From award-winning historian Leonard L. Richards, an authoritative and revealing portrait of an overlooked harbinger of the terrible battle yet to come.
When gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in 1848, Americans of all stripes saw the potential for both wealth and power. Among the more calculating were Southern slave owners. By making California a slave state, they could increase the value of their slaves—by 50 percent at least, and maybe much more. They could also gain additional influence in Congress and expand Southern economic clout, abetted by a new transcontinental railroad that would run through the South. Yet, despite their machinations, California entered the union as a free state. Disillusioned Southerners would agitate for even more slave territory, leading to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and, ultimately, to the Civil War itself.
Richards, a leading historian of 19th-century America (The Life and Times of Congressman John Quincy Adams), superbly illuminates gold rush California as a land in contention between national pro- and anti-slavery lobbies in the decade leading up to the Civil War. For Southerners the labor-intensive gold riches to be found in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains seemed custom-made for exploitation by slave labor working for the aggrandizement of whites. Southern men of means also saw California up until its entrance to the Union as a free state in 1850 as a potentially large new market for slaves. Northern industrialists, on the other hand, sought California as a market for manufactured goods and as a gateway for shipping those goods to the Orient. Richards hones in most productively on the internal and external politics related to the pre-1850 California territory, revealing the intense maneuvering and impassioned rhetoric as the statehood debate proceeded. And he demonstrates how close California came to being cut in two, once Southern senators realized admittance of the territory in its entirety as a slave state was a nonstarter and proposed to "settle" for the fertile valleys to the south, there to start a new slave-holding culture in the West. B&w illus., maps. (Feb. 19)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.