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The Birth of the Golden Baby
The birth of the Golden Baby, in other words, the coming of the Golden State into the Union, was a time of struggle and uncertainty, when feelings were deeply stirred and hope deferred caused bitter disappointment. When the treaty of peace with Mexico was ratified by Congress it left the Pacific coast settlements in a strange position - a territory containing thousands of people, with more coming by hundreds, but with no legally appointed rulers.
As soon as Congress accepted the treaty, the military governor ceased to have any power, for there was then no longer a state of war; yet he was still obeyed by courtesy, until some one with a better right took his place. The only other official was the local alcalde of each community. This was a Mexican office, but was at that time often filled by an American who had, perhaps, been in the territory only a few months and knew nothing of Mexican laws, but ran things as well as he could after the Eastern fashion.
The Rev. Mr. Colton, chaplain of the warship Congress, was made alcalde of Monterey, and his book on those times is most interesting.
"My duties," said he, "are similar to those of the mayor of an Eastern city, but with no such aid of courts as he enjoys. I am supreme in every breach of peace, case of crime, disputed land title, over a space of three hundred miles. Such an absolute disposal of questions affecting property and personal liberty never ought to be confided to one man."
The country owed much to Mr. Colton's work while alcalde. He soon gained the confidence of law-abiding residents, but was a terror to evil doers. Those he put to work quarrying stone and building the solid structure afterward named Colton's Hall. Here one of the first of California's schools was opened, and here was held the first convention.
Perhaps the truth that "as a man sows, so shall he reap," that a wrong action is apt to bring its own punishment, was never more plainly shown than in the Mexican war. The war was brought upon the United States in a great degree by those interested in slavery, not because they had any just cause of quarrel with the people of Mexico, but because they wanted more territory where slaves could be held.
California, which was the name generally given to all the country extending from Mexico northward to Oregon and the Louisiana Purchase, and eastward from the Pacific Ocean to Texas, was what they really fought for, and when they got it, it became their undoing. When a commissioner went to Mexico to arrange for peace, he demanded California for the United States. As is usual, the conquered had to yield to the victor, and Mexico agreed, "provided the United States would promise not to permit slavery in the territory thus acquired."
"No," replied Mr. Trist, the American commissioner, "the bare mention of such a thing is an impossibility. No American president would dare present such a treaty to the Senate."
The Mexican authorities persisted, saying the prospect of the introduction of slavery into a territory gained from them excited the strongest feelings of abhorrence in the hearts of the Mexican people, but the American commissioner made no promise.
In the summer of 1848 the President, in a special message, called the attention of Congress to California and asked that the laws of a territory be granted to it. The South agreed, provided half should be slave territory. The Northern people, who disliked slavery, had no commercial interest in it, and felt it a disgrace to the nation, resisted this demand. Then began a bitter struggle over California and the question of slavery on her soil, which lasted for two years and called forth some of the grandest speeches of those mighty leaders, Webster, Clay, and Calhoun.
In 1849, while this fight in Congress was still going on, an amendment to tax California for revenue, and another which would result in making her a slave state, were added to the regular appropriation bill which provided for the expenses of government and without which the government would stop. Congress was supposed to close its session on Saturday, March 3d, at midnight. The new President, Taylor, was to take office on Monday.
There had been many times of excitement in that Senate chamber, but this night, it is said by those who were present, was equal to any. Such a war of words and a battle of great minds! Many eyes were turned to the clock as it drew near the hour of midnight. Would the stroke of twelve dissolve the meeting and the great government of the United States be left without funds?
To many of the senators this seemed a certainty, but Mr. Webster insisted that Congress could not end while they remained in session. So, through the long night, the struggle went on. About four o'clock the amendment in regard to slavery was withdrawn, and the bill for the government money was passed.
Meantime the American settlers in California were extremely dissatisfied. To be living without suitable laws was an unnatural and dangerous state of affairs which could not be tolerated by men who loved their country and their homes. The Spanish Californians, also, were anxious to know what they had to expect from the laws of the United States. At last it was decided by the people, and agreed to by the military governor, Riley, who was a man of good judgment, that delegates should be chosen to a convention which should arrange a state constitution and government. It was determined, however, to wait for word from Congress, which had closed in such tumult.
News would certainly arrive by the next steamer, the Panama, which was long overdue. It was a favorite amusement in those days for the boys of San Francisco to go upon the hill and watch for her coming. The 4th of June they were rewarded by the sight of her. As she came into harbor a large part of the population hurried to the wharf, eager to learn the action of Congress. Was California to be a state or not?
The disappointment was great when it was found that nothing had been done except to pass the revenue laws, which meant taxation without representation. In the plaza and on the streets the crowds were loud in their disapproval. The excitement was almost as great as in Boston, so long before, when the news of the tax on tea arrived. A mass meeting was called.
"It is plain they expect us to settle the slavery question for ourselves," said one. "We can do it in short order," said another.
Monday, September 3, 1849, the constitutional convention met at Monterey.
"Recognizing the fact that there is need of more than human wisdom, in the work of founding a state under the unprecedented condition of the country," says the minutes of that meeting, "the delegates voted to open the session with prayer." It was decided to begin each morning's work in this way, the Rev. S. H. Willey and Padre Ramirez officiating alternately.
There were present forty-eight delegates, seven of whom were Spanish Californians. Of these Carrillo of the south and General Vallejo of Sonoma were prominent. They were able men, who were used to governing and who understood fairly well the needs of the times. Later, in the United States Senate, Mr. Webster quoted Mr. Carrillo of "San Angeles," as he called it. Another delegate, Dr. Gwin, was a Southern man who had recently come to California for the purpose of gaining the position of United States senator and of so planning things that even though the state should be admitted as free soil, it might later be divided and part be made slave territory.
He depended for this upon the boundaries. If the whole great section was admitted as California, he thought division would surely follow with the southern part for slavery. The people, however, showed themselves opposed to slavery in their new state, and Dr. Gwin soon found that he must either forego his hopes of becoming senator or give way on this point. The constitution finally adopted was that of a free state with its boundaries as they are to-day. The new legislature chose Colonel Fremont and Dr. Gwin senators, and they left in January, 1850, for Washington, taking the new constitution to offer it for the approval of Congress.
While the people of the Pacific coast had been making their constitution, Congress was in session, and the subject of California and slavery was still troubling the nation. The discussion grew so bitter that in January Clay brought forward his famous Omnibus Bill, so called because it was intended to accommodate different people and parties, and contained many measures which he thought would be so satisfactory to the senators that they would pass the whole bill, although part of it provided for the admission of California as a free state.
At once Southerners sprang forward to resist the measure. They realized keenly that slavery could not hold its own if the majority of the country became free soil. They must persist in their demand for more slave territory, or give up their bondmen. Calhoun, the great advocate of slavery, who was at that time ill and near his death, prepared a speech, the last utterance of that brilliant mind, which was delivered March 4th. He was too ill to read it, but sat, gaunt and haggard, with burning eyes, while his friend spoke for him. It closed with the declaration that the admission of California as a slave or a free state was the test which would prove whether the Union should continue to exist or be broken up by secession. If she came in free, then the South could do no less than secede.
Three days later, March 7th, Webster delivered one of the great speeches of his life. In it he said, "The law of nature, physical geography, and the formation of the earth settles forever that slavery cannot exist in California."
Seward followed with a speech mighty in its eloquence. He said: "California, rich and populous, is here asking admission to the Union and finds us debating the dissolution of the Union itself. It seems to me that the perpetual unity of the empire hangs on this day and hour. Try not the temper and fidelity of California, nor will she abide delay. I shall vote for the admission of California directly, without conditions, without qualifications, and without compromise."
On September 9, 1850, California was at last admitted.
From that time the country advanced steadily onward to the terrible period of 1861, when the South put her threat into execution. The Civil War followed, and the abolition of slavery; but from the sorrowful struggle there arose a better and happier nation, a united North and South. There are two things to be remembered: that into the new territory gained from Mexico slavery never entered; and that the wealth which came from the mines of California did much toward strengthening the North in the conflict.
Over half a year the Californians had been waiting for their constitution to be adopted, and for their representatives to be received in Congress. Sometimes it seemed as though the good news would never come.
One October morning word came down from the lookout on Telegraph Hill: "The Oregon is coming in covered with bunting. All her flags are flying." Almost at the same moment throughout the city could be heard the quick booming of her guns as she entered the harbor. With shouts and clapping of hands the people rushed to the wharf. Tears were pouring down the faces of men who did not know what it was to cry; women were sobbing and laughing by turns. The shrill cheers of the California boys rose high above all. There was the report of guns, the cracking of pistols, the joyful pealing of bells. New York papers sold readily at five dollars each. No more business that day. Joy and gayety reigned. At night the city was ablaze with fireworks and mighty bonfires, which the boys kept going until morning.
Messengers started in every direction to carry the news. The way the word came to San Jose was exciting. The new governor, Peter Burnett, was in San Francisco on steamer day. On the very next morning he left for San Jose on the stage coach of Crandall, one of the famous drivers of the West. The stage of a rival line left at the same time. There was great excitement: a race between two six-horse teams, with coaches decorated with flags, and the governor on the box of one of them.
They had to creep through the heavy sands to the mission, but beyond there they struck the hard road, and away they went, horses at a gallop, passengers shouting and singing. As they passed through a town or by a ranch house people ran out, aroused by the hubbub. Off went the hats of all on the coaches.
"California has been admitted to the Union!" some one would shout in his loudest voice, and, looking back, they would see men shaking hands and tossing hats on high, and small boys jigging while shouts and cheers followed them faintly as they disappeared in the distance.
Past San Bruno, San Mateo, Mayfield, they went with a rush, then swept through Santa Clara, then at a gallop down the beautiful Alameda to San Jose, the governor's coach but three minutes in advance of its rival.
A few days later there was the grand ceremony of admission day, which was described in the papers not only of this country but of England as well.
Still, after the rejoicing came a time of anxiety and sorrow. In its treatment of the land question in California the United States made one of the gravest mistakes ever made by a civilized nation.
The man whom the government sent out to investigate the subject, W. C. Jones, was an able Spanish scholar, skilled in Mexican and Spanish law, and his carefully prepared report declared that the greater part of the rancheros had perfect title to their lands, and all that was necessary for the United States to do was to have them resurveyed.
In Congress, Senator Benton and Senator Fremont in most points supported this report as the only just plan. Against the bill that was finally passed Senator Benton protested vigorously, saying that it amounted to confiscation of the land instead of the protection promised by the American government, through Larkin and Sloat.
This law made it necessary for every Californian, no matter how long he had lived on his land, to prove his title to it, and that, too, while the United States attorney resisted his claim inch by inch, as if he were a criminal.
Thus the Spanish American, who was seldom a man of business after the standard of the Eastern states, was forced into the distressing necessity of fighting for what was his own, in courts, the law and language of which he did not understand. Meantime his property was rendered hard to sell, while taxation fell heaviest upon him because he was a large land owner. Often, too, he would have to pay his lawyer in notes, promising to give money when he could get it, and in the end the lawyer often got most of the land which the United States government had left to the unhappy Californian.
The way in which unprincipled men got the better of the rancheros would fill a volume. Guadalupe Vallejo, in the Century Magazine (Vol. 41), tells how a leading American squatter came to her father and said: -
"There is a large piece of your land where the cattle run loose, and your vaqueros are all gone to the mines. I will fence the field at my own expense if you will give me half of it." Vallejo agreed, but when the American had inclosed it, he entered it on the record books as government land and kept it all.
This article also describes the losses of the ranchmen from cattle stealing. It tells how Americans, who were afterward prosperous citizens, were guilty of selling Spanish beef which they knew had been stolen.
The life of the Spanish-speaking people at the mines was made miserable. The American miners seemed to feel that the Californian had no right to be there. Of course there were some of the lower class, many of whom were part Indian, who would lie, steal, or, if they had an opportunity, murder; but often those who were persecuted were not of this type. A woman of refinement, who under the title of "Shirley" wrote her experiences at the mines, says: -
"The people of the Spanish race on Indian Bar, many of whom are highly educated gentlemen, are disposed to bear an ill opinion of our whole nation on account of the rough men here. They think that it is a great characteristic of Columbia's children to be prejudiced, selfish, avaricious, and unjust."
Because in a quarrel a Mexican killed a drunken miner, the men of the Bar determined to drive away all Californians. They captured several, not the guilty one, banished some, and two they sentenced to be flogged. Shirley from her cabin heard what was going on. She tells how one of them, a gentlemanly young Spaniard, begged in vain to be killed rather than be disgraced by whipping. When, finally, he was released, he swore eternal vengeance against the American race.
In San Francisco the disorderly state of affairs caused by the host of criminals gathered there from all over the world, attracted by the discovery of gold, became unendurable. On the city streets robbery and murder were of frequent occurrence, no one was safe, and wrongdoers went unpunished because, frequently, the officers of the law were in league with them. At last the best citizens felt that for the sake of their homes and families they must take matters into their own hands, so they formed an association, seven thousand strong, which was known as the "Vigilantes."
Those who committed crimes were taken by this organization, and, after careful trial, punished. Several of the worst offenders were executed, many were banished from the country, and unjust officials were removed. When law and order were restored, the Vigilantes disbanded.
The example of San Francisco was followed in various parts of the state, especially in the mining camps, where there were many crimes; but not all the Vigilantes displayed the same care and fairness as the people of the larger city, and sometimes terrible mistakes were made, and innocent people suffered.
With thousands of newcomers on the Pacific coast, and the long distance between them and their homes, it was often of the greatest importance to get their parcels and mail to them as promptly as possible. For this reason several express companies were started and did excellent work; but the mail route called the Pony Express was the most interesting. It is well described by W. F. Bailey in the Century Magazine (Vol. 56).
One day in March, 1860, the following advertisement appeared in a St. Louis paper: -
"To San Francisco in eight days. The first carrier of the Pony Express will leave the Missouri River on Tuesday, April 3d, and will run regularly weekly hereafter, carrying letter mail only. Telegraph mail eight days, letters ten days to San Francisco."
From St. Joseph, Missouri, the first start was made. A large crowd was present to see the rider off. The same day, the same hour, the Western mail started on the thousand-mile ride eastward. There would be ten riders each way, with horses changed every twenty-five miles.
Both Sacramento and San Francisco were full of enthusiasm. It was planned to give the first messenger a rousing reception when he should arrive from the East. He was received by crowds as he galloped into Sacramento, and hurried to a swift river steamboat which immediately started for the Bay. News of his coming was telegraphed ahead, and was announced from the stages of the San Francisco theaters so that when he arrived at midnight a large number of people were awaiting him, bands were playing, and bells were ringing; and a long procession escorted him to the company's office.
In all, there were sixty riders of this express company, all young men, light in weight, accomplished riders, coolheaded, and absolutely brave. They were held in high regard by all, and with good reason. Each when he entered the service signed this pledge: -
"I agree not to use profane language, not to get drunk, not to gamble, not to treat animals cruelly, and not to do anything incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman." They also had to swear to be loyal to the Union.
The average journey of one man was seventy-five miles, this to be accomplished in one day, but the men frequently had to double the distance, and once, when the messenger who was waiting was killed by Indians, "Buffalo Bill" (Mr. Cody) made the long trip of three hundred and eighty-four miles, stopping only for meals and to change horses.
By day and by night, through rain and storm, heat and cold, they rode, these brave men, one facing east, the other west, alone, always alone, often chased by Indians, though, owing to their watchfulness and the superiority of their horses, they were seldom caught. A number were, however, killed by immigrants, who mistook them for Indians or robbers.
The great feat of the Pony Express was the delivering of Lincoln's inaugural address in 1861.
With the Southern states claiming to be out of the Union, people were wild to know what the President would say. To St. Joseph, Missouri, the address was hurried. Here it was carefully wrapped in oil skin, consigned to the saddle bags, and amid wild cheers the express was off. Horses were waiting every ten miles. What a ride was that! "Speed, speed! faster, faster!" was the cry. Each man tried to do a trifle better than the last, while the thousands on the Pacific coast seemed to be straining their ears for the sound of the galloping hoof beats which brought nearer to them the brave message of the grand new President. And when the last rider came in, making the final ten miles in thirty-one minutes, what a cheer went up!
One thousand nine hundred and fifty miles in one hundred and eighty-five hours, the message had traveled - at an average of a little more than ten miles an hour - straight across the continent.
When we read of the speed-breaking special trains of to-day, let us not forget what these brave men of the first overland express accomplished in the days of '61.