T. Butler (Thomas Butler) King.

Report of Hon. T. Butler King, on California online

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May 1^^^^ I


Washington, March 22, 1850.

To the Hon. John M. Clayton,

Secretary of State.

Sir : In obGclience to your instructions, dated the 3d
of April last, I proceeded to California by way of the
Isthmus of Panama, and arrived at San Francisco on
the fourth day of June.

The steamer in which I took passage was the first
conveyance that reached California with the intelligence
of the inauguration of President Taylor, and the ap-
pointment of his cabinet, and that Congress had failed
to aid the Executive in providing a government for the
people of that Territory. The greatest anxiety was
naturally felt and manifested to ascertain the cause of
this neglect on the part of the Government of the United
States, and what steps duty to themselves required them
to take, in the painful and embarrassing position in
which they were placed, for their protection and wel-

A brief sketch of their condition Avill explain the
cause of this anxiety.

The discovery of the gold mines had attracted a very
large number of citizens of the United States to that

Tc'i'i-itory, who bad never been accustomed to any other
than American biw, administered by American courts.
There tliey found their rights of prt)perty and person
subject to the uncertain, and frequently most oppressive,
operation of laws Mritten in a language tliej' did not
understand, and lounded on principles, in many respects,
new to them. The}' complained that the alcaldes, or
judges, most of whom had been a})pointed or elected
before the immigration had commenced, were not law-
yers by education or profession ; and, being Americans,
they were, of course, unacquainted with the laws of
Mexico, or the principles of the civil law on which they
are founded.

As our own law*s, except for the collection of revenue,
the transmission of the mails, and establishment of post
offices, had not been extended over that Territory, the
laws of Mexico, as they existed at the conclusion of the
treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, regulating the relations of
the inhabitants of California with each other, necessa-
rily remained in force;'-' ^et, there was not a single
volume containing those laws, as far as I know or l)e-
lieve, in the whole Territory, except, perliai)s, in the
governor's office at Montcre3^

The magistrates, therefore, could not procure them,
and the administration of justice was, necessarily, as un-
equal and fluctuating as the opinions of the judges were
conflicting and variable.

* Soc Aiiicrican Insurance Company, et al. ?s. Cautcr, 1st Peters'
Supreme Court Reports, o42.

There were no fee-bills to regulate costs ; and, conse-
quently, the most cruel exactions, in many instances,
were practiced.

The greatest confusion prevailed respecting titles to
property, and the decision of suits involving the most
important rights, and very large sums of money depend-
ed upon the dictum of the judge.

The sale of the Territory by Mexico to the United
States had necessarily cut off or dissolved the laws regu-
lating the granting or procuring titles to land; and, as
our own land-laws had not been extended over it, the
people were compelled to receive such titles as were
offered to them, without the means of ascertaining whe-
ther they were valid or not.

Litigation was so expensive and precarious that in-
justice and oppression were frequently endured, rather
than resort .to so uncertain a remedy.

Towns and cities were springing into existence ; many
of them without charters or any legal right to organize
municipal authorities, or to tax property or the citizens
for the establishment of a police, the erection of prisons,
or providing any of those means for the protection of
life and property which are so necessary in all civil com-
munities, and especially among a people mostly strangers
to each other.

Nearly one million and a half of dollars had been paid
into the custom-houses, as duties on imported goods,
before our revenue laws had been extended over the
country; and the people complained bitterly that they
were thus heavily taxed without being provided with a

government for their })rotection, or laws which they
could understand, or allowed the right to be represented
in the councils of the nation.

While anxiously waiting the action of Congress, op-
pressed and embarrassed by tliis state of afiairs, and
feeling the pressing necessity of applying such remedies
as were in their power, and circumstances seemed to
justify, they resolved to substitute laws of their own for
the existing system, and to establish tribunals for their
proper and faithful administration.

In obedience, therefore, to the extraordinary exigen-
cies of their condition, the people of the city of San
Francisco elected members to Ibrm a legislature, and
clothed them with full powers to pass laws.

The communities of Sonoma and of Sacramento city
followed the example.

Thus were three legislative bodies organized ; the two
most distant being only one hundred and thirty miles

Other movements of the kind were threatened, and
doubtless would lia\e followed, in other sections of the
Territory, had they not been arrested by the formation
of a State government.

While the people of California were looking to Con-
gress for a territorial government, it was quite evident
that such an organization was dailv becoming; less suited
to their conditi(jn, which was entirely dillerent from
that of any of the Territories out of which the new
States of the Union had been formed.

Those Territories had been at lirst slowl}- and sparse-

\y peopled by a few hunters and farmers, who pene-
trated the wilderness, or traversed the prairies, in search
of game or a new home; and, when thus gradually
their population warranted it, a government was pro-
vided for them. They, however, had no foreign com-
merce, nor anything beyond the ordinary pursuits of
agriculture, and the various branches of business which
usually accompany it, to induce immigration within
their borders. Several years were required to give
them sufficient population and wealth to place them in
a condition to require, or enable them to support, a
State government.

Not so with California. The discovery of the vast
metallic and mineral wealth in her mountains had al-
ready attracted to her, in the space of twelve months,
more than one hundred thousand people. An extensive
commerce had sprung up with China, the ports of
Mexico on the Pacific, Chili, and Australia.

Hundreds of vessels from the Atlantic ports of the
Union, freighted with our manufactures and agricultural
products, and filled with our fellow-citizens, had arrived,
or were on their passage round Cape Horn ; so that, in
the month of June last, there were more than three
hundred sea-going vessels in the port of San Francisco.

California has a border on the Pacific of ten degrees
of latitude, and several important harbors which have
never been surveyed; nor is there a buoy, a beacon, a
light-house, or a fortification, on the whole coast.

There are no docks for the repair of national or mer-

cantilo vessels nearer tliaii New York, a distance of
some twenty tliousand miles round Cape Horn.

All these things, together with the proper regulations
of the tiold region, the quicksilver mines, the survey
and disposition of the public lands, the adjustment of
land titles, the establishment of a mint and of marine
hospitals, required the innnediate formation of a more
perfect civil government than Califuiiiia then had, and
the fostering care of Congress and the Executive.

California had, as it Avere bv macic, become a State
of great wealth and power. One short year had given
her a commercial importance but little inferior to that
of the most powerful of the old States. She had passed
her minority at a single bound, and might justly be re-
garded as fully entitled to take her place as an equal
amonix her sisters of the Union.

When, therefore, the reality became known to the
people of that Territory that the Government had done
nothinii; to relieve them from the evils and embarrass-
ments under which they were suffering, and seeing no
probability of any change on the subject which divided
Congress, they adopted, with most unexampled una-
nimity and promptitude, the only course Avhich lay open
to them — the immediate formation of a State govern-

They were induced to take this step not only for the
reason that it promised the most speedy remedy for
present dilliculties, Itut because the great and rapidly
growing interests of the Territory demanded it; and all
rellecting men saw, at a glance, that it ought not to be

any longer, and could not, under any circumstances, be
much longer postponed.

They not only considered themselves best qualified,
but that they had the right to decide, as far as they
were concerned, the embarrassing question which was
shaking the Union to its centre, and had thus far deprived
them of a regularly organized civil government. They
believed that, in forming a constitution, they had a
right to establish or prohibit slavery, and that, in their
action as a State, they would be sustained by the North
and the South.

They were not unmindful of the fact that, while
Northern statesmen had contended that Congress has
power to prohibit slavery in the Territories, they had
always admitted that the States of the Union had the
right to abolish or establish it at pleasure.

On the other hand. Southern statesmen had almost
unanimously contended that Congress has not the con-
stitutional power to jproliibit slavery in the Territories,
because they have not the power to establish it; but that
the people, in forming a government for themselves, have
the right to do either. If Congress can rightfully do one,
they can certainly do the other.

This is the doctrine put forth by Mr. Calhoun, in his
celebrated resolutions of 1847, introduced into the Senate
of the United States, among which is the following : —

" Eesohed, That it is a fundamental principle in our
political creed, that a people in forming a constitution
have the unconditional right to form and adopt the
government which they may think best calculated to


secure their liljcrty, prosperity, and Lappiness; and in
contbrniity thereto, no other condition is imposed by the
Federal Constitution on a State, in order to be admitted
into this Union, except that its constitution shall be
''repu])lican;' and that the imposition of any other by
Congress, would not only be in violation of the Consti-
tution, but in direct conflict with the principle on which
our political system rests."

President Polk, in his annual message, dated Otli De-
cember, 1848, uses the following language: —

'' The question is believed to be rather abstract than
practical, whether slavery ever can or would exist in
any portion of the acquired Territory, even if it were left
to the option of the slaveholding States themselves.
From the nature of the climate and productions, in much
the larger portion of it, it is certain it could never exist ;
and in the remainder, the probabilities are it would not.

" But however this may be, the question, involving,
as it does, a principle of equality of rights of the sepa-
rate and several States, as equal copartners in the con-
federacy, should not be disregarded.

'' In organizing governments over these Territories, no
duty imposed on Congress by the Constitution requires
that they should legislate on the subject of slavery,
while their power to do so is not only serioush' ques-
tioned, but denied, by many of the soundest expounders
of that instrument.

••Whether Congress shall legislate or not. the people
of the acquired Territories, when assembled in conven-
tion to form State constitutions, will possess the sole and


exclusive power to determine for themselves whether
slavery shall or shall not exist within their limits."

The people of California, therefore, acting in con-
formity with the views thus expressed, and what seemed
to be the generally admitted opinion in the States, had
every reason to suppose, and did suppose, that, by form-
ing a constitution for themselves, and deciding this ques-
tion in accordance with their own views and interests,
they would be received with open arms by all parties.

In taking this step, they proceeded with all the regu-
larity which has ever characterized the American people
in discharging the great and important duties of self-

As already stated, I arrived at San Francisco on the
morning of the fourth of June.

The steamer in which 1 was a passenger did not stop
at Monterey; I therefore did not see General Riley,
nor had I any communication with him until about the
middle of the month, when he came to San Francisco.
A few days after my arrival, his proclamation calling a
Convention to form a State constitution, dated the third
of June, was received.

The people acted in compliance with what they be-
lieved to be the views of Congress, and conformably to
the recommendations of the proclamation; and pro-
ceeded, on the day appointed, to elect members to a
Convention for the purpose of forming a constitution, to
be regularly submitted to the people for their ratification
or rejection, and, if approved, to be presented to Con-


gress, uitli a prayer for the adniif^sion of California, as a
State, into the Union.

I desire here to make a brief and emphatic repl}' to
the varions nnjnst and most extraordinary accusations
and insinuations -vrliich liave been made respecting the
movements of the people of California in forming their
State government.

I had no secret instructions, verbal or written, from
the President, or any one else, what to say to the people
of California on the subject of slaverj^ ; nor was it ever
hinted or intimated to me that I was expected to at-
tempt to inlluence their action in the slightest degree on
that subject. That I never did, the people of California
will bear me witness. In that Territory, there was none
of the machinery of party or of the press ; and it is even
more absurd to suppose that any secret mfluences, for or
against slavery, could have been used there, than it
would be to believe that they could be successfully em-
ployed in Mar}' land or Georgia.

I therefore declare all assertions and insinuations, that
I was secretly instructed to, or that I did in any way.
attempt to inlluence the people of California to exclude
slavery from their Territory, to be without foundation.

The election of delegates to the Convention proceeded
regularly in pursuance of the proposed mode of liolding
it, and, as far as I am informed, no questions were asked
Avhether a candidate was a Wins: or a Democrat, or wlie-
tiler he was from tlie Nortli or tlie South. The only
object seemed to be to llnd competent men who were


willing to make the sacrifice of time which a proper dis-
charge of their duties would require.

As soon after my arrival at San Francisco as the
arrangements of General Smith would permit, I pro-
ceeded with him to the interior of the country, for the
purpose of examining the gold region, and other inte-
resting and important portions of it. I did not return
until the 16th of August. The elections had taken
place when I was in the mountains. I was taken ill on
the 20th of that month, and was confined to my bed
and my room more than two months.

The Convention met on the 1st of September. So it
will be seen that I was not present where any election
was held, nor had I anything to do with selecting or
bringing out candidates ; and my illness is sufficient proof
that I did not, and could not, had I been disposed, exer-
cise any influence in the Convention, which was sitting
one hundred and thirty miles from where I was.

Some intimations or assertions, as I am informed, have
been thrown out that the South was not fairly repre-
sented in the Convention. I am told by two of the
members of Congress elect from California, who were
members of the Convention, that of the thirty-seven dele-
gates designated in General Riley's proclamation, sixteen
were from slaveholding, ten from the non-slaveholding
States, and eleven who were citizens of California under
the Mexican government, and that ten of those eleven
came from districts below 36° 30'. So that there were,
in the Convention, twenty-six of the thirty-seven mem-


bci*s Iroiii the .slaveholding States, and from places soiitli
of tlie Missouri Compromise line.

It appears, on the journal of the Convention, that
the clause in the constitution excluding slavery 2)assed

1 now proceed to give 3'ou the result of my inquiries,
observations, and reflections, respecting the population,
climate, soil, productions, the general character of grants
of land from Mexico, the extent and condition of the
l)ublic domain, the commercial resources njid prospects,
the mineral and metallic wealth of California.


Humboldt, in his "Essay on New Spain," states the
population of Upper California, in 1802, to have con-
sisted of —

Converted Indians, . . . 15,502
Other classes, . . . . l.oOO


Alexander Forbes, in his "History of Vpper and
Lower California," published in London, in 18o'.>, states
the number of converted Indians in the former to have
been, in ISol, ..... 18,683
Of all other classes, at . . . 4,342


He expresses the opinion that this numl)er had not
varied nuich up to LS35, and tlie ])nil>al)ility is, there
was very little increase in the white popuhition until


the emigrants from the United States began to enter the
country in 1838.

They increased from year to year, so that, in 1836,
Colonel Fremont had little difficulty in calling to his
standard some five hundred fighting men.

At the close of the war with Mexico, it was supposed
that there were, including discharged volunteers, from
ten to fifteen thousand Americans and Californians, ex-
clusive of converted Indians, in the Territory. The
immigration of American citizens in 1849, up to the 1st
of January last, was estimated at eighty thousand — of
foreigners, twenty thousand.

The population of California ma}^, therefore, be safely
set down at 115,000 at the commencement of the pre-
sent year.

It is quite impossible to form anything like an accu-
rate estimate of the number of Indians in the Territory.
Since the commencement of the war, and especially since
the discovery of gold in the mountains, their numbers at
the missions, and in the valleys near the coast, have
very much diminished. In fact, the whole race seems
to be rapidly disappearing.

The remains of a vast number of villages in all the

valleys of the Sierra Nevada, and among the foot-hills

of that rano'e of mountains, show that at no distant dav

there must have been a numerous population, where

there is not now an Indian to be seen. There are a

few still retained in the service of the old Californians,

but these do not amount to more than a few thousand
in the whole Territory. It is ,said there are large


iiumbiTS of them in the mountains and valley's about
the head-waters of the San Joaquin, along the western
base of the Sierra, and in the northern part of the Ter-
ritory, and that they are hostile. A number of Ameri-
cans were killed by them during the last summer, in
attempting to penetrate high up the rivers in search of
gold; they also drove one or two parties from Trinity
River. They have, in several instances, attacked parties
coming from or returning to Oregon, in the section of
country which the lamented Captain Warner was ex-
amining when he was killed.

It is quite impossible to form any estimate of the
number of these mountain Indians. Some suppose
there are as many as three hundred thousand in the
Territory, but I should not be inclined to believe that
there can be one-third of that number. It is quite evi-
dent that they are hostile, and that they ought to be
chastised for the murders already committed.

The small bands with whom I met, scattered through
the lower portions of the foot-hills of the Sierra, and in
the valleys between them and the coast, seemed to be
almost the lowest grade of human beings. They live
chiefly on acorns, roots, insects, and the kernel of the
pine burr; occasionally, they catch fish and game. They
use the bow and arrow, but are said to be too lazy and
ofleminate to make successful hunters. The}' do not
appear to have the slightest inclination to cultivate the
soil, nor do they even attempt it — as far as 1 could ob-
tain information — except when they arc induced to
enter tlie service of the white inhabitants. They have


never pretended to hold any interest in the soil, nor
have they been treated by the Spanish or American
immigrants as possessing any.

The Mexican government never treated with them
for the purchase of land, or the relinquishment of any
claim to it whatever. They are lazy, idle to the last
degree, and, although they are said to be willing to give
their services to any one who will provide them with
blankets, beef, and bread, it is with much difficulty they
can be made to perform labor enough to reward their
employers for these very limited means of comfort.

Formerly, at the missions, those who were brought
up and instructed by the priests made very good serv-
ants. Many of these now attached to families seem to
be faithful and intelligent. But those who are at all in
a wild and uncultivated state are most degraded objects
of filth and idleness.

It is possible that Government might, by collecting
them together, teach them, in some degree, the arts and
habits of civilization ; but, if we may judge of the future
from the past, they will disappear from the face of the
earth as the settlements of the whites extend over the
country. A very considerable military force will be
necessary, however, to protect the emigrants in the
northern and southern portions of the Territory.


I now come to consider the climate. The climate of
California is so remarkable in its periodical changes, and
for the long continuance of the wet and dry seasons, di-



\ iiling, as tlioy do, the year into about two equal parts,
which have a most peculiar influence on the labor ap-
plied to agriculture and the products of the soil, and, in
fact, connect themselves so inseparaljly Avith all the
interests of the countr}', that I deem it proper briefly to
mention the causes which produce these changes, and
which, it will be seen, as this Report proceeds, must
exercise a controlling influence on the commercial pros-
perity and resources of the countrj^

It is a well-established theory, that the currents of air
under which the earth passes, in its diurnal revolutions,
follow the line of the sun's greatest attraction. These
currents of air are drawn towards this line from great
distances on each side of it ; and, as the earth revolves
from west to east, they blow from north-east and
south-east, meeting, and, of course, causing a calm, on
the line.

Thus, when the sun is directl}^, in common parlance,
over the Equator, in the month of jMarch, these currents
of air blow from some distance north of the Tropic of
Cancer, and south of the Tropic of Capricorn, in an ob-
lique direction towards this line of the sun's greatest
attraction, and forming what are known as the north-
east and south-east trade winds.

As the earth, in its path round the sun, gradually
brings the line of attraction north, in summer, these cur-
rents of air are carried icitJi it ; so tliat about the middle
of May the current from the north-cast has extended as

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Online LibraryT. Butler (Thomas Butler) KingReport of Hon. T. Butler King, on California → online text (page 1 of 5)