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California Constitution First Printing in Book Form–One of Earliest Printings in San Francisco
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We, the People of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings, do establish this Constitution.” (p3)

Art. I, “Sec. 18. Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this State.” (p4)

[CALIFORNIA]. Constitution of the State of California. San Francisco: Office of the Alta California, 1849. 16 pp., 5¾ x 9⅝ in.

Inventory #26586.99       Price: $17,500

Historical Background
In January 1848, a carpenter first found gold at a sawmill owned by John Sutter on the South Fork American River northeast of Sacramento, launching the California Gold Rush. As news of the discovery spread, prospectors flocked to the new U.S. territory of California, 81,000 arriving in 1849 and another 91,000 in 1850. Over the next seven years, approximately 300,000 people came to California seeking gold or supplying prospectors. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War in February 1848 made California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado and parts of New Mexico and Arizona American territory.

On June 3, 1849, Brigadier General Bennett C. Riley (1787-1853), the ex officio governor of California under U.S. military rule, issued a proclamation calling for a constitutional convention and the election of delegates to it on August 1. Voters elected 48 delegates, who convened in Monterey for six weeks in September and October 1849. William E. Shannon (1822-1850) of Sacramento proposed a section declaring that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude “shall ever be tolerated in this State,” which was unanimously adopted and made part of the bill of rights in the first article. The constitution also guaranteed the right to vote to “every white male citizen of the United States, and every white male citizen of Mexico, who shall have elected to become a citizen of the United States” who was also at least twenty-one years old. The office of the Alta California newspaper in San Francisco printed this pamphlet for California’s citizens to review before casting their ballots. Voters ratified the new state constitution on November 13. 

On December 1, 1849, the issue of the Alta California for the Steamer Unicorn reported early results on the ratification of the constitution and election of state officers: “From every precinct yet heard from, the meagerness of the vote is accounted for by the fact that the rain fell in torrents. Some complaint is also made that the printed copies of the Constitution were not properly circulated, and that is said to be one reason of the large vote against it in the Sacramento District.” According to the precincts reporting from the Sacramento District, 5,002 voted in favor of the constitution and 603 against it. The final vote of the state was 12,061 for the constitution, and 811 against it.

The rapid expansion of California’s population inspired discussions of its status within the Union. In his annual message to Congress in December 1849, President Zachary Taylor noted the constitutional convention recently held and his expectation that California would soon apply for statehood, which he encouraged. Two months later, President Taylor submitted this California Constitution and a proposal to admit California as a new state to Congress. Taylor’s death on July 9, 1850, elevated Millard Fillmore to the presidency. Fillmore supported the Compromise of 1850, engineered by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. One of the five acts that composed the Compromise of 1850 was “An Act for the Admission of the State of California into the Union.” On September 9, 1850, Fillmore signed the act into law, and California became the 31st state in the Union.

The Alta California began publication on January 4, 1849, as a weekly newspaper. Edward C. Kemble, Edward Gilbert, and George C. Hubbard were the first publishers. The newspaper became a daily in January 1850 and continued publishing until 1891.

Condition: Small accession number stamped in margin of upper cover; scattered foxing and browning; housed in a blue cloth slipcase with folding chemise.

Rare. Huntington Library has a copy; a few others exist. This version lacks the “Address to the People of California” from the delegates to the Convention that forms pp. 17-19 of some printings.

Reference: Robert Ernest Cowan and Robert Granniss Cowan, A Bibliography of the History of California, 1510-1930 (San Francisco John Henry Nash, 1933), p. 140; Graff 539; Sabin 9998; Wagner, California Imprints, 3

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