The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
January 1964, Volume 10, Number 1
Jerry MacMullen, Editor
On June 3, 1849, Bennett Riley, Brevet Brig. Gen., U.S.A., and Governor of California, issued a proclamation recommending the formation of a State Constitution, or a plan of a Territorial Government.
Riley set August 1 as the day for holding a special election for “Delegates to a general Convention…. One judge of the Superior Court will be elected in the Districts of San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara….” His order continues:
The District of San Diego will elect two delegates, of Los Angeles four, of Santa Barbara two, of San Luis Obispo two, of Monterey five, of San Jose five, of San Francisco five, of Sonoma four, of Sacramento four, of San Joaquin four. Should any District think itself entitled to a greater number of Delegates than the above named, it may elect supernumeraries, who, on the organization of the convention, will be admitted or not at the pleasure of that body.
The places for holding the election will be as follows: San Diego, San Juan Capistrano….
The following are the limits of the several Districts: lst. The District of San Diego is bounded on the south by Lower California, on the west by the sea, on the north by the parallel of latitude including the mission San Juan Capistrano, and on the east by the Colorado River….
Given at Monterey, California, this third day of June, A.D. 1849.
Brevet Brig. Gen., U.S.A, and Governor of California.
Official – H. W. Halleck,
Brevet Capt. and Secretary of State.
The Alta California, San Francisco, in its July 26, 1849, issue, quoted what must be the first resolution made by San Diegans as citizens of the United States:
Movement of the People of San Diego.
A goodly number of the people of San Diego and vicinity, in accordance with a general public invitation, met on the Plaza on the evening of the 3d inst., to adopt such measures as they considered proper to have this district represented in the convention to frame a constitution and organize a State government for California, called to be held at Monterey on the Ist of September next. Don Miguel de Pedrorena being called to preside, H. H. Robinson was appointed Secretary, when the meeting proceeded to select a committee of three persons to report resolutions that should express the sense of the people of this district. Col. John B. Weller, Don Miguel de Pedrorena and I. H. Peoples constituted said body, and after a brief delay, reported the following:
Whereas, by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, dated 30th May, 1848, the territory of Upper California was ceded to the government of the United States, and now Constitutes a component part of the American Union, giving to the people all the rights of citizens residing within the territory of the United States: And, wbereas, Congress adjourned without passing any law for the better government of California, rendered important by the sudden increase of its population and the corresponding change in the habits of its people; And, wbereas, the sovereignty is vested in the people, who have at all times a clear and indisputable right to change, alter, or abolish their existing government whenever they may deem it necessary; therefore,
Resolved, That we recognise the principle as well settled, by the Jaw of nations as well as the treaty, that all laws in force prior to the recent war (not inconsistent with the laws of the United States) are now in force, and that we will use all proper means to maintain the existing government until regularly superseded by the action of Congress, or of the people, in the exercise of their sovereignty.
Resolved, That in order to secure to ourselves and posterity the blessings of civil and political liberty, it is indispensable that a convention, freely chosen by the people, should assemble, at as early a day as practicable, to form a constitution, preparatory to admission as a State into the American confederacy.
Resolved, That we approve of the proposition of Gov. Riley to hold a general convention at Monterey on the 1st of September next, and will take the necessary steps to be represented in that body.
Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed to advise the residents of this district now absent, of the proceedings of this meeting, and to adopt such measures as may be necessary to hold a special election on the Ist of August at this place and San Juan Capistrano, to elect five delegates to give whatever number of votes in said convention may be agreed upon as the proper proportion for this district.
These resolutions being unanimously adopted, the meeting selected Pedrorena, Bandini and Marron as the committee. On motion, it was
Resolved, That copies of these proceedings be furnished the editors of the Alta California and the Placer Times, with the request that they be published for general information;
Resolved, further, That when this meeting adjourn it will be to meet again at this place, on the Saturday evening preceding the 1st of August.
The meeting then adjourned.
MIGUEL DE PEDRORENA, Pres’t.
H. H. Robinson, Secretary.
The San Diego resolution clearly states that “it is indispensable that a convention, freely chosen by the people, should assemble, at as early a day as practicable, to form a constitution, preparatory to admission as a State into the American confederacy.”
Later, during the proceedings of the Convention, the suggestion was made to divide California into two parts, the upper part to be a State, the lower part to be a Territory. The San Diego delegates were quick to take a firm stand defending the wish of their District to be a part of the State of California.
In its August 22, 1849, issue, the Alta reported the election returns from the District of San Diego: Miguel de Pedrorena, Henry Hill, Cave J. Couts, John Forster and William Richardson were elected delegates; Juan Bandini was elected Superior judge, Dennis Gahagan judge of the Ist Instance, Santiago E. Arguello was elected Prefect, and Ramon Arguello and John Forster as Sub-Prefects. The total number of votes cast in this election was 220.
On August 31, 1849, the Alta began its detailed account of the Convention proceedings that would appear in each issue of the paper.
“The Convention for framing a State Constitution for California assembles at Monterey this day. The composition of the body, as far as known, is as follows: … District of San Diego, Regular [delegates] Miguel de Pedrorena, Henry Hill; Supernumeraries, Cave J. Couts, John Forster, William Richardson….”
During the Convention, Richardson became the center of a prolonged controversy, his name appearing again and again over the argument as to whether or not he could be seated as a regular delegate.
J. Ross Browne, official reporter of the convention debates, gave a brief statistical biography of each regular delegate. Henry Hill was 33 years old, born in Virginia, a resident of California for one year and five months. His profession was U. S. Army. Miguel de Pedrorena was 41 years old, born in Spain, a resident of California for twelve years, and a merchant.
Major Hill became an articulate and active member of the Convention. He was immediately appointed chairman of the Committee on Privileges and Elections. He and Pedrorena were among those appointed members of the Standing Committee on the Constitution. When a motion was passed that a committee of five members be appointed to report a plan for taking the enumeration of the inhabitants of the State of California, he was one of them, and when the problem arose as to who should be considered residents of California, he helped to solve it by moving to strike out the word “permanent” before the word “resident” and to substitute the words “bona fide,” which was agreed upon.
The controversy over the seating of Richardson as a regular delegate from San Diego, instead of as a supernumerary, began on September 18, Browne reporting it as follows:
“Mr. Hill announced the arrival of his colleague from San Diego, Miguel de la Pedrorena, and moved that he be qualified and authorized to take his seat. Whereupon, Mr. Pedrorena was duly sworn and admitted to take his seat.
“Mr. Hill then moved that Mr. Wm. H. Richardson, who was one of the five delegates elected in the District of San Diego, be also sworn, and allowed to take his seat.
“Mr. Botts said that the gentleman could not take his seat unless the existing resolution fixing the representation of the several districts was rescinded.
“Mr. Gilbert said that the resolution made the apportionment of two members from San Diego….
“Mr. Shannon regarded the vote of the House upon that resolution as perfectly null and void. …”
And so the discussion continued according to parliamentary procedure, with resolutions, motions, amendments, the question, the vote. On September 20 Mr. Tefft, from the Committee appointed to ascertain and report to the House who were or should be the delegates from San Diego, made a report in writing, sustaining the previous action of the House, which was read. After more motions and votes, Mr. Gwin submitted the following:
“Resolved, That William Richardson be allowed to occupy a seat on this floor, and to be heard by himself or by ourselves, in defence of his right to a seat in this Convention as a delegate from the District of San Diego.” It was decided in the affirmative and Mr. Richardson took a seat on the floor of the Convention. The next day Col. John B. Weller appeared as counsel for Mr. Richardson, and advocated at length his claim to a seat in this Convention, as a member elect from the District of San Diego. After lengthy discussion, pro and con, the President ruled that the Convention had already decided the manner of casting the votes and had fixed the apportionment for San Diego at two members.
Finally, on September 27, we hear the last of Richardson. Mr. Moore made a motion that “William H. Richardson is entitled to receive mileage and per them while prosecuting his claim to a seat….” Mr. McDougal supported the motion, Mr. Shannon opposed. Mr. Richardson, he argued, had come at his own risk; further than that, he came while under pay from the United States Government, at public expense. Mr. Pedrorena explained that Mr. Richardson had resigned his office before he left for the Convention. The question was then taken on the resolution by Mr. Moore, and it was adopted.
On September 22 began the great debate on the boundary question: Should the Convention decide the boundary limits of California? McCarver feared that if the boundary were left open, Congress might cut the State in two, by running a line east and west, to which he was decidedly opposed. Semple, in a long address, supported McCarver’s view, “It will be recollected,” he said, “that not many years ago there was a very considerable trade carried on between San Diego and the interior of Mexico, and that there still exist strong inducements for a lucrative commerce with the interior provinces of Mexico. The State of California ought to have the means of throwing out military escorts for the protection of that portion of the country…. From this time, when the port of San Diego is open to the vessels of the United States, there will be an immense trade carried on to the interior States of Mexico…. It is proper we should claim it….”
Gwin feared that if the delegates sent to Congress a constitution fixing the limits and not including California as it had always been recognized, it would be more than probable that Congress would look at that portion of the map and also at the votes represented in favor of a Territorial Government; that “they would cut off all the northern line down to 39 deg., add it to Oregon, and all south of 36 deg. 30 min., and make a Territorial Government of it.”
And so the dialogue continued within the limits of parliamentary procedure. with speeches, motions, amendments, votes. Gradually, however, as the debates became more animated, parliamentary procedure became less observed. After the announcement of one vote, several members rose to their feet under much excitement, Browne reported, and great confusion ensued: McCarver . . . “We have done enough mischief!” . . . Hoppe . . . “Rest assured that the thirty-nine thousand emigrants coming across the Sierra Nevada, will never sanction this constitution if you include the Mormons!” … Snyder … “Your constitution is gone!” … Cries of “Order!” “Order!”
On October 10, as the attempt to compromise the boundary question continued, the two San Diego delegates expressed their opinions:
Mr. Hill. “I hope the motion to reconsider will prevail. I am willing to vote for any proposition that brings our boundary this side of the Salt Lake — any proposition that will exclude the Mormons. As to the remarks of the gentleman (Mr. Gwin) upon a Territorial Government south of 36 deg. 30 min., the people of the South do not oppose a State Government; they were only of opinion that a State Government would bear heavily upon them at this time, but they greatly prefer a State Government to having a separate organization; and they are ready and willing to assume their proportionate share of its expenses.”
Mr. Pedrorena. “I am for a State Government, and I believe such is the will of my constituents.”
Mr. Hill. “I am authorized to say that the people of San Diego do not want a Territorial Government; they want a State Government.”
Mr. Tefft tried to restore reason to the emotional state of the delegates: “When the question was originally taken in this House whether we should form a State or Territorial organization, certain delegates voted in favor of a Territorial Government, but not in favor of having a Territorial Government south and a State Government north…. I am opposed to bringing up this boundary question again, without the assurance that there is now a spirit of conciliation in the House. I am opposed to having tables knocked down as they were yesterday in this madness of excitement…”
During one of the earlier sessions, Hill was properly rebuked by the Chair. In Browne’s words, “Mr. Hill alluded to the fact that several members spoke of leaving in the next steamer for the southern districts, and that it was desirable to get through the business of the Convention before its arrival.
“Mr. Botts hoped no such consideration as that would influence the House in its action.
“The Chair expressed the opinion that it was highly improper for any member or any delegation, to talk about abandoning their seats until the object for which the people sent them here was accomplished. It was to be hoped that the subject would not be alluded to again.”
The question of duty versus steamer schedules having been settled, the work went on, and the constitution was completed on October 31. “It was an instrument,” says Bancroft, “of which its makers might justly be proud; its faults being rather those of circumstance than of judgment. The heterogeneous personnel of the convention proved a safeguard rather than a drawback; New York being forced to consult Mississippi, Maryland to confer with Vermont, Rhode Island with Kentucky, and all with California….”
On December 6, 1849, the Alta started reporting the first election returns: “We give to-day election returns from every district in the state save one – the district of San Diego. From this district we learn that there are returns in town, but we have not been enabled to procure them. It is reported to have polled about 250 votes — mostly for Sherwood, McDougal, Wright and Price.”
On December 15 the newspaper published the names of those who would be the members of the first legislature of California. Los Angeles and San Diego sent E. K. Chamberlain and Alex. W. Hope to the Senate; San Diego elected O. S. Witherby to the Assembly.
On January 2, 1850, Alta California reported the complete official canvass. In the District of San Diego 242 votes were cast for the Constitution; one vote was cast against it.
In his report of official correspondence concerning the Convention and the subsequent election, Browne records General Riley’s last order:
HEADQUARTERS 10th MILITARY DEPARTMENT,
San Jose, California, Dec. 20, 1849
(Orders No. 41.)
1. The Brigadier General commanding the Department has this day relinquished the administration of civil affairs in California to the execution of the government organized under the provisions of the Constitution ratified by the people of California at the recent general election.
2. Brevet Captain H. W. Halleck, Corps of Engineers, is relieved from duty as Secretary of State.
E. R. S. Canby, Ass’t. Adt. General.
Browne, J. Ross: Report of the Debates in the Convention of California, on the Formation of the State Constitution, in September and October, 1849; Washington, 1850.
Alta California, San Francisco, 1849.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: In her search for hitherto unpublished facets of San Diego’s history, Helen Gohres now has developed the story of the part played by San Diegans in drafting the state’s first constitution.