeins of misrepresentation cast about the older history of the state which is more wrapt in mystery, with warm gratitude for what the present is and for what the future will bring, we will return to the traces of the good fathers whose missions are still the wonders of California, with them we can still hear the chimes of mission bells.