“We Feel the Want of Protection”
The Politics of Law and Race in California, 1848–1878
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 brutalities abounded in the European settlement of California, nevertheless concluded:
The idea of conquest in the American mind has never been associated with tyranny. On the contrary, such is the national trust in its own superiority and beneficence, that either as a government or as individuals we have believed ourselves bestowing a precious boon upon whomsoever we could confer in a brotherly spirit our institutions. And down to the present time the other nations of the earth have not been able to prove us far in the wrong in indulging this patriotic self-esteem. 4
However, in the past two decades historians have begun to reassess California's history, probing the notions of inevitability, progress, race, gender, and politics to reveal a context far more complex, dynamic, and nuanced than was once believed. 5 From the beginning, racial and ethnic conflict have been embedded in the matrix of California's development. The pre-statehood invasion of an army of Anglo-American and European immigrant entrepreneurs and gold seekers overwhelmed, supplanted, and eventually delegitimated Indians, Californios, African Americans, Asians, and
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Publication information: Book title: Taming the Elephant: Politics, Government, and Law in Pioneer California. Contributors: John F. Burns - Editor, Richard J. Orsi - Editor. Publisher: University of California Press. Place of publication: Berkeley, CA. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 96.
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