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LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
295. Discovery of Gold in California, 1848. At the close of the Mexican War Colonel Mason was left in charge of California as military governor, and William T. Sherman -- later General Sherman -- acted as one of his chief officers. In the spring of 1848 two men called on the governor, at Monterey, south of San Francisco. Presently Colonel Mason called to Sherman to come into his office. On the table were several little papers containing small bits of yellowish metal. "What is that?" said the governor to Sherman. "I touched it," adds the general, "examined one or two of the large pieces, and asked, 'Is it gold?'"1 It was gold. Some men had found it in digging a mill race for a sawmill for Captain Sutter, near Coloma, on a fork of the American River about a hundred miles northeast of San Francisco.
San Francisco was then a little village of about 400 inhabitants. When the news of the "great find" was spread abroad, nearly every person started for the mines. Houses were left half built; fields, half plowed. Every man who could possibly get away bought a shovel and hurried off to dig his fortune out of the golden sands.
296. Emigration to California; the "Vigilance Committee"; Results of the Discovery of Gold. The next spring (1849) the gold fever" reached the eastern states, and a great rush of
1 "Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman," I, 40. Gold was first discovered, January 24, 1848; see Bancroft's "California."
RESULTS OF THE DISCOVERY OF GOLD
emigration, by both land and sea, began for California. Many died of sickness contracted in crossing the Isthmus of Panama; multitudes more perished on the overland route across the continent. From the Rocky Mountains to the Sierras the track of the emigrants was marked by the skeletons of horses and oxen, and by barrels, boxes, and household goods thrown away along the road. But notwithstanding the loss of life, and the fact that many turned back, discouraged at the hardships of the undertaking, still over 80,000 men succeeded in reaching California before the end of that year.
From an insignificant settlement San Francisco suddenly sprang into a city of 20,000 inhabitants. To-day it has a population of over 400,000. But the great majority of the emigrants hurried off to the gold diggings, where, with pan and shovel,1 they were speedily engaged in collecting the shining particles of that precious metal which most men find it so hard to get, and also so hard to hold. In the course of the next seven years (1849-1856) gold valued at over $400,000,000 was obtained. The labor of getting it was worth three times more than the gold itself.2 A few gained the riches they so eagerly sought, but the greater part barely made a living by the most exhausting toil.
Eagerness for wealth naturally brought bad men as well as good to this land of promise. At times these reckless adventurers made serious trouble. The stern hand of a Vigilance Committee, organized by a majority of the best citizens of San Francisco, speedily taught desperadoes and thieves that life and property must be respected.
In the end the discovery of gold had many good results.3
1. It gave us firm possession of the Pacific coast, since it rapidly settled the wilderness of California with a population of energetic and determined men.
1 At first, much of the gold was taken from the beds of small streams and their vicinity. It was done by sifting out the sand, or washing the earth, in pans or otherwise. When the surface mining gave out, men began to cut down the hills by directing powerful streams of water against them, and then washing the gravel and dirt for gold. Most of the gold now obtained in California is from quartz rock, which is broken to pieces by stamping mills.
2 Bancroft's "Pacific States," Vol. XVIII.
3 But compare § 312.
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
2. By increasing the amount of gold in circulation it stimulated trade, industry, and commerce not only throughout the United States but throughout the civilized world. New lines of steamships were started, new lines of railways built, new markets opened for goods and produce, new mills and factories established.
3. When the precious metal in the sands began to give out, men found the real, inexhaustible wealth of the country in its fields of grain, its vineyards, its orange plantations, its sheep and cattle farms. These make California a true land of gold, and of gold which is forever growing.
297. Summary. James K. Polk's presidency opened with our getting possession of Oregon. The Mexican War followed, resulting in our obtaining California and New Mexico ; the latter then included Nevada, Utah, with parts of Colorado and Wyoming. (Map, p. 332.) The period closed with the discovery of gold, and with an immense emigration to California.
298. Taylor and Fillmore's Administrations (Twelfth and Thirteenth Presidents, One Term, 1849-1853); the Question of the Extension of Slavery. When General Taylor1 became President the North and the South were already engaged in fierce dispute in regard to the territory gained through the Mexican War. Florida had been admitted (1845) as a slave state, and Texas followed (1845). It was the last slave state that entered the Union; next, Congress was called on to determine whether California and New Mexico should be permitted to hold slaves.
This question of the spread of slavery had now come to be of greater importance and of greater danger to the country than any
I General Taylor was born in Virginia, 1784. A few years later his father removed with his family to Louisville, Kentucky. Taylor entered the regular army in 1808. In 1840 he bought a plantation, and settled at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His career in Mexico has already been traced. He was elected President by the Whigs, over Lewis Cass, the Democratic candidate, and Martin Van Buren, the Free-Soil candidate. President Taylor died July 9, 1850, and was succeeded by Vice President Millard Fillmore. General Taylor owned a large number of slaves; but in political action he belonged to no party and did not favor the extension of slavery to new territory. He was a brave, true, and conscientious man.
THE DANGER OF DISUNION
other. It acted like a wedge, gradually forcing the North and the South farther and farther apart. At the North the laborer was free; whatever he earned was his own. At the South he was not free; what he earned was his master's. The North with free labor had steadily increased in population and wealth; the South with slave labor had made but little real progress. Most people at the North now considered slavery a positive evil; but a strong party at the South, led by Calhoun, held that it was a positive good.
This difference in belief led to the struggle about the new territory. The South felt that it was only by getting new slave states -- thereby increasing the number of its senators and representatives -- that it could maintain its power in Congress. The Southern leaders believed that if they lost that power their system of slave labor would be destroyed, their negroes would be set free and would get the control of that part of the country.
299. The "Wilmot Proviso"; Dispute about Slavery; the Danger of Disunion; the Compromise of 1850; the Fugitive-Slave Law. Before the Mexican War had come to an end, David Wilmot, a Pennsylvania Democrat, startled the country by proposing the passage of a law called the "Wilmot Proviso." It declared that slavery should never be permitted to exist in any part of the territory which we might obtain from Mexico. The "Wilmot Proviso" passed the House of Representatives by a large majority, but it did not pass the Senate. The discussion of this measure roused angry passions in both the North and the South.
After the Mexican War was over the dispute about opening to slavery the new territory we had acquired (§ 294) grew hotter and hotter. Three methods of settlement were proposed.
1. The extreme Southern men said, "Every citizen of the United States has the right to go to any part of the country he pleases, and take his property, including his negroes, with him. Give us, said they, that right, and we ask no more."
2. But the advocates of the "Wilmot Proviso" and other Free-Soil men answered: "We will have no more slave states. All territory must come in free."
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
3. Finally, a third class said: Congress has no right to meddle in this matter, one way or the other. What we want is "Popular Sovereignty" -- that is, let the people of the territories decide for themselves between freedom and slavery.
None of these methods satisfied both sections of the country, but unless some agreement could be reached the Union might be broken up. In that case we should split into a Northern and a Southern Republic. At this time of peril Henry Clay, "the peacemaker," came forward in Congress, in 1850, with this compromise, or plan of settlement (§§ 243, 269).
1. Let California come in as a free state ; at the same time let the slave trade (though not slavery itself) be abolished in the District of Columbia (§ 264).
2. In all the rest of the territory obtained from Mexico let us have "Popular Sovereignty" -- in other words, let the people determine for themselves whether they will have free labor or slave labor.
3. Let us have a new Fugitive-Slave Law (page 174, note) which shall arrest all runaway slaves found at the North, and, without trial by jury, return them to their masters.
It will be seen that Clay's first proposition was calculated to please the Anti-Slavery party in the North and get their votes in Congress. His second proposition was arranged so that it would please the advocates of "Popular Sovereignty" in the territories, while his third proposition would be sure to gratify the slaveholders in the South, and so secure their votes. In this way all parties would find something in Clay's Compromise measures which they would like.
Daniel Webster (§ 268) employed his eloquence to get Congress to vote for these compromise measures, including the new Fugitive Slave Law;1 for he believed that if it was rejected, the Union would be destroyed. Many people at the North denounced him, as John Quincy Adams once did, as "a heartless traitor to the cause of human freedom"; but Horace Greeley, a strong Abolitionist,
1 Mr. Webster, however, wished to have this law modified so as to secure trial by jury to negroes arrested as fugitives, in case they denied that they were runaway slaves. His efforts to secure this change were unsuccessful, for the South insisted that no Northern jury would ever return a negro. See Curtis' "Life of Webster," II, 422, 423.
declared that the great majority, both North and South, agreed with Mr. Webster.1
300. Passage of the Fugitive-Slave Law; its Results; the "Higher Law"; the "Underground Railroad.1 During the debate on the Fugitive-Slave Law President Taylor died, and was succeeded by Vice President Fillmore. The law, with the other compromise measures, passed in the autumn of 1850, California was admitted as a free state, and it was hoped that peace was secured. But it was a peace, like a smoldering fire, ready to burst into flame at any moment. (Map, p. 270.)
As soon as the slave owners of the South attempted to enforce the new law and arrest their runaway negroes at the North, trouble began. Many men who had never disobeyed an act of Congress refused to send back the South's fugitive slaves. They said, with Senator Seward, "On this point we feel that there is a 'Higher Law' than that of Congress, -- a divine law of justice and freedom, -- which forbids us to give the help demanded."
This new spirit of resistance showed itself not only in words but in actions. In Boston a fugitive named Shadrach was taken from the officers and carried off to a place of safety; and in Syracuse, New York, one named Jerry received his liberty in the same way. Several Northern states now passed laws to protect negroes and prevent their being sent back to slavery. Many persons, out of pity for the escaped slaves, banded themselves together to help them privately to get to Canada. This method got the name of the "Underground Railroad" ; and hundreds, if not thousands, of trembling fugitives owed their liberty to the quickness and secrecy of this peculiar system of travel.
301. "Uncle Tom's Cabin"; Charles Sumner and Jefferson Davis. This feeling of opposition was suddenly intensified throughout the North by the publication (1852) of Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." It was a remarkable book -- one written from the heart to the heart. It meant to be truthful, to be fair, to be kind.
Mrs. Stowe's object was to show what the life of the slave really was, -- to show its bright and happy side, as well as its dark and
1 See Horace Greeley's "American Conflict," I, 220, 221.