Chapter IX. The Birth of the Golden Baby
The birth of the Golden Baby, in other words, the coming of the Golden State into the Union, was a time of struggle and uncertainty, when feelings were deeply stirred and hope deferred caused bitter disappointment. When the treaty of peace with Mexico was ratified by Congress it left the Pacific coast settlements in a strange position - a territory containing thousands of people, with more coming by hundreds, but with no legally appointed rulers.
As soon as Congress accepted the treaty, the military governor ceased to have any power, for there was then no longer a state of war; yet he was still obeyed by courtesy, until some one with a better right took his place. The only other official was the local alcalde of each community. This was a Mexican office, but was at that time often filled by an American who had, perhaps, been in the territory only a few months and knew nothing of Mexican laws, but ran things as well as he could after the Eastern fashion.
The Rev. Mr. Colton, chaplain of the warship Congress, was made alcalde of Monterey, and his book on those times is most interesting.
"My duties," said he, "are similar to those of the mayor of an Eastern city, but with no such aid of courts as he enjoys. I am supreme in every breach of peace, case of crime, disputed land title, over a space of three hundred miles. Such an absolute disposal of questions affecting property and personal liberty never ought to be confided to one man."
The country owed much to Mr. Colton's work while alcalde. He soon gained the confidence of law-abiding residents, but was a terror to evil doers. Those he put to work quarrying stone and building the solid structure afterward named Colton's Hall. Here one of the first of California's schools was opened, and here was held the first convention.
Perhaps the truth that "as a man sows, so shall he reap," that a wrong action is apt to bring its own punishment, was never more plainly shown than in the Mexican war. The war was brought upon the United States in a great degree by those interested in slavery, not because they had any just cause of quarrel with the people of Mexico, but because they wanted more territory where slaves could be held.
California, which was the name generally given to all the country extending from Mexico northward to Oregon and the Louisiana Purchase, and eastward from the Pacific Ocean to Texas, was what they really fought for, and when they got it, it became their undoing. When a commissioner went to Mexico to arrange for peace, he demanded California for the United States. As is usual, the conquered had to yield to the victor, and Mexico agreed, "provided the United States would promise not to permit slavery in the territory thus acquired."
"No," replied Mr. Trist, the American commissioner, "the bare mention of such a thing is an impossibility. No American president would dare present such a treaty to the Senate."
The Mexican authorities persisted, saying the prospect of the introduction of slavery into a territory gained from them excited the strongest feelings of abhorrence in the hearts of the Mexican people, but the American commissioner made no promise.
In the summer of 1848 the President, in a special message, called the attention of Congress to California and asked that the laws of a territory be granted to it. The South agreed, provided half should be slave territory. The Northern people, who disliked slavery, had no commercial interest in it, and felt it a disgrace to the nation, resisted this demand. Then began a bitter struggle over California and the question of slavery on her soil, which lasted for two years and called forth some of the grandest speeches of those mighty leaders, Webster, Clay, and Calhoun.
In 1849, while this fight in Congress was still going on, an amendment to tax California for revenue, and another which would result in making her a slave state, were added to the regular appropriation bill which provided for the expenses of government and without which the government would stop. Congress was supposed to close its session on Saturday, March 3d, at midnight. The new President, Taylor, was to take office on Monday.
There had been many times of excitement in that Senate chamber, but this night, it is said by those who were present, was equal to any. Such a war of words and a battle of great minds! Many eyes were turned to the clock as it drew near the hour of midnight. Would the stroke of twelve dissolve the meeting and the great government of the United States be left without funds?
To many of the senators this seemed a certainty, but Mr. Webster insisted that Congress could not end while they remained in session. So, through the long night, the struggle went on. About four o'clock the amendment in regard to slavery was withdrawn, and the bill for the government money was passed.
Meantime the American settlers in California were extremely dissatisfied. To be living without suitable laws was an unnatural and dangerous state of affairs which could not be tolerated by men who loved their country and their homes. The Spanish Californians, also, were anxious to know what they had to expect from the laws of the United States. At last it was decided by the people, and agreed to by the military governor, Riley, who was a man of good judgment, that delegates should be chosen to a convention which should arrange a state constitution and government. It was determined, however, to wait for word from Congress, which had closed in such tumult.