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California Gold Rush

1849 - 1850

California Gold Rush brings a flood of settlers; California applies for statehood.
http://www.history.com/shows/america-the-story-of-us/videos/gold-rush#gold-rush
Discovery at Sutter's Mill
On January 24, 1848, James Wilson Marshall, a carpenter originally from New Jersey, found flakes of gold in the American River at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Coloma, California. At the time, Marshall was working to build a water-powered sawmill owned by John Sutter, a German-born Swiss citizen and founder of a colony of Nueva Helvetia (New Switzerland). (The colony would later become the city of Sacramento.) As Marshall later recalled of his historic discovery: "It made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold."

Just days after Marshall's discovery at Sutter's Mill, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the Mexican-American War and leaving California in the hands of the United States. At the time, the population of the territory consisted of 6,500 Californios (people of Spanish or Mexican decent); 700 foreigners (primarily Americans); and 150,000 Native Americans (barely half the number that had been there when Spanish settlers arrived in 1769).

News Spreads
Though Marshall and Sutter tried to keep news of the discovery under wraps, word got out, and by mid-March at least one newspaper was reporting that large quantities of gold were being turned up at Sutter's Mill. Though the initial reaction in San Francisco was disbelief, storekeeper Sam Brannan set off a frenzy when he paraded through town displaying a vial of gold obtained from Sutter's Creek. By mid-June, some three-quarters of the male population of San Francisco had left town for the gold mines, and the number of miners in the area reached 4,000 by August.

As news spread of the fortunes being made in California, the first migrants to arrive were those from lands accessible by boat, such as Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii), Mexico, Chile, Peru and even China. Only later would the news reach the East Coast, where press reports were initially skeptical. Gold fever kicked off there in earnest, however, after December 1848, when President James K. Polk announced the positive results of a report made by Colonel Richard Mason, California's military governor, in his inaugural address. As Polk wrote, "The accounts of abundance of gold are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service."

The '49ers Come to California
Throughout 1849, people around the United States (mostly men) borrowed money, mortgaged their property or spent their life savings to make the arduous journey to California. In pursuit of the kind of wealth they had never dreamed of, they left their families and hometowns; in turn, women left behind took on new responsibilities such as running farms or businesses and caring for their children alone. Thousands of would-be gold miners, known as '49ers, traveled overland across the mountains or by sea, sailing to Panama or even around Cape Horn, the southernmost point of South America.

By the end of the year, the non-native population of California was estimated at 100,000, (as compared with 20,000 at the end of 1848 and around 800 in March 1848). To accommodate the needs of the '49ers, gold mining towns had sprung up all over the region, complete with shops, saloons, brothels and other businesses seeking to make their own Gold Rush fortune. The overcrowded chaos of the mining camps and towns grew ever more lawless, including rampant banditry, gambling, prostitution and violence. San Francisco, for its part, developed a bustling economy and became the central metropolis of the new frontier.

The Gold Rush undoubtedly sped up California's admission to the Union as the 31st state. In late 1849, California applied to enter the Union with a constitution preventing slavery, provoking a crisis in Congress between proponents of slavery and abolitionists. According to the Compromise of 1850, proposed by Kentucky's Senator Henry Clay, California was allowed to enter as a free state, while the territories of Utah and New Mexico were left open to decide the question for themselves.

Lasting Impact of the Gold Rush
After 1850, the surface gold in California largely disappeared, even as miners continued to arrive. Mining had always been difficult and dangerous labor, and striking it rich required good luck as much as skill and hard work. Moreover, the average daily take for an independent miner working with his pick and shovel had by then sharply decreased from what it had been in 1848. As gold became more and more difficult to reach, the growing industrialization of mining drove more and more miners from independence into wage labor. The new technique of hydraulic mining, developed in 1853, brought enormous profits but destroyed much of the region's landscape.

Though gold mining continued throughout the 1850s, it had reached its peak by 1852, when some $81 million was pulled from the ground. After that year, the total take declined gradually, leveling off to around $45 million per year by 1857. Settlement in California continued, however, and by the end of the decade the state's population was 380,000.

Compromise of 1850

1850 - 1851

Compromise of 1850 allows California to enter Union as a free state, giving free states a Senate majority, but the new Fugitive Law enrages Northerners.
The Gold Rush undoubtedly sped up California's admission to the Union as the 31st state. In late 1849, California applied to enter the Union with a constitution preventing slavery, provoking a crisis in Congress between proponents of slavery and abolitionists. According to the Compromise of 1850, proposed by Kentucky's Senator Henry Clay, California was allowed to enter as a free state, while the territories of Utah and New Mexico were left open to decide the question for themselves.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

1852 - 1853

Uncle Tom's Cabin is Published.
http://www.history.com/topics/harriet-beecher-stowe/videos#abolition-and-the-underground-railroad

In 1836, she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, professor of biblical literature at Lane. The death of a son in 1849 led her away from her father's Calvinism and gave supremacy in her views to the redemptive spirit of Christian love. By 1850, the family had moved to Maine, where, in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of that year, Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), her most celebrated work. Sentimental and realistic by turns, the novel explored the cruelties of chattel slavery in the Upper and Lower South and exposed the moral ironies in the legal, religious, and social arguments of white apologists.

The immense impact of the novel (it sold 300,000 copies in its first year) was unexpected. Antislavery fiction had never sold well; Stowe was not an established writer, and few would have expected a woman to gain a popular hearing on the great political question of the day. Some female abolitionists had shocked decorum in the 1840s by speaking at public gatherings, but they were widely resented. The success of Uncle Tom's Cabin went far toward legitimizing, if not indeed creating, a role for women in public affairs.

To the dismay of many northern radicals, Uncle Tom's Cabin casually endorsed colonization rather than abolition. In fact, Stowe was unconcerned about the tactics that made slavery a political issue: for her, the problem was religious and emotional, and one that women were best equipped to confront. Her stated purpose, "to awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race" and to urge that readers "feel right" about the issue, belongs to a feminist and utopian agenda that contemporary readers were slow to recognize. In the South, the book was read as sectional propaganda; in the North, it was read as a compelling moral romance. Although Stowe blamed the slave system itself as "the essence of all abuse" rather than the slaveholders and deliberately made its chief villain, Simon Legree, a displaced New Englander, the novel's effect was to exacerbate regional antagonisms. Indeed, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which called forth anti-Tom novels from southern writers, so raised the temperature of the dialogue that Lincoln would later, half-seriously, apportion to Stowe some responsibility for starting the Civil War.

Kansas-Nebraska Act

1854 - 1855

Crafted by Stephen Douglas repeals Missouri Compromise; Republican Party is founded.

Charles Sumner is canned in the Senate

1856 - 1857

Southern Congressman Preston Brooks savagely beats Northern Senator Charles Sumner in the halls of Congress as tensions rise over the expansion of slavery.

When the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was passed, popular sovereignty was applied within the two new territories and people were given the right to decide the slave issue by vote. Because the act nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the debate over slavery intensified. Northerners were incensed that slavery could again resurface in an area where it had been banned for over 30 years. When violence broke out in Kansas Territory, the issue became central in Congress. On May 19, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, an ardent abolitionist, began a two-day speech on the Senate floor in which he decried the "crime against Kansas" and blasted three of his colleagues by name, one of whom—South Carolina Senator Andrew P. Butler—was elderly, sick, and absent from the proceedings.

Butler's cousin, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina, who had a history of violence, took it upon himself to defend the honor of his kin. Wielding the cane he used for injuries he incurred in a duel over a political debate in 1840, Brooks entered the Senate chamber and attacked Sumner at his desk, which was bolted to the floor. Sumner's legs were pinned by the desk so he could not escape the savage beating. It was not until other congressmen subdued Brooks that Sumner finally escaped.

Brooks became an instant hero in the South, and supporters sent him many replacement canes. He was vilified in the North and became a symbol of the stereotypically inflexible, uncompromising representative of the slave power. The incident exemplified the growing hostility between the two camps in the prewar years.

Sumner did not return to the Senate for three years while he recovered.

John Brown

1856 - 1857

Border ruffians attack antislavery settlers in Lawrence, Kansas; John Brown leads attack on Pro-Slavery settlers in Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas

Dred Scott Decision

1857 - 1858

Allows slavery in all federal territories enrages Northerners.

The U.S. Supreme Court hands down its decision on Sanford v. Dred Scott, a case that intensified national divisions over the issue of slavery.

In 1834, Dred Scott, a slave, had been taken to Illinois, a free state, and then Wisconsin territory, where the Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited slavery. Scott lived in Wisconsin with his master, Dr. John Emerson, for several years before returning to Missouri, a slave state. In 1846, after Emerson died, Scott sued his master's widow for his freedom on the grounds that he had lived as a resident of a free state and territory. He won his suit in a lower court, but the Missouri supreme court reversed the decision. Scott appealed the decision, and as his new master, J.F.A. Sanford, was a resident of New York, a federal court decided to hear the case on the basis of the diversity of state citizenship represented. After a federal district court decided against Scott, the case came on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was divided along slavery and antislavery lines; although the Southern justices had a majority.

During the trial, the antislavery justices used the case to defend the constitutionality of the Missouri Compromise, which had been repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Southern majority responded by ruling on March 6, 1857, that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the territories. Three of the Southern justices also held that African Americans who were slaves or whose ancestors were slaves were not entitled to the rights of a federal citizen and therefore had no standing in court. These rulings all confirmed that, in the view of the nation's highest court, under no condition did Dred Scott have the legal right to request his freedom. The Supreme Court's verdict further inflamed the irrepressible differences in America over the issue of slavery, which in 1861 erupted with the outbreak of the American Civil War.

John Brown raids Harpers Ferry

1859 - 1860

Lincoln is elected; secession begins

1860 - 1861