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California became the 31st state

California entered the Union as a state on September 9, 1850. Although California had been ceded by Mexico to the United States in 1848, it had not immediately become a state. Instead, a military rule was instituted under Brigadier-General Bennett Riley. In these years before the Civil War, congressmen from pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions could not agree whether to admit California as a slave state or a free state.

On October 10, 1849, a convention of leading citizens created a state constitution for California. The constitution, which was so well-organized that it was later used as the basis of the constitution of Argentina, was ratified on November 13. On December 20 General Riley, out of sincere desire for California to become a state, resigned in favor of the elected Governor and legislature. California’s constitution included the elimination of slavery, so it was difficult to convince pro-slavery senators to allow the state into the Union. Finally, on September 9, 1850, California was admitted to the United States as a free state, the 31st state of the nation.

Sacramento was made the state capital

In 1854, California finally settled on Sacramento as the location of its capital. Under Mexican rule the capital had been shifted from Monterey to San Diego, Santa Barbara, or Los Angeles at the whim of the governor. The military governors of California between 1848-1850 also used Monterey as the capital. However, because of the sudden importance of the north of the state, thanks to the gold rush, it seemed wise to the California legislature to move the capital nearer to the center of population and business. The first legislative session was held in San Jose, while debate raged over where they should build a permanent capital.

Returning to Monterey was discussed, as was creating a new city called New York of the Pacific. Then Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo offered them $370,000 and 156 acres of land to build the capital on his land. The governor agreed, but in 1852 when the legislature reconvened, the buildings had not been completed as promised. So the legislators got on a ship hired by the merchants of Sacramento to take them to Sacramento, and there they established the capital. In 1853 the capital was moved to Benicia, but in 1854 it was returned permanently to Sacramento. Although the location proved useful during the height of the gold rush, in later years, as the business and population centers shifted southward, the argument for Sacramento grew weaker.

First overland stage route was opened from San Antonio, Texas to San Diego

The late 1850s saw the opening of the first overland stage route from the eastern parts of the United States to California. In 1849, Maurison and Company had opened the first stage coach line in California, running between Stockton and the Stanislaus mines. By the middle of the 1850s there were over a dozen coach lines serving the mining centers. Though some in-state lines were over 1,500 miles long, there was no line connecting California to the east. A mule trail crossed the mountains, linking Salt Lake City’s Mormon settlements to Sacramento, but it was closed by snow in the winter.

In 1857 John Butterfield successfully bid to open a U. S. Government-funded stage line that would carry mail, freight, and passengers along the Ox Bow Route. This route passed from St. Louis south through Texas and across the desert to San Diego. The route could be traveled in about 24 days. Although it had the advantage of remaining open year-long, the fact that it went through the South was disliked by northern congressmen who anticipated the Civil War. In 1861 they convinced Butterfield to relocate the route from St. Louis to California via Salt Lake City.

Judge David Terry killed Senator David Broderick in a duel

Hostilities over the question of slavery in California resulted in a duel in which Judge David Terry killed California Senator David Broderick. Broderick spoke out against laws which denied free blacks entry into the state. His primary opponent was William Gwin, a politician who was pro-slavery.

Broderick was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1857, but met with little success in Washington and returned home embittered. Particularly vicious were the exchanges between him and Judge David Terry of the State Supreme Court. Finally a friend of Terry’s challenged Broderick to a duel, which he rejected. When Terry delivered the challenge himself, Broderick accepted, and on September 12, 1859, the two men met with pistols at a field in present-day Daly City. Broderick’s pistol misfired and Terry shot him dead.

Ironically, Broderick’s death turned Californians against Gwin, with the result that in the elections of 1860 the anti-slavery candidate, Abraham Lincoln, narrowly won the state. The consequence was that California stayed a Northern-allied free state during the Civil War.


Nevada City
Middle Fork
Los Angeles

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