Bidwell the Democrat

Somewhere in his writings, and I can’t find the reference, Bidwell says in his early career in California he was an “incorrigible Democrat.” When he left Missouri and came into California in 1841, a young man of 22, he naturally allied himself with the Democratic Party, the party of Andrew Jackson.  The Democrats were the party for the small farmer and the urban working man. Their opposition in the first half of the 19th century were the Whigs.

Later in his life he would become disaffected by the Democrats and change his allegiance, but during the 40’s and 50’s he would have voted Democrat, if he got a chance to vote in the back of beyond that was California.

I think this is the only photo that shows the first state capitol in San Jose. John Bidwell may be in the picture somewhere, but it is impossible to say which one he is.

The Democrats dominated California politics during the 1850’s. In the first state election on November 13, 1849 (although in reality California was not yet a state) John Bidwell was elected to the state senate, representing the Sacramento district. In December he went to San Jose and together with the rest of the new legislature began the process of building a state government.

We had to frame a code of laws, and our constitution was almost a literal copy of the constitution of New York. A few members who had been able to get copies of the statues of N.Y. introduced nearly all the bills, and they were almost literal transcriptions of the N.Y. laws.  . . . I was head of the committee on corporations, also on the committee of county boundaries. I was chosen for this because I had more knowledge of the counties than perhaps any one else there.

I wrote the first charter of the City of San Francisco, for which the newspapers gave me great credit, but I didn’t deserve the credit, because I had copied it almost entirely from the charter of St. Louis. There was nothing very remarkable in getting up the code of laws.

And so began Bidwell’s political career in California. There was one earlier event–in August 1849 he was elected to the state constitutional convention.  But he never got the word of his election until it was too late. He hadn’t campaigned for the position, and in the summertime he was up in the hills, mining for gold. By the time he found out that he had been selected by voters to help write the constitution, it was too late to take part.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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