The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L. Richards

Read: Jan 28- Feb 1
Format: paperback, 277 page
Source: Barnes & Noble
Setting: United States - California, Washington, DC, Panama
Subject: California, Statehood, Compromise of 1850, Gold Rush
Category: Who/What/When/Where/How/Why? - Bios/history
Genre: History
Challenges: 101020, 75 Book
Stars: 4½

Have you ever wondered what was involved in bringing a new state into the union? This book details the history of the statehood of California as well as the politics that surrounded the procedure following the discovery of gold in 1847.

Just as the Mexican-American War is ending, gold is discovered at Sutter's Mill in the Sacramento Valley. Now the word Gold Rush is not exactly accurate. Word was sent to Washington of the discovery, but they didn't believe it at first. By the time the gold hunters were "rushing" off to California, months had passed. The new miners came from parts of California, the eastern United States, Mexico, Australia, China and South America. Some travelled around the Cape Horn, others crossed the isthmus and then back north up the Pacific coasts. Either way it took months to get to the gold fields.

With the influx of all the gold hunters, California, part of the land settlement with Mexico, had sufficient population to apply for statehood immediately. Californians wanted to be admitted to the Union as a free state and drafted a constitution stating that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in the State." However, the Southern Slave states were adamant that they needed room to expand and that due to Missouri Compromise the southern portion of California, at least, should be slavery friendly.
California's statehood became a major bone of contention between the abolitionists and the pro-slavery lobbies of the day. Unionists fought secessionists, fistfights turned into duels. Henry Clay proposed a Compromise which would aid the South in retrieving runaway slaves while California was admitted as a free state. Just as a deadlock seemed imminent, President Taylor, strongly in favor of California statehood without compromise, dies leaving Millard Fillmore (who was in favor of the legislation) to support and sign the documents. Would matters and history have been different if Taylor had lived? We will never know.

The men that were elected to represent California in the Senate were actually Southern slaveholders and voted in numerous instances in the South's favor prior to the war. To reach California without going by sea, a need for a transcontinental railroad was debated. Southerners wanted a route through Texas, while Northerners wanted the route to go through the Nebraska territory. The need for land required the organization of the Kansas and Nebraska territories.
In the decade before the election of Lincoln, the California Senators, Gwin and Broderick were major players in the controversies between the North and South. Broderick who was violently opposed to Buchanan due to a Buchanan's handling of the patronage positions in California, fought with Stephen Douglas against the statehood submission from Kansas. Gwin, on the other hand, was close to Buchanan and when the issues came to a head, knocked out not only his fellow Californian but Stephen Douglas from their positions of influence in the Senate.

Due to the loss of his influence, Broderick encountered difficulties when he returned to the west for elections, and was killed in a duel the day after elections were held. Gwin and his followers were blamed for the "assassination" of Broderick. Later, Gwin's return to Washington went unnoticed due to the recent activities of John Brown in Harper's Ferry. The nation, due to the politics of North vs. South, was being torn apart. How appropriate that, at the same time that North and South were ripping each other apart, the politicians of California sent a bill to Congress to separate California into two states?

When the war finally began, California remained on the side of the Union and its yearly gold shipment supported the war effort throughout.

Did the discovery of Gold in California, hasten the call to war while assisting the Union during its trial? How interesting it might be if we could re-write history?

This was a well-crafted book telling the tale of California's statehood using the people that created it. The prologue starts with the duel in which Senator Broderick is killed and then the story weaves its way through the state history bringing the reader full circle to that point in time showing all the while the importance of the men and the events involved.

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