The California Gold Rush
In Their Own Words and Images
 
Excerpt from “Eldorado, or, Adventure in the Path of Empire”
by Bayard Taylor.
First published in 1850, Eldorado, or, Adventures in the Path of Empire was the record of Bayard Taylor’s trip to California to record the Gold Rush in 1849. The book is still in publication today.

Taylor was a correspondent with the New York Tribune at the time. He traveled from New York via the Isthmus of Panama to California arriving in San Francisco on August 18, 1849. He visited the mining camps in the area of the Consumnes and Mokelumne rivers plus the major cities of the time: San Francisco, Monterey, Sacramento, Stockton, and other towns in the five months that he was in California.

This excerpt covers his visit to Monterey in September 1849 to attend the convention elected to form a constitution for California.


The State Organization of California

   In some respects, the political history of California for the year 1849 is without parallel in the annals of any nation. The events are too recent for us to see them in the clear, defined outlines they will exhibit to posterity; we can only describe them as they occured, throwing the strongest light on those points which now appear most prominent.

   The discovery of the gold region of California occurred in little more than a month after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, by which the country was ceded to the United States. Congress having adjourned without making provision for any kind of civil organization, the Military Government established during the war continued in force, in conjunction with the local laws in force under the Mexican rule — a most incongruous state of things, which gave rise to innumerable embarrassments. Meanwhile, the results of the gold discovery produced a complete revolution in society, upturning all branches of trade, industry, or office, and for a time completely annulling the Government. Mexico and the South American republics sent their thousands of adventurers into the country like a flood, far out-numbering the native population. During the winter of 1848-49, the state of affairs was most critical; the American and foreign miners were embittered against each other; the authorities were without power to enforce their orders, and there seemed no check to restrain the free exercise of all lawless passions. There was a check, however — the steady integrity and inborn capacity for creating and upholding Law, of a portion of the old American settlers and emigrants newly arrived. A single spark of Order will in time irradiate and warm into shape a world of disorderly influences.

   In the neglect of Congress to provide for the establishment of a territorial government, it was at first suggested that the People should provisionally organize such a government among themselves. Various proposals were made, but before any decisive action was had on the subject, another and more appropriate form was given to the movement, chiefly through the labor and influence of a few individuals, who were countenanced by the existing authorities. This was, to call a Convention for the purpose of drafting a State Constitution, that California might at once be admitted into the Union, without passing through the usual territorial stage — leaping with one bound, as it were, from a state of semi-civilization to be the Thirty-First Sovereign Republic of the American Confederacy. The vast influx of emigration had already increased the population beyond the required number, and the unparalleled speed with which Labor and Commerce were advancing warranted such a course, no less that the important natural resources of the country itself. The result of this movement was a proclamation from Governor Riley, recommending that an election of delegates to form such a Convention be held on the first of August, 1849. …

   The elections were all over at the time of my arrival in California, and the 1st of September had been appointed as the day on which the Convention should meet. It was my intention to have been present at that time, but I did not succeed in reaching Monterey until the 19th of the month. The Convention was not regularly organized until the 4th, when Dr. Robert Semple, of the Sonoma District, was chosen President and conducted to his seat by Captain Sutter and General Vallejo. Captain William G. Marcy, of the New york Volunteer Regiment, was elected Secretary, after which the various posts of clerks, assistant secretaries, translators, doorkeeper, sergeant-at-arms, etc., were filled. The day after their complete organization, the officers and members of the Convention were sworn to support the Constitution of the United States. …

   The members of the Convention may have made some blunders in the course of their deliberations; there may be some objectionable clauses in the Constitution they have framed. But where was there ever a body convened under such peculiar circumstances? — where was ever such harmony evolved out of so wonderful, so dangerous, so magnificent a chaos? The elements of which the Convention was composed were no less various, and in some respects antagonistic, than those combined in the mining population. The questions they had to settle were often perplexing, from the remarkable position of the country and the absence of all precedent. Besides, many of them were men unused to legislation. Some had for years past known no other life than that of the camp; others had nearly forgotten all law in the wild life of the mountains; others again were familiar only with that practiced under the rule of a different race. Yet the courtesies of debate have never been wantonly violated, and the result of every conflict of opinion has been a quiet acquiescence on the part of the minority. Now, at the conclusion, the only feeling is that of general joy and congratulation.

   Thus we have another splendid example of the ease and security with which people can be educated to govern themselves. From that chaos whence, under the rule of a despotism like the Austrian, would spring the most frightful excesses of anarchy and crime, a population of freemen peacefully and quietly develops the highest form of civil order — the broadest extent of liberty and security. Governments, bad and corrupt as many of them are, and imperfect as they all must necessarily be, nevertheless at times exhibit scenes of true moral sublimity. What I have today witnessed has so impressed me; and were I a believer in omens, I would augur from the tranquil beauty of this evening — from the clear sky and the lovely sunset hues on the waters of the bay — more than all, from the joyous expression of every face I see — a glorious and prosperous career for the State of California!

Excerpted from Eldorado, or, Adventures in the Path of Empire
Bayard Taylor
© 1967 Rio Grande Press, Glorieta, New Mexico


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