Congrsssional Globe, September 9, 1850, with reference to California's admission to the Union
Congrsssional Globe, September 9, 1850, with reference to California's admission to the Union
Library of Congress
License: Public Domain

California is the 31st State Admitted to the Union

It was August 1848 before the United States Senate ratified the treaty ending the Mexican War and recognizing the transfer of California to American hands. Local Army commanders, "Forty-eighters," Hispanic rancheros--all waited anxiously for details of the form of territorial government California would enjoy. When no news arrived, local residents took matters in their own hands, with mass meetings as early as December 1848 debating California's political future. As tens of thousands of "Forty-Niners" joined the rush, the need became more pressing. Congress and the President did nothing, and in September 1849, forty-eight delegates met in Monterey to draw up a state constitution. The document was closely modeled on the constitutions of Iowa and New York, home states of many members of the convention, and it made California a "free" state from which slavery would be excluded. The frame of government was ratified by popular vote on November 13, and state officials were chosen the same day. While Eastern Congressmen and Representatives argued over whether and how to admit this new free state, Californians got on with the business of finding gold and making money.

In the mining camps, it was the miners themselves who were responsible for local affairs. In only a few years, they worked out rules governing the discovery and exploitation of mineral resources that were later incorporated into state and federal statutes. As for criminal law, miners and local townspeople were equally efficient in dealing out their own form of justice. As towns sprang up near the camps, newly appointed officials were appointed to impose order.

Back East, established forces of morality and order like the major Protestant churches were concerned about the society to which the states of the Atlantic seaboard and Midwest were sending their young men and women. Sensing that California would be in desperate need of moral guidance, "home mission" boards of these churches sent clergyman west to minister to the souls of miners, saloonkeepers, peddlers, and merchants in California's booming towns and cities and isolated mining camps.

Finally, on September 9, 1850, President Fillmore signed the bill that gave California statehood.

However, state government did not automatically bring law and order to California. In San Francisco, local citizens became so impatient with the inability or unwillingness of local officers to enforce the law that they formed a "Vigilance Committee" in 1851. By the time that the committee disbanded at the end of September, they had hanged four men, handed fifteen over to the police for trials, and whipped or deported twenty-nine more. The San Francisco experience inspired vigilance committees in other towns and mining camps. The apparent reforms brought by the 1851 San Francisco vigilantes were short-lived, and when the city's marshals and one of its newspaper editors were shot down in 1856, the second San Francisco Vigilance Committee was formed, this time even seizing arms from the local state militia.

Beginning in the late 18th century, the area known as Alta California was colonized by the Spanish Empire. In 1821, Mexico, including Alta California, became an independent republic. In 1846, a group of American settlers in Sonoma declared the independence of a California Republic. As a result of the Mexican-American War, Mexico ceded California to the United States. It became the 31st state admitted to the union on September 9, 1850.

In February of 1848, Mexico and the United States signed a treaty which ended the Mexican War and yielded a vast portion of the Southwest, including present day California, to the United States. Several days earlier, January 24, 1848, gold had been discovered on the American River near Sacramento, and the ensuing gold rush hastened California’s admittance to the Union. With the Gold Rush came a huge increase in population and a pressing need for civil government.

In 1849, Californians sought statehood and, after heated debate in the U.S. Congress arising out of the slavery issue, California entered the Union as a free, nonslavery state by the Compromise of 1850.

California became the 31st state on September 9, 1850. The Golden State’s rich history has since been shaped by people of every ethnic background who traveled here seeking economic, social and educational opportunity, and a life of quality and breathtaking beauty.

California situated its first capital in San Jose. The city did not have facilities ready for a proper capital, and the winter of 1850 - 1851 was unusually wet, causing the dirt roads to become muddy streams. The legislature was unsatisfied with the location, so former General and State Senator Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo donated land in the future city of Vallejo for a new capital; the legislature convened there for one week in 1852 and again for a month in 1853.

Again, the facilities available were unsuitable to house a state government, and the capital was soon moved three miles away to the little town of Benicia, inland from the San Francisco Bay. The strait links San Pablo Bay to Grizzly and Suisun Bays deep in the interior. A lovely brick statehouse was built in old American style complete with white cupola. Although strategically sited between the Gold Rush territory of the Sierra Foothills and the financial port of San Francisco, the site was too small for expansion, and so the capital was moved further inland past the Sacramento River Delta to the riverside port of Sacramento in 1854.