Today is the 163rd birthday of the State of California.
First encountered in the 1500s by the spanish, (or 7,000s BCE by the natives) it was thought to be an island because the spanish encountered Baja first. Eventually they realized it was attached to the main land. But they still named it for a fictional island Califa.
Biologically it is rather island like, it has a number of major barriers keeping outsiders out, the Sierra Nevada mountains are a major example.
The spanish had a hard time with the place, it was too far from Mexico City to entice many to move there. As a result few did. They called themselves Californios and they were distinct from other cultures developing throughout new spain.
The missions were unkind to downright brutal to the natives, but luckily enough, at first, the missions only preyed (and prayed) upon coastal natives. They started going farther inland to find “converts” but that came later.
In 1810 Napoleon invaded Spain and broke the last straw holding their new world empire together. The uprisings broke up and by 1821 Mexico was free from Spain. The Mexican government destroyed the mission system because they were far more secular than their Spanish mother country. They also realized that the British moving in from Oregon proved a threat so they threw open their doors to Immigrants who would 1) learn Spanish 2) convert to roman catholic and 3) be good Mexican citizens.
Many took up the offer in Texas and California. (New Mexico, which includes modern day New Mexico and Arizona, had about 50-60,000 people already and didn’t need filling up), John Bidwell, John Sutter, and Alexander Leidesdorf were three of many men who gained much land in California by applying for land grants. The problem was these men came from protestant backgrounds and rarely converted to Catholicisms or embraced Mexican nationalism.
In 1844, James K Polk was elected president, (3rd Democrat to ascend) and part of his platform was Manifest destiny. He was a disciple of Andrew Jackson and a military veteran. He pushed American boarders in the Oregon area and along the Texas boarder. Texas joined the USA in 1845 and Mexico decided that Josè don’t play that.
About the time that Zachary Taylor and Robert E. Lee were fighting in and around Mexico, Captain John C Frèmont was “exploring” California. He may or may not have had orders from Polk or a flunky of the president’s to help speed up the process of taking California. Frèmont talked to a number of American settlers in California, and a handful of unhappy Latino Californios and helped to start the Bear Flag Revolt. about 600 people vs the might of the Mexican army in California. The battle was met and Mariano Vallejo was locked up in his house.
Commodore Stockton landed marines on long beach and the Battle of Los Angles was the other major battle.
By 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and the transfer of $50,000 dollars brought much of the south west into US hands. the Gadsen Purchase would finish the south western boarder.
Shortly there after, John Sutter was building a Lumber Mill when John Marshall discovered gold. Sam Brannan overheard Sutter and Marshal talking. He went to san Fran and bought up mining supplies then broadly announced “GOLD!”
cleaning up on his mining supplies, people ran up river to find their gold. by 1850 10% of People in America lived in California. Not only White Americans, but some blacks (both free and slave), many Mexicans from the Sonoran Mines, Latinos from all over south and central America, Europeans of many kinds, some direct from Europe and last and not least, the Chinese looking for Gum Shan, the mountain of gold.
California had enough people that it went from acquired land to state in 1850 September 9.
This created a slight problem. From 1820 through 1850 the national slavery debate had been kept in check by the senate. 2 senators from each state. each state gets an equal voice. 1820 Missouri and Maine were admitted. One slave, one Free. California was admitted alone, it was Free. it was the 31st state, 16 free, 15 Slave.
As part of the compromise of 1850, which is how California was admitted, The south would balance its loss of power in the Senate with a strong fugitive slave law. It also opened up Arizona and New Mexico to slavery, should the voters so choose. But other issues were coming to a head. The north was industrializing, the west was going small farms, and the south was boxed in. California created a stop, no more expansion west.
They thought about Annexing Cuba, but that failed to work out.
California was one of several key factors that triggered the Civil war.
Zachary Taylor was elected president in 1848 as the second Whig to be elected, he died in 1850. After him, Filmore, Pierce, and Buchanan all failed to reduce the stress between north and south. The Kansas-Nebraska act pushed by Stephan Douglas to get a rail road to California caused bleeding Kansas, a civil war in the farm country. John Brown got his violent start there which ended at Harper Ferry in 1859.
The Fugitive slave law caused resentment form people in the North. Now they would be FORCED to enforce southern slavery. Blacks in the north were not safe as slave catchers didn’t care about a person’s status.
In 1854 a coalition of former Whigs (the party dissolved), free soilers, and abolitionists formed the Republican party and in 1856 ran John C Frèmont against James Buchanan. They didn’t win.
By 1860 the country was ready to split. The Democrat Party ran both Northern and Southern candidates allowing Lincoln to win. The civil war had begun.
All of this triggered by California entering the union 163 years ago today.