“By a Little Exertion”

After his experience at the disastrous 1860 Democratic National Convention—the one that split the party in two—John Bidwell came home to California and attended the state convention that would nominate a candidate for governor. He wanted the job. In 1867, writing to Annie about his life and political career, he said:

I was so sustained by the people of California that I could have been elected to almost any office, as I believe — In 1861 I could by a little exertion have been nominated for governor — came very near it without making any exertion.

So why did he not exert himself?

Bidwell lived in the day when, ideally, the political  job sought the man, rather than the man seeking the job.  He expected the party to seek him out as the best candidate, and support him. He didn’t consider it proper that he should put himself forward. Bt not exerting himself, he eventually (after fourteen ballots) lost the nomination to John C. Conness.

Note that this is the version that he told Annie. Annie, with her high ideals, wanted him to be the man that others would seek, rather than the politician who went looking for a public office to fill. So he is telling Annie what he thinks she wants to hear.

He also doesn’t mention that he wouldn’t have won the governorship anyway. This was after the Democratic Party tore itself in two. He was at the Union Democrat convention–the convention of Democrats loyal to the Union. What the pro-South Democrats were doing I’m not sure, but they didn’t support Conness or the Republican candidate. With the Democratic vote divided, Republican Leland Standford, became governor of California. And the next time around, Bidwell would be a Republican too.

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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