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First Constitution

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Location: Monterey County, California

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:15 pm    Post subject: First Constitution Reply with quote

GENERAL Stephen Watts Kearny became California's first resident military governor under American rule. True, Captain Fremont had waged a bitter contest against his superior officer for the place of honor. But opinion among the military on the ground, Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman among them, recognized General Kearny as the logical officer in control of the department. Fremont based his claims upon an appointment issuing from Admiral Stockton. The question then arose, as to which officer, Kearny or Stockton, was in command. Fremont's court-martial was based on his conduct in the controversy.

If Fremont is conceded to have served as governor, his term of office could only have covered a period of fifty days.

At the close of hostilities in the south between the Californians and the Americans, General Kearny arrived in Monterey to take up his quarters as military head of the department.

His first official headquarters was established in the Larkin House, at the invitation of Consul Larkin, whose family was visiting in the Sandwich Islands. Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman was appointed adjutant-general, and quartered in the little adobe "at the rear of the Larkin House"—the entrance to the building then having been on Jefferson Street. (Both buildings are among Monterey's precious historic inheritances.)

Colonel Richard B. Mason soon succeeded General Kearny, who retained the services of the young lieutenant as adjutant-general.

At this point, department headquarters was established in El Cuartel, so Sherman tells us in his Memoirs, The central section of the building was made available for the governor's headquarters, with adjoining offices for his staff. Lieutenant Sherman caused a flight of steps to be built, leading to Governor Mason's headquarters, rising from California Street (now Munras Avenue). W. E. P. Hartnell, who had played an important part —and always to his credit—during the secularization period, was now translator for the government, with a desk in the office of the adjutant-general. Lieutenant Henry W. Halleck had already been installed nearby as Secretary of State, with the official records in his keeping. California's First American Capitol. As the U. S. Treasury Department maps indicate it, "Old Capitol, State House Reservation."

In the meantime, the department was administered as a military province, under Spanish-Mexican laws. But the country was filling up with Americans, who protested inaction at Washington in not bringing California under the jurisdiction of the laws of the United States. So, during General Riley's administration—Riley followed Mason—a definite demand was made for a constitutional form of government under the United States.

An election was held throughout the territory, for the selection of delegates to meet in Monterey, who would be charged with the task of drafting a workable constitution. Governor Riley issued a proclamation calling the convention to meet in Colton Hall at Monterey, September 1, 1849.

Since the center of population had shifted to the north, it was made up mostly of Americans, only eight of the delegates being Californians. Americans of the best type for pioneering made up the rest. Some were men of education, but most were not. Many of their letters and documents show them to have been atrocious spellers; but all had force and character, and were dramatic figures in a dramatic epoch. Dr. Robert Semple, seven-foot Kentuckian, was elected president, William G. Marcy, secretary, and Dr. Samuel H. Willey and Father Juan Ramirez the chaplains.

The proceedings were conducted in English and in Spanish. The upper chamber was used, then undivided (now divided by partitions), except that a rail separated the delegates from the observers. Entrance was gained from the rear. No steps then from the balcony.

The constitutions of New York and Iowa served as guides to the delegates, who completed their work after weeks of serious application, October 13th. An election was called for November 13th, for its ratification, and to elect United States Senators and Representatives. That California had not yet been recognized as having even territorial status in the Union mattered not at all. Such a minor detail was swept aside, as became rugged men in a frontier land. "Wait? What for?"

The election was held, the constitution ratified, and their representatives duly elected to Congress. William M. Gwin and Captain John C. Fremont were elected to represent "The State of California"—though neither a territory nor a state—in the Senate. The elected officers, nevertheless, went on to Washington for the opening of Congress, where they had to sit and cool their heels on the sidelines, waiting for Congress to admit California to the Union. It was a tedious wait, though not without humor. On September 9, 1850, the matter went through with a bang, and California stepped from a military province into full statehood. The news reached San Francisco October 18, 1850. But September 9th is held to be California's "Admission Day." The town went wild. Bands were soon playing up and down the streets, bells were rung in the firehouses and in the churches, and the streets and gilded palaces of pleasure were thronged! Dramatic California! The news was spread by messengers to all the pueblos in the north and south.

While the Americans in Monterey rejoiced at the news, it was not hailed with joy by most of the Californians.

Not only was Monterey no longer the only port of call, but it was no longer the capital. Gold had wrought its undoing. Perhaps manana the glorious leisure that characterized the country—helped. American energy was its handmaiden.

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in December, San Jose was chosen as the future capital of the new state by vote of the delegates.

Thus Colton Hall takes its place in American history as "California's Constitution Hall." It has hitherto been known as California's first American capitol, but the statement is obviously an error. Colton had not finished the building until the beginning of '49. Its dedication, he says, took place on Washington's Birthday, at a famous ball. As we have seen, the first American capitol in California was not Colton Hall, but El Cuartel.

The long delay in bringing California into the Union was caused by the old bug-a-boo—the Slavery question—whether California should or should not enter as a free state. If it did come in as a free state— and it did—the "balance of power" in Congress between the North and the South would be disturbed. Not only was the battle waged in Congress, but also in California itself, during which a division of the department—the north from the south—was bitterly contested. The matter of land tax was also a vital issue, cattle breeders in the central and south sections protesting against heavy land taxes, levied by the hordes of newcomers massed in the north, comparatively few of whom owned land. The beginning of the old controversy over a division of the State.
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