While Tuesday was the 11th anniversary of 9/11, 2001, Gov. Brown reminded us that Sunday, Sept. 9, was Admission Day.
That is the day in 1850 that California was admitted to the Union as a free state as part of the Compromise of 1850. That compromise included setting the boundaries of Texas and passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. Utah and New Mexico territories would decide for themselves whether to be free or slave states.
As noted by Brown, the Bear Flag revolt broke out in 1846 and ended seven months later when the U.S. and Mexico signed the Treaty of Cahuenga in San Fernando Valley on Jan. 13, 1847. For three years California was under martial law.
California’s attraction as a state obviously was enhanced by the discovery of gold in Coloma on Jan. 24, 1848 — an event that impressed President James. K. Polk.
“In 1849, leaders from around the future state met in Monterey to draft the first constitution, which was approved on Nov. 13 of that year by a vote of 12,64 to 811,” Brown wrote in his proclamation declaring Admission Day. “Peter Burnett was elected governor, and in January 1850 the state Legislature began its first two-year session.”
Brown, in his first go-round as governor vetoed a bill in 1976 that would have eliminated Admission Day as a state holiday. But in 1984 Republican Gov. George Deukmejian signed a bill eliminating Admission Day in favor of a “personal holiday,” which Brown called “convenient to some but in no way respectful of our storied founding.”
California has been a state for 162 years now. We have made considerable progress since the beginnings. The choice of Peter Burnett was not exactly an inspiring one. The native of Tennessee, Burnett served as a legislator in Oregon where, according to “The Governors of California and Their Portraits” by Molly Shoemaker Schaechtele, he “proposed that all free negroes be forced to leave the state. Any who failed to leave were to be arrested and flogged every six months until they did leave.”
As California’s governor, elected before California became a state, he apparently was thin-skinned. “After his first annual address received criticism from the Legislature, he abruptly resigned from office.”
He was replaced by the state’s first lieutenant governor, John McDougall. According to Schaechtele, McDougal issued so many proclamations that began with “I, John McDougall,” that he became known “throughout the state as ‘I john.’”
McDougall opposed legislation that would have outlawed dueling. After he left office he wounded a newspaper editor in a duel and was arrested later when he was about to start another duel. He got what he deserved for shooting a newspaper editor.
Speaking of newspaper editors, the quality of governors improved with the election of the third governor, John Bigler, a newspaper editor and lawyer who drove a team of oxen to California during the Gold Rush. At the same time he was governor of California his brother was governor of his home state of Pennsylvania. Bigler was so popular that the Legislature in 1854 named a lake after him. It wasn’t until 1870 that they changed the name to Lake Tahoe.