Joined: 27 Nov 2007
Location: Monterey County, California
|Posted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 7:16 pm Post subject: Birthplace of western civil goverment
|(An address delivered from the portico of Colton Hall, Monterey, by Emmet Seawell, Associate Justice of the State Supreme Court).
"This Nation has always hallowed in memory the places and the persons whose names recall the prolonged struggles which have ever been the price of liberty. The memory of old Faneuil Hall will ever live in the hearts of Americans. Within its hallowed walls was rocked the cradle of American Liberty by John and Samuel Adams, by John Treat Paine and by Elbridge Gerry. Colton Hall, situated on the extreme westerly shores of the American Continent, separated by more than three thousand miles from old Massachusetts Bay Colony, seems to have been predestined to become the birthplace of Western Civil government, appointed by divine will to bring together this broad continent, extending from ocean to ocean, into an inseparable union of states dedicated to the central purpose of securing for its citizens equal political opportunity and protection in the enjoyment of the blessings of liberty, freedom of conscience in matters of religious concern, and a just and impartial administration of the law.
"Colton Hall was built and completed March 8, 1849, by Reverend Walter Colton, a native of Vermont, chaplain of the United States frigate "Congress" which watchfully lay in the harbor of Monterey Bay, prepared to protect our interests against attack from foreign warships which, prior to and during our war with Mexico, hovered along our coast line, with covetous eyes fixed upon the shores of Alta California. Walter Colton, author and instructor, was a profound thinker, endowed with the vision of a seer and the spirit and courage of a crusader. He was the first Alcalde of Monterey under the defacto government and continued as such under regularly constituted authority.
"In conjunction with Robert Semple, a member of the Bear Flag Company which, on June 14, 1846, raised the insignia of the California Republic at Sonoma, he published here in Monterey "The Californian," the first newspaper to appear in California, August 15, 1846. At a time when the common law right of trial by jury was challenged he, then an alcalde exercising powers greater than were ever conferred on an English or American judge, in response to the challenge, is quoted as here saying: 'If there is anything on earth, except the cause of religion, for which I would die, it would be in maintaining the right of trial by jury.'
"Colton was an American of the Colonial type and through his veins coursed the kind of blood which impelled Ethan Allen, commander of the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont, but few in numbers, to lead a surprise attack upon the slumbering garrison of the British army, quartered at Fort Ticonderoga, and demand in the name of the Great Jehova and the Continental Congress, the immediate surrender of the fort. The enemy, stumped by the boldness and suddenness of the order, instantly obeyed without the semblance of resistance. Colton exemplified in a high sense the true American pluck and spirit that moved General John C. Fremont, Kit Carson and Peter Lassen, the pathfinders, and General John A. Sutter, Henry C. Larkin, General John Bidwell, Stephen Smith, Abel Sterns, Rodman M. Price, Hugo Reid, Pedro Sansevaine, Ezekiel Merritt, William B. Ide and approximately two thousand American citizens to the occupancy of California before James Marshall discovered gold in Sutter's millrace at Coloma which set the tide of immigration running madly to this state. One year and a half before that exciting event, July 7, 1846, John Drake Sloat, Commodore of the Pacific Squadron, had raised the American flag over Monterey and taken possession of California in the name of the United States of America.
"It was not the lure of gold that brought. California and its sister Western states into the folds of the Union, but the urge of the spirit of democracy, moving westward with an impetus that no mortal hand could stay.
"The assembling of delegates in Colton Hall in 1849 to enter upon the task of preparing a state constitution at a time when neither statehood nor an authorized territorial form of government existed, presents one of the most unique spectacles in the history of the origin and creation of civil governments. The sessions of the Federal Congress which followed the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, July 4, 1848, had been too intensely absorbed with the question of slavery, which was casting its ominous shadows deeper and deeper upon the nation, to give consideration to California's petition for admission to statehood and it was left with a defacto government only, which consisted of the forms, rules and practices of the Mexican government carried forward by common consent and with such provincial regulations as had been adopted by necessity in the larger communities, all being subject to the supervision of General Bennett Riley of the United States Army, whose authority, though not disputed, might well have been questioned in matters of civil jurisdiction. The state of land titles; pressing social, commercial and peace conditions, spoke loudly for a stable, adequate government.
"Congress having failed to provide a system of government, the inherent right of the American people to rule themselves in such cases asserted itself, and Governor Riley, who was in accord with that view, issued a proclamation fixing August 1, 1849, as the day for choosing by special election delegates to a general convention, the principal duty of which was to prepare for submission a constitution to govern the people of California. Forty-eight delegates, as the result of the election, presented themselves at Monterey and entered upon the performance of untried but tremendously important duties.
"The personnel of the delegates is most interesting. Two of the members were but twenty-five years of age; two, twenty-six; three, twenty-seven; one, twenty-eight; one, twenty-nine; two, thirty; one, thirty-one; three, thirty-two; two, thirty-three; six thirty-four; two, thirty-five; showing a clear majority of the delegates to have been under thirty-six years of age, and the eldest, Jose Antonio Carillo, a native Californian, being fifty-three years of age. Fourteen were lawyers; twelve, farmers; five, merchants; two, printers; two, traders; one, banker; one, physician; one, surveyor, and two or three were connected with the army and navy service. Delegate Abel Sterns had resided in California twenty years; Larkin and Reid sixteen years each; Sutter and Hanks, ten years each; while four had resided in California a period of but four months prior to their election as members of the convention.
"We now come to the strangest feature of all. Seven of the delegates were native Californians, former citizens of the Mexican government, one of this number being General Mariano G. Vallejo, who had been an officer in the Mexican army from early manhood. Captor and captive, men of alien blood, sat side by side at the conference table, engaged in preparing an organic law that would forever place California without the limits of the dismembered Mexican Republic. These native Californians had experienced the utter inability of Mexico to govern California or herself, and being in possession of indubitable proofs of attempted intrigues to place California under the rule of other alien powers, believed themselves justified in transferring their allegiance to the country which, by every token, California should form a part.
"Practically every state from Maine to Florida, and from Florida to Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri had contributed one or more of its sons to the great work of winning the West for democracy. France, the land of La Fayette; Ireland, a dependency which had been struggling through the centuries for home rule; Switzerland, the only republic in all Europe; Scotland, the land of Wallace and Knox and Robert Burns, and Spain, whose hold upon its American colonies had been loosened by the iron hand of Napoleon the First, who had builded better than he knew for the democracy of the American Continent, each furnished a delegate to this, the most remarkable assemblage that ever engaged in the business of statecraft.
"Within the membership of the convention were men who afterwards achieved state and national fame. Henry W. Halleck became Commander-in-Chief of the American Army during the Civil War; John McDougal, Governor of the state; Rodman M. Price, his work done here, returned to New Jersey and became Governor of that state and afterwards appointed a delegate to the Peace Convention of 1861; William M. Gwin, with General John C. Fremont, constituted California's first representatives in the United States Senate; John M. Jones was made a United States District Court Judge; Pacificus Ord was appointed United States District Attorney for the Southern District of California; and a number of others rose to high and responsible places in the official and social life of the state."