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Taming the Elephant

Taming the Elephant: Politics, Government, and Law in Pioneer California

Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 299
  • Book Info
    Taming the Elephant
    Book Description:

    Taming the Elephantis the last of four volumes in the distinguished California History Sesquicentennial Series, an outstanding compilation of original essays by leading historians and writers. These topical, interrelated volumes reexamine the meaning of the founding of modern California during the state's pioneer period. General themes run through all four volumes: the interplay of traditional cultures and frontier innovation in the creation of a distinctive California society; the dynamic interaction of people and nature and the beginnings of massive environmental change; the impact of the California experience on the nation and the world; the influence of pioneer patterns on modern California; and the legacy of ethnic and cultural diversity as a major influence on the state's history. This fourth volume treats the role of post-Gold Rush California government, politics, and law in the building of a dynamic state, with influences that persist today. Provocative essays investigate the creation of constitutional foundations, law and jurisprudence, the formation of government agencies, and the development of public policy. Authors chart the roles played by diverse groups-criminals and peace officers, entrepreneurs and miners, farmers and public officials, defenders of discrimination and female and African American activists. The essays also explore subjects largely overlooked in the past, such as the significance of local and federal government in pioneer California and early struggles to secure civil rights for women and racial minorities.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93648-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Stephen Becker and Richard J. Orsi
  4. 1 Taming the Elephant: An Introduction to California’s Statehood and Constitutional Era
    (pp. 1-26)
    John F. Burns

    The phrase “seeing the elephant” was frequently used during the California Gold Rush by western sojourners to describe their encounters with strange and alien situations or exotic and enlivening experiences—something as unique as actually seeing an elephant was at that time. The reality of seeing the elephant sometimes did not match the anticipation of the event. Thus, “seeing the elephant” became an apt metaphor for the Gold Rush, in which most people found more disappointments than riches. Although the phrase was generally applied to a gold-seeking adventure, the task of bringing discipline and order to the new state’s politics...

  5. 2 A Violent Birth: Disorder, Crime, and Law Enforcement, 1849–1890
    (pp. 27-73)
    Roger D. McGrath

    On the winter morning of February 20, 1853, more than a hundred Chinese miners were working their claims near Rich Gulch. Without warning, five mounted and gun-brandishing bandidos swept down upon them. Taken by surprise and without arms themselves, the Chinese could do little but comply when ordered to hand over their gold. An American who happened to be in the Chinese camp refused and made a rush for the bandidos. He was joined by two Chinese. The bandidos opened fire, killing the three men instantly. Stray bullets wounded five others. The bandidos collected some $10,000 worth of gold dust...

  6. 3 The Courts, the Legal Profession, and the Development of Law in Early California
    (pp. 74-95)
    Gordon Morris Bakken

    The Gold Rush flooded California with people seeking riches and expecting the institutions of the law to protect their interests. To create those institutions, delegates went to Monterey in 1849 for the first state constitutional convention. The delegates assembling in Monterey in 1849 had a variety of concerns in writing a constitution for the new state. When considering the judiciary, delegates were anxious about the need for a fair and speedy trial, the costs of litigation, and the role of judges in making law. In discussing these issues, the delegates acknowledged both our national constitutional traditions and California’s uniqueness in...

  7. 4 “We Feel the Want of Protection”: The Politics of Law and Race in California, 1848–1878
    (pp. 96-125)
    Shirley Ann Wilson Moore

    California’s history has been entangled in romanticized accounts of the daring Spanish conquest of savage but pliant Indians, of tradition-bound Californio stewards, and of hard-driving, entrepreneurial Yankee Argonauts.¹ These fictions were promulgated and abetted by influential early historians such as Hubert Howe Bancroft, who contended that California’s passage from Spanish and Mexican rule to Anglo-American hegemony represented the triumph of superior racial, political, and cultural forces over the “descendants of the people of Montezuma.”² This school also held that conquest and admission of California to the Union was the “Manifest Destiny” of white, Christian Americans.³ Bancroft, acknowledging that crimes and...

  8. 5 Capturing California
    (pp. 126-136)
    Joshua Paddison

    Late in the evening of May 3, 1851, as San Francisco was once again easing from boisterous Saturday night to quiescent Sunday morning, a fire started somewhere among the hotels, gambling houses, and saloons of its crowded downtown plaza. The flames spread quickly through the city, licking at canvas and devouring wood. The first major blaze in more than seven months, it caught even the fire-hardened residents of gold-rush San Francisco by surprise. A twenty-nine-year-old German visitor named Heinrich Schliemann, many years before archeological discoveries in Troy would propel him to international fame, outran the fire from his plaza hotel...

  9. 6 “Officialdom”: California State Government, 1849–1879
    (pp. 137-168)
    Judson A. Grenier

    An overview of California government in the three decades between the first and second constitutional conventions reveals clear patterns of change. At the outset (including the first two legislative sessions), government was creative and generally responsible; relationships between the branches were relatively harmonious. However, as the decade of the 1850s progressed, the legislative and executive branches increasingly were caught up in the partisan bickering that accompanied the rise of political parties and rancor over the spoils of office. The period of the Civil War was a clear watershed for government, as the founding fathers were ushered out and a new...

  10. 7 “None Could Deny the Eloquence of This Lady”: Women, Law, and Government in California, 1850–1890
    (pp. 169-198)
    Donna C. Schuele

    Although women played no direct role in California law and politics until 1870, both their interest in law reform and their later entry into the political arena can be traced in part to two sections of the constitution that went into effect at statehood in 1850, one excluding women from the franchise and the other purporting to grant wives liberal property rights. Around 1870, California women joined their eastern sisters in organizing for suffrage rights and began seeking as well a more equitable implementation of the constitutional guarantee to marital property rights. This chapter will explore the circumstances that led...

  11. 8 The Beginnings of Anglo-American Local Government in California
    (pp. 199-223)
    Edward Leo Lyman

    California local government in the Anglo-American period did not get off to a particularly auspicious start. For a short time during the United States military occupation and thereafter, some of the Hispanic institutions, especially the office of alcalde, a position that existed in many localities, mainly in northern California, continued in effect. This office combined legislative, judicial, executive, and law enforcement functions in one person. But there was little patience among newcomers with the lack of separation of powers and checks on the power inherent in the position, and the rapidly increasing throng of citizens from the United States demanded...

  12. 9 An Uncertain Influence: The Role of the Federal Government in California, 1846–1880
    (pp. 224-272)
    Robert J. Chandler

    Did rugged individualists tame the West, or did pioneers merely arrive at a well-ordered colony of the federal government? Popular myth enshrines the first view. In 1991, however, “New” Western historian Richard White, building on more than a half century of research, argued that “The West has been historically a dependency of the federal government.” Moreover, he observed, “the West itself served as the kindergarten of the American state,” teaching it the governing skills needed to develop a sparsely settled land. In a 1999 article, Karen R. Merrill called on New Western historians to specifically distinguish how federal aid to...

    (pp. 273-276)
  14. Index
    (pp. 277-288)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-289)