Hail Columbia!

Although John Bidwell was a steadfast Democrat in the 1850s, he did not always vote the party ticket. In the 1851 contest for governor, he supported the Whig candidate, his friend Pierson B. Reading (who founded the town of Redding), rather than the Democratic candidate, John Bigler.

It was a close race. Reading lost by only a thousand votes, in spite of the predominance of the Democratic Party. Like Bidwell, Reading was an old, long-time resident of California, well-educated and well-spoken. Perhaps Bigler was seen as an unpolished upstart, but with the Democratic machine behind him, he could hardly fail.


Governor John Bigler

Bigler was re-elected in 1853 and ran for a third term in 1855. (Terms in office were only two years until 1862.) Bidwell never approved of him and Bigler did not appreciate the lack of support from Bidwell, who was influential in the capital.

I did not vote for Bigler when he was nominated the second time because I did not like his first administration. When he became a third time a candidate for renomination I was out against him; that is, I spoke with firmness against him.

I met him once on the streets of Sacramento, and he gave me “Hail Columbia” because I had blamed him for some of his acts; but I stood my ground. And I cannot say that Bigler was a very bitter enemy of mine, but he was a politician of the worst kind. He belonged to that class that thought anything they could do to win would be right.

“Hail Columbia!” There’s a bit of 19th century slang for you. It’s a euphemism for “Hell”. A gentleman would not have said “he gave me hell” in the kind of formal speech that this was (he was addressing the Society of California Pioneers). Besides, Bidwell was always quite mild in his language; his usual exclamation was “My, my!”

But “Hail Columbia!” I think we should bring that one back.

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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