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3rd Governor of
California, January 8, 1852 - January 9, 1856

Born:  January 8, 1805, near Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Died:  November 29, 1871, in Sacramento, California

Marriage:  (name and date unknown), 1 daughter


John Bigler, California’s third governor, was elected for two two-year terms. Bigler was known for his tall silk hat which he wore pushed back on his head.


Early Life

Bigler’s childhood and school years were spent in Pennsylvania. He attended Dickinson College for a time, and then served an apprenticeship with a printer in Pittsburgh. For five years (1827-32) Bigler edited the Centre County Democrat newspaper. He then studied law and began a legal practice in 1840 in Pennsylvania, later moving to Illinois.



In the spring of 1849 Bigler took his wife and daughter overland to California, arriving in Sacramento on August 31, 1849. His wife was the first American woman settler in Sacramento. Bigler was a candidate for State Assembly in 1849, the first of three elections for Bigler in which election fraud was claimed. His opponent, W.B. Dickinson, was declared the winner until Bigler showed that two precincts had not been counted. A recount gave the election to Bigler. In 1851 Bigler was the Democratic party’s nominee for governor. He won the election despite a charge of fraud from the Whig candidate, Pearson B. Reading. When Bigler ran for a second term, there were charges that some counties had not followed procedures. After a recount, Bigler’s victory held.



Throughout Bigler’s two terms in office he grappled with the issue of state finance, wanting to decrease the cost of government and eliminate the state debt so taxes would be lower. He also wanted to open state lands for agriculture and suggested irrigation projects. Bigler encouraged immigration to California by funding a “relief train” to aid settlers, but he opposed Chinese laborers. A “foreign miners’ tax” was imposed. A significant event during Bigler’s term was the funding of over 200 public schools.


Later Years

In 1857 President Buchanan appointed Bigler as Minister to Chile. Bigler returned to California in the early 1860s and built a home in Sacramento. He was a candidate for U.S. Congress in 1862, but lost. From 1868 until his death in 1871, Bigler edited the State Capital Reporter, a newspaper that he had helped to found. From 1854 to 1945, the lake now known as Tahoe was officially named Lake Bigler.


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