- The Mexican War and California
- The Acquisition of California
- Mark J. Denger
- Thought of the acquisition of California
by the United States dates back at least to the time of President
Andrew Jackson. Under President Tyler, acquisition by purchase
was actively considered. Upon the collapse of the Mexican Empire
in 1824, which was followed by the Mexican Republic, President
Polk entered upon his administration in 1835 with the definite
resolution of winning the prize, offering to purchase northern
California, including San Francisco Bay. His offer was refused.
Yet, the slight tenure by which Mexico held California is clearly
perceived with some of the leading Californians even ready
to welcome a change of flags.
Mexico's relations with the United States had become increasingly
critical, largely because of the complex Texas question. California
had come to be looked upon as a capital prize, sure to fall,
in the course of a short period of time.
In an era of "Manifest Destiny," Colonel John C. Fremont
is considered by some to be the actual conqueror of the California
region in 1846. Encouraged, if not directly aided by Fremont,
settlers at Sonoma, revolted against Mexican authority and on
June 14, 1846, raised the Bear Flag, issued a proclamation declaring
California to be free and independent.
When one considers the remarkable history of California in the
stirring years immediately following the Bear Flag Revolt, and
its consequential relationship to the great Republic of which
it was about to become a part, the raising of the Bear Flag takes
on added significance. The Bear Flag Revolt, as a small affair,
was soon submerged in far deeper currents.
When Commodore John D. Sloat raised the United States flag over
Monterey and claimed California for the United States on July
7, 1846, there is evidence that Sloat was dissatisfied and distressed
when he learned that Fremont had acted on his own authority.
Not knowing of "any formal declaration of war" between
the two nations, Commodore Sloat "acted upon the faith"
of Fremont's operations in the north.
The Bear Flag, which had flown over Sonoma for twenty-five days,
was withdrawn and gave way to the United States flag on July
Although the flag of the United States was raised over Monterey
by Commodore Sloat, commander of the naval forces on the Pacific
Coast, on July 7, 1846, it should be noted that the city of Los
Angeles was then the capital of the Province of Upper California,
and its was taken possession of by
the combined forces of Commodore Stockton and Colonel John C.
Fremont on August 13, 1846, with Don Pio Pico, the Mexican Governor,
having left the city on the 12th of August.
Commodore Stockton, who had succeeded Commodore Sloat as commander
of the Pacific squadron, issued a proclamation to the people,
signing himself "Commander-in-Chief and Governor of California"
on August 17, 1846. He announced that the country was now the
property of the United States and California would be governed
like any other territory of that nation, but meanwhile by military
law, though the people were invited to choose their local civil
On the same date, August 17th, the Warren, anchored at San Pedro
from Mazatlan, bringing definite news of a declaration of war.
California, as an unorganized territory, remained under military
Governors for over three years from the time of the change
of sovereignty till December 20, 1849.
As Commander-in-Chief and Governor of California, Stockton, on
August 22, 1846, ordered an election of Alcaldes and other local
municipal officers to be help September 15th in the several towns
and districts of the territory. On September 2nd, the last day
of his stay in Los Angeles, issued a general order creating the
office of Military Commandant of the Territory, which was divided
into three departments, and appointing Col. John C. Fremont to
fill the new command.
Despite orders from Washington brought by Col. Richard B. Mason,
who arrived at San Francisco, February 12, 1847, that Gen. S.
W. Kearny on his arrival in California was to be recognized as
Civil Governor. But before these orders were received in California,
Commodore Stockton, namely, on January 16, 1847, issued commissions
to Fremont as Governor and to W. H. Russell as Secretary of State.
On January 22, Governor John C. Fremont issued a proclamation
announcing the establishment of civil rule. His headquarters
were at Los Angeles, where he won many friends, especially among
the native Californians.
With General Kearny's arrival in California, Kearny appointed
Col. Mason to succeed him in command and also as Governor on
May 31, 1847.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, by which California was ceded
to the United States by Mexico, was signed on February 2, 1848,
and was proclaimed by the President on June 19, 1848, and news
of the same reached California and proclaimed by Governor Mason
on August 7, 1848.
Meanwhile, on January 24, 1848, at a small mill in the valley
of Coloma, gold was discovered. The discovery of gold soon caught
men's imaginations around the world. They came to California
from South America, from Africa, Asia, and Australia, from Europe
and the Orient. Within one year the population of San Francisco
grew from about 850 to 35,000 and continued to grow.
General Persifer F. Smith soon arrived and superseded Governor
Mason. His incumbency of the office of Governor was brief and
unimportant; it only extended from February 26 to April 12, 1849.
On the latter date, Bennett Riley, Lieutenant Colonel of the
Second U.S. Infantry, arrived at Monterey, with instructions
to assume the administration of civil affairs in California.
Two months later, on the 3rd of June, 1849, Governor Riley issued
a proclamation calling for an election, on August 1, of delegates
to formulate a Constitution, who were to meet at Monterey on
September 1, 1849.
In accordance with the proclamation of de facto Governor Bennet
Riley, the Constitutional Convention had met at Monterey in September,
1849. Its forty-eight delegates, nearly all of them young and
energetic men, engaged in the sober task of drafting a government.
When the work of the convention was completed and the constitution
was put to vote at the first general election held in California,
on November 13, 1849.
The California Constitution was adopted by the people of California
by a vote of 12,064 ayes to 811 noes; and on that same day Peter
H. Burnett was elected Governor. Governor Riley's term was thus
to end on December 20, 1849.
A state government was set up with Peter H. Burnett as its first
Governor. Edward Gilbert and George Wright were elected as representatives
to Congress and the legislature proceeded to elect William M.
Gwin and John C. Fremont as U.S. Senators.
The overwhelming sentiment of the Constitutional Convention favored
immediate statehood, completely by-passing all thought of territorial
status. In this is seen the reason why California is known as
the Minerva State, and the explanation of her appearance on the
official great seal full grown from the brow of Jupiter.
California was for all practical intents and purposes a state,
and San Jose was its capital, followed by Vallejo, Benicia and
In Washington, however, the crucial issue lay with the first
session of the 31st Congress, extended from the 3rd of December,
1849, until the last day of September, 1850. This extraordinary
session of the legislature, extending through the long summer
months, was without precedent.
Clay had introduced his great Compromise Bill on the 29th of
January, 1850. In Washington, California's political leaders,
elected to the Senate and House of Representatives, earnestly
sought admission of their state into the union, playing an important
part in the "irrepressible conflict" that plagued the
nation. The question of admission had a fundamental significance
in the historic, memorable debates of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun.
The California Bill, in one of the stormiest sessions of Congress
on record, finally came to vote and was approved by the Senate
on August 13, 1850, and after debate ratified by the House on
September 7, 1850. Only two days later President Fillmore wrote
the word "Approved" and affixed his signature under
the bill signalizing the admission of California into the Union,
thus adding the thirty-first star to the national ensign.
However, it should be remembered that it was President Taylor
who had been chiefly instrumental in advancing the cause of California's
admission but his death on July 9, 1850, explains how the
final approval of the California Bill fell to his successor.
Finally, the Golden State of California was clothed with full
statehood with its thousand-mile coastline along the Pacific,
greatest of all the seas predestined to have a profound
influence upon world history.