California State Government, 1849–1879
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 breed of official emerged, ready to use the mechanisms of state to encourage the growth of industry, corporations, and large-scale agriculture. Excesses in all of these areas created a political backlash in the 1870s, as the voting public came to view jobholders and especially legislators as captives of special interests, thus fomenting the disillusionment with government that led to the second constitutional convention. Yet during all of these years, serving as a state officer often meant relinquishing a more lucrative career. Given the acquisitive culture of the time, California probably was fortunate that most of its officials were responsible men. 1
In the state's first election, on November 13, 1849, although the state had not yet been admitted to the Union and its government was extralegal, voters approved the new constitution, elected Peter H. Burnett governor and John McDougal lieutenant governor, and chose the members of the legislature and congressional representatives. The other state officers were chosen by the legislature after it convened in San Jose, the first state capital, on December 17, 1849. On December 20, Governor Burnett took the oath of office, and that afternoon the legislature in joint session elected United States senators. Two days later they met in convention to cast ballots for state treasurer, controller, attorney general, surveyor general, and three
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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: 137.
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