Chivalry vs. Tammany

   Gwin and Broderick

Political power in California was in the hands the Democratic Party during the 1850s. Or at least, that’s the way it started out. The opposing party, the Whigs, were fading nationally, and in California, where the majority of men were engaged in mining and other working class jobs, the Democrats ruled.

And yet, the Democratic Party had a fatal flaw, a crack that ran through the heart of its solid hold on power. Slavery divided the party in California, just as it did the Northern and Southern states. In California, the party divided into two factions, popularly known as the Chivalry and the Tammany (or Free Soil) wings.


Sacramento Daily Union 10 September 1857

The Chivalry was the party of southerners, slaveholders, and anyone else who was pro-slavery.  It also included men who were not from the South or pro-slavery, but opposed the Tammany tactics of David C. Broderick, the boss of San Francisco. William M. Gwin, U.S. Senator, was the leader of the Chivalry.

(Were their slaves in California? Yes, there were. Although forbidden by the California Constitution, some southerners brought slaves with them during the Gold Rush, and it would take time and effort to eradicate slavery from the state.)

The “Chivs,” also called “Rose-water Democrats,” had a great deal of power in the party, but they were hated by those adamantly opposed to seeing slavery imported into California, or the state divided into a slave-holding half, and a free half.


Sacramento Daily Union 10 September 1857

David C. Broderick led the Tammany wing. Its other nickname, the “Hard-Fisted Democrats,” gives you an idea of what kind of men they were. Broderick had been schooled in politics under Boss Tweed in New York City. He ruled in San Francisco, and had in his hand numerous lucrative patronage jobs. He wasn’t going to let a bunch of “Rose-water Democrats” call the shots.

Since Broderick’s group also allied themselves with the short-lived Free Soil Party, they were often referred to as Free Soilers. The Free Soil Party in the East was comprised of former Northern Democrats and Whigs, who sought to ban slavery in all the newly-acquired territory in the West. As Free Soilers, David Broderick and his crew were not so much interested in the rights of slaves and African-Americans as they were in free soil for white men.

So it gets complicated. The nicknames (and worse) flew about like chicken feathers — “Bone-and-Sinew Democrats,” “Piano Democrats,” “Bogus Democrats,” “LeCompton” and “Anti-LeCompton Democrats,” The Democratic Party was not united, and that would spell trouble for the party when upstart rivals came on the scene, as we will soon see.


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.
This entry was posted in David C. Broderick, William M. Gwin. Bookmark the permalink.

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