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California in 1860
The federal census of 1860 gave California 379,984 inhabitants and San Francisco 56,802. Historian Bancroft informs us that here was "a gathering without a parallel in history." It may be said that the whole history and development of California is without parallel. The story reads not so much like the orderly growth of a civilized community as a series of unrelated and episodical events. There is little of logical order or sequence, and much of surprise, adventure, of conflict and crisis. Said an aged philosopher, "It is the unexpected that happens," a saying illustrated if anywhere in the world, in the history of the Golden State.
Although discovered early in the sixteenth century by adventurous Spaniards, no serious attempt was made at settlement of any portion of the territory now included in the boundaries of California until the year 1769, when Father Junipero Serra arrived at the Bay of San Diego. Then followed a half century constituting the Mission Period of California history, during which Spanish Governors and Franciscan Friars ruled the land. Inspired more by religious zeal than by lust of conquest, or hope of gain, the Spanish Padres planted a chain of missions extending from San Diego to the Bay of San Francisco. At these missions, consisting often, at the beginning, of nothing more than a rude cross and altar, with some miserable make-shift of tent or huts as protection from the heat of summer and the cold of winter, the faithful priests labored to convert the surrounding Indians. They tried to make of them not alone good Catholics, but good farmers, and vineyardists, and according to the need of the time, capable carpenters and builders. As the result of their labors a long period of simple prosperity was enjoyed at the missions. Buildings were erected that still delight the traveler. They were for the most part of Moorish architecture, built of adobe, painted white, with red-tile roofs, long corridors and ever the secluded plaza where the friar might tell his beads in peace. Around the missions, some twenty in number, lying a day's journey apart between the southern and the central bay, Indian workers cultivated immense fields of grain, choice vineyards, olive orchards and orange groves; great herds of horses, cattle, and sheep were cared for, and the women became adept at weaving and spinning. Nor were the Spanish Governors idle. They encouraged the immigration of settlers both from the mother country and Mexico by a most liberal policy, assisting the newcomer to build a home, acquire stock, and establish himself in a country where there was an abundance of game, and where the earth yielded her bounty with the minimum of labor. Thus in the half century between 1770 and 1820, these Pius Padres laid the foundations of California, as they believed securely, after Catholic and Spanish tradition.
Not securely so it proved, for in 1822 Mexico won her independence from Spain, both political and religious. The California Padres being Spaniards naturally suffered persecution at the hands of successive Mexican Governors, who were envious of the lands, orchards and herds of domestic animals belonging to the various missions. Ruthlessly the Friars were plundered of their well tilled fields, their fine vineyards, their flocks and herds, and their Indian converts were enticed or driven into the service of the new Masters of the country. Some of these officials were of Spanish blood and some of Mexican but now they proudly called themselves, Californians. And proudly they lived, these Spanish and Mexican Dons. Owning immense tracts of land, riding upon fleet horses, relieved of all necessity of honest work, they soon became in their manner of living, veritable hidalgoes.
Vain, ridiculously boastful, pleasure chasers, they loved above all else the frolic, the dance, and a good horse. All the way from San Diego to Shasta were located the immense ranchoes, more than six hundred in number, ever since celebrated in song and story. This was the period so often called by poetic writers the Romantic Age of California. Although much of the glamor of the dear old days of plenty and pleasure has been dispelled by the careful researches of conscientious scholars, it must still be admitted that here also were developed certain characteristics and here a kind of foundation for the future laid, ignorant of which we can not understand either the California of 1860 or even the State as we of today know and love it. If it is true that the first settlers in any community leave a lasting impress upon after generations it is evident that the Franciscan and Spanish background of California must be reviewed as we approach the more serious days of American conflict and conquest.
Although the first American settler arrived in California in 1816 his example seems to have been without effect for in 1822 there were but fourteen persons not of Mexican or Spanish blood in all the province. In the early '40's emigrants from the "States" began to come in parties, but so slowly that by January 1, 1848, the entire population (not including Indians) numbered only 14,000, and Yerba Buena (San Francisco) the only Pueblo of any size contained barely 900 inhabitants. This be it noted was but twelve years before the arrival of Starr King, so close was the old aristocratic rule of Spain to that stirring conflict in which he was to become a central figure.
As we have already observed it is the unexpected that happens in California history. In this same month of January, 1848, gold was discovered in the upper Sacramento Valley, an event that rivals the discovery of America by Columbus, if regarded in the light of results affecting the development of modern society. "The Gold that Drew the World" so Edwin Markham heads his story of that strange hegira which converted far-away California into a new Mecca and made of San Francisco, that sleepy Spanish Pueblo, in a few months' time a cosmopolitan city of fifty thousand people. Two years earlier, as a result of the Mexican War, California had been declared an American Territory, though not formally ceded to the United States until February 2, 1848. It was generally believed that the Mexican War had been waged and California acquired in the interest of negro slavery. James Russell Lowell voices this belief in the Bigelow papers as follows:
"They just wanted this California
So's to lug new slave states in,
To abuse ye and to scorn ye,
And to plunder ye like sin."
However this may have been, it is certain that among the immigrants of the fifty's there was a large number of forceful and brilliant men, loving the old South, and fully determined to swing the new state into line as a pro-slavery asset. It is true they were not strong enough to prevent the adoption in 1849 of a constitution prohibiting slavery, yet for all that, as Southern men they rejoiced when September 9, 1850, California was admitted to the Union.
It is no part of our purpose to give in detail the strange story of California during her first ten years as an American Commonwealth. By 1850 her population had increased to 120,000 people, mostly young men drawn by the lure of gold from every quarter of the civilized world, including not less than 4000 Chinese. Yet the majority were Americans, and of the Americans the larger number were from the slave states. Nor was this condition much altered up to the outbreak of the Civil War. Trustworthy authorities estimate that not less than forty per cent of her entire population were at that time of Southern birth, naturally Democratic in politics and for the most part pro-slavery in sentiment. It should be remembered that during the decade under consideration the national government was under the brilliant leadership of the slave-masters who were ever alert as to the attitude of this new Eldorado of the West. Consequently every position of trust and honor under national control in California was given to "safe men" whose attitude towards the "peculiar institution" was favorable beyond suspicion. To such an extent was this a matter of public knowledge that the Customs Station of San Francisco was popularly dubbed the "Virginia Poor House." During all these years California was under the absolute control of the Democratic Party, and the party was under control of its Pro-slavery leaders.
"The common people," says a late historian, "stood in awe for many years of these suave, urbane, occasionally fire-eating and always well-dressed gentlemen from this most aristocratic section of the Union. The Southerners, born leaders of men, and with politics the paramount interest in their lives, controlled both San Francisco and California."
J. W. Forney, a politician and reporter of the time, is more emphatic and declares that "California was a secession rendezvous from the day it became a part of the Union."
That the State was strongly Southern in sympathy is proven by the fact that of fifty-three newspapers published within her borders only seven advocated the election of Lincoln to the Presidency in 1860. A stronger proof still is found in the character and conduct of the public men of California during all the period under consideration. With one or two exceptions, of whom honorable mention later, every official of any importance, state or national, favored the South and voted in her interest. This condition was partly due, without doubt, to the political leadership of Senator Wm. M. Gwin. A Tennessean by birth, he was forty-six years of age, when he landed in San Francisco, June 4, 1849. Almost immediately active in politics he became the most brilliant and unscrupulous leader California has ever had. He held the reins of power and of national patronage until the war brought chaos to the old order and always Wm. M. Gwin was a faithful servant of the old aristocratic South of John C. Calhoun. He was ably seconded in his efforts to hold California to the pro-slavery cause by David S. Terry, Chief Justice of the State, and a fiery Texan, fearless and fierce in every conflict which might affect adversely Southern Chivalry. After these distinguished leaders there followed in monotonous succession Senators, Representatives, Governors, Legislators, representing doubtless their constituents in opposition to every movement looking to the abolition, or even serious limitation of the slave power.
The first man to challenge the almost solid cohorts of pro-slavery Democracy in California was David C. Broderick, United States Senator from 1857 until his untimely death in 1859. Broderick was the son of a stone cutter and in early life followed his father's trade. Born in Washington, D. C., he grew to manhood in New York City. When only twenty-six years old he became "Tammany's candidate for Congress." He was defeated and in June, 1849, he too arrived in San Francisco, determined never to return East unless as United States Senator. Plunging into the political life of the state as a loyal Democrat he was sent almost at once to the legislature in Sacramento, where he speedily became an influential member. In 1851 he was made presiding officer of the Senate and by 1852 his leadership within the State was so firmly established that it was said of him "he is the Democratic Party of California." January 10, 1857, after years of bitter struggle, Broderick was elected United States Senator, and the following March was duly received as a member of that august body. From the first his had been a strenuous career, he had been the storm center of heated contests, personal and political, in which he had commanded the suffrages of his fellows so completely that it was said, "men of all ages followed him like dogs." He had made many bitter and unrelenting enemies, and now that he had reached the goal of his ambition, he was to enter upon a last dread battle, the most severe and deadly of all he had known.
Stripped of all misleading complications the question then agitating Congress and the country was simply this: Shall Negro Slavery be forced upon the new territory of Kansas against the will of a majority of her people? This, of course, was only preliminary to the larger question: Shall the National Government, under lead of the Slave Oligarchy, be given power to spread over new territory, at will, the blight and curse of human bondage? Upon this foremost question of the day, Senator Broderick stood side by side with Stephen A. Douglas in opposition to the Buchanan Administration, and its mad attempt to force slavery upon the people of the New West. The attitude of California politicians on this matter is evidenced by the fact that the legislature in session at Sacramento promptly instructed Broderick to vote for the administration program, and a later legislature condemned him by resolution for failing to comply with the instructions of its predecessor and declared that his attitude was a disgrace and humiliation to the Nation. They demanded his immediate resignation. Let it be noted clearly that Broderick was condemned, not for opposing negro slavery, but simply and solely for opposing the extreme southern contention. Not long, however, was Broderick permitted to display his antislavery sympathies. During the exciting campaign of 1859, David S. Terry, believing himself aggrieved because of certain utterances of Broderick, challenged the latter to deadly combat. Reluctantly, but thereto compelled by long usage in California, Broderick met Terry upon the so-called "field of honor," September 13, 1859. Three days later Broderick was dead, a sacrifice, so all forward-looking men believed, to the wrath of the slave power. "His death was a political necessity, poorly veiled beneath the guise of a private quarrel." This was said at his funeral, and widely accepted among the people. It has been claimed that the death of Broderick saved California to the Union; that the revulsion of feeling following his bloody death was so great that his beloved State became good soil for the new teaching of Lincoln and the Republican Party. Generously one would like to accept this theory were not the evidence so strongly against it. To Broderick belongs the high honor of inaugurating the fight on the Pacific Coast against the extension of slavery. In the outset of that conflict he perished, and the manner of his taking off gave to his message something of the force of martyrdom. But not to the extent his admirers have imagined. It should be clearly noted that Broderick believed in local self-government regarding slavery. He believed that the people of Kansas, and the people of Virginia (as of all other states) possessed the right under our national constitution, of deciding this question for themselves without let or hindrance by the general government. Farther than this he did not go. To the day of his death, he was a loyal Douglas Democrat. It should be further noted that in this last campaign of Broderick's life the pro-slavery Democracy swept the State, its candidate for Governor being elected by a vote nearly twice the combined vote of the Douglas and Republican candidates: And, also, that a year after Broderick's death Abraham Lincoln polled only twenty-eight per cent of the popular vote in California for President of the United States. Whatever may have been the influence of the Senator's brave conflict in Congress, or his untimely death, it is evident that the crisis in California's attitude toward the Union had not yet arrived, that the hour in which any man might change the course of events still lay within the unknown future.
The same may be said of the life and work of a still more brilliant opponent of slavery on this Coast, Col. Edward D. Baker, a man of phenomenal eloquence, with a well earned reputation as a successful lawyer and politician, with an honorable record for gallant service in the Mexican War, and for useful service in the House of Representatives in Washington. When he located in San Francisco in 1852, an immigrant from the great State of Illinois, he brought new strength to the minority who were in conscience opposed to the growing dominion of the Slave Power. For certain reasons, well understood at the time and which do not concern us here, Col. Baker did not wield the influence which his talents would naturally have secured for him. Yet as the contest deepened, his majestic eloquence was beyond question a force for freedom in a community where the love of oratory amounted to a passion. In the Fremont Campaign, at the grave of Broderick, and in his own canvass for Congress in 1859, he rendered most valuable service in laying the foundations of Republicanism on the Pacific Coast. But it should be remembered by all who would deal with those great days fairly that the work of Edward Dickinson Baker at its best was only the work of a brilliant forerunner. Before the real battle was on he removed from the State, and as the newly elected United States Senator from Oregon, from this Coast. It is true that on his journey to Washington a few days before the National election in November, 1860, Baker delivered in San Francisco an effective speech on Lincoln's behalf, but it is foolish hero-worship to say, of California! Not only had Baker been defeated overwhelmingly a few months earlier as Republican candidate for Congress, but Lincoln himself received the electoral vote of California only as the result of a three-sided contest in which the combined opposition polled nearly three-fourths of all the votes cast. In fact Lincoln distanced his nearest Democratic rival by only 711 Votes. Out of one hundred and fourteen members of the state legislature but twenty-four belonged to the party of Lincoln. The Congressional Delegation was solidly Democratic, and the Governor was a Southern sympathizer. Such was the condition after Baker's work was done in California, and when the greater work of Starr King was just beginning.
In justice to Colonel Baker, though it is no part of our duty here, we make grateful mention of the fact that not on the Pacific Coast but in Washington, as the friend and adviser of President Lincoln, and on the floor of the United States Senate, this gallant defender of Union and Liberty rendered a unique and memorable service to his country. His replies in the Senate to those giants of the Confederacy, John C. Breckenridge and Judah P. Benjamin attained the dignity of national events, and his heroic death early in the war on field of battle renders it forever impossible for any just man to belittle the deeds or influence of Edward D. Baker. What he might have effected had he remained in California, or had his life been longer spared, we may not say. The fact remains that after his mission among us was over Southern and Democratic sentiment was still in the ascendant. It was reserved for another, - the privilege and the honor of "saving California to the Union."
One other phase of the situation merits careful attention. Almost from the very beginning of American Settlement in California a dream of Pacific Empire, separate and independent of "the States" had fascinated many of her strongest men. And little wonder, for here by the Pacific Sea was a vast territory walled away by lofty mountains and wide deserts, two thousand miles west of the frontier settlements of Minnesota and Kansas. Not until after the outbreak of the Civil War was there telegraphic communication with the East, and the nearest railway ended somewhere in central Missouri. Mail was received regularly once in twenty-six days, sometimes as often as once in two weeks. But there was little direct communication and less unity of purpose between the older sections of the United States and far away California. In fact there was considerable antagonism felt and expressed toward the government of Washington. The original Mexican population cordially hated, and with good reason, the national authority. Foreigners in the mines cared nothing for the Union or the quarrel between the states, and many of the settlers from the East, which they still lovlingly called "back home," felt that they had a real grievance against the general government. This feeling, which was of long standing, was naturally intensified by the troubled outlook in 1860. Men prominent in state and national politics openly advocated independence as the proper policy for the Pacific Coast.
"Why depend on the South or the North to regulate our affairs," wrote our junior Senator from Washington. "And this, too, after they have proved themselves incapable of living in harmony with one another." Starr King had been a resident of the state nearly a year when the San Francisco Herald published the following letter received from Congressman John C. Burch:
"The people of California should all be of one mind on this subject of a Pacific Republic. Raise aloft the flag of the hydraheaded cactus of the western wilds and call upon the enlightened nations of the earth to acknowledge our independence and protect us from the wreck of a once glorious Union."
Governor John B. Weller, a man not only holding the highest office within the gift of the people of the state, but also one who had represented California in the United States Senate made deliberately this declaration:
"If the wild spirit of fanaticism which now pervades the land should destroy the magnificent confederacy - which God forbid - California will not go with the south or north, but here on the shores of the Pacific, found a mighty republic, which may in the end prove the greatest of all."
These quotations which might be greatly extended are sufficient to prove that a strong feeling existed in favor of a Pacific Republic standing wholly aloof from the coming struggle. It is unthinkable that a Senator and a Congressman, and especially the Governor of the State, should have voiced such sentiments had there not been at least a probability that this might be the course adopted in case the Union was broken up.
James G. Blaine, whose history of the time must be regarded as impartial so far as California is concerned, makes this statement:
"Jefferson Davis expected, with confidence amounting to certainty, and based, it is believed, on personal pledges, that the Pacific Coast, if it did not actually join the South, would be disloyal to the Union."
This beyond reasonable doubt was the situation in the Spring of 1860: Our immense State with its coast line of more than seven hundred miles, sharply divided as between Southern and Northern California; the majority of our people in Los Angeles and neighboring counties frankly favoring the proposed confederacy of slave-holding states; many of the larger towns in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys of a similar mind; the political leaders of the State almost solidly Democratic and the majority with strong Southern leanings; many of our foremost men believing that the time had come to launch the long dreamed of Pacific Republic, and our ranches and mines containing a large population either hostile or indifferent to the cause of Union and Liberty. Over against these varied forces a probable patriotic majority scattered from one end of California to the other, some belonging to the new Republican Party and some to the Douglas Democracy, and many without party affiliation, unorganized, badly scattered, and now that Broderick was dead and Colonel Baker away, without competent leadership. If ever a situation called for a man who might at once command the confidence of the people and arouse the latent patriotism of our wide-spread population, a man who might do the work of years in a few months' time, who might in his own persuasive personality become a center of patriotism around which Union-loving men of all parties, and of no party, could unite in defense of the imperilled country; one unfettered by old antagonisms, or misled by personal ambition, a heaven-sent man destined to a work no other could accomplish - this the situation plainly demanded.
The record, impartially examined, shows, we believe beyond reasonable doubt, that California's destiny in this critical hour was chiefly determined by the word and work of her patriot-preacher, Starr King.