In the early years of California statehood, the Democratic Party dominated state politics. Often referred to as “The Democracy,” it arose out of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. For a while, after the demise of the Federalists, this was the only party around, but it split in 1828 over the choice of a successor to President James Monroe.
Andrew Jackson was the first Democratic president. Under Jackson’s leadership, the party favored a decentralized government, individual liberty, and agrarian values. It was the choice of the small farmer and the artisan, the “common man,” and so was naturally the political party for a farmer’s son like John Bidwell.
The opposition party was the Whigs, the party of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Named after the Whig Party in Britain, which opposed absolute monarchy, the American Whigs opposed the man they called “King Andrew.” They favored a stronger national government, a national bank, and protective tariffs. It appealed to landowners, merchants, and the urban middle class.
The men who came to California were overwhelmingly Democrats. From the beginning of state government, the Democratic Party held the reins. But the national struggle over slavery would soon lead to rifts in the party.
Enter William M. Gwin, a pro-slavery Southerner with a copy of the Iowa constitution in his pocket and a eye on the U.S. Senate.