Term Paper: California Gold Rush

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California Gold Rush

The Californian Gold Rush

The discovery of gold in Caliornia was an event that changed the region and which had a profound impact on the country as a whole. This historical event is even described as "epoch-making. (Color in the River) The effects of this event had a far-reaching impact on the social structure of the region and also on economic, political, judicial aspects, as well as the cultural development of California. The influx of thousands of people into California in search of gold "...transformed not only the economic history of California, but much of its social, cultural, and political history as well." (Color in the River) This paper will present an overview of the California gold rush and the various ways that it influenced the course of growth and development in the region.

A brief overview

In 1848 James Marshall discovered gold near the American River, in present - day Sacramento. At the time Marshall was operating a sawmill near Sacramento. After the discovery intended he to create a secluded community in the area but the news of the gold drew thousands of gold seekers to the area. Another important aspect is that at the time the area was still under Mexican control but on Feb 2, 1848 the territory was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; a factor that further opened the way for more gold seekers.

The news of the discovery of gold find spread rapidly. There was an unprecedented rush of thousands of people to the area and this was increased by the fact that there were no laws in place and no restrictions on the influx of gold seekers. Records of the popualtion in the territory during this period show the extent of the influx of people to California in search of their fortune. For example, prior to the discovery of gold in 1848 the number of settlers in California was estimated at only 2,700. However by the end of 1849, "...almost 90,000 more had arrived. Between 1850 and 1852, 150,000 settled in the Golden State. By the end of 1860, California's population stood at 380,000. "(Color in the River) Another study states that, " The discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill early in 1848 brought more than 40,000 prospectors to California within two years. ("Gold Rush")

While most of the gold seekers did not "strike it rich" there were a number who amassed considerable fortunes. Importantly, the wealth and prosperity that was stimulated by the discovery of gold was to change the region in a very short period of time. "...The wealth that came from the gold transformed San Francisco almost overnight into one of the world's major cities. The gold created fortunes that funded the railroads and the mining magnates of Virginia City, shaping modern life for the coming century. "(Color in the River)

The effect on the development growth of California

The consensus among historians is that the Californian gold discovery of 1848 "... left the United States a vastly different place."(Starr) However historians are also in disagreement about whether the gold rush can be viewed entirely in a positive historical light. There are a number of historians who are of the opinion that the gold rush had negative social and ethical consequences. They point out that the gold rush "... reduced the Native American population by more than one hundred thousand in what can only be described as a genocidal assault. " Furthermore it also "... destroyed the mountains and rivers of Northern California for two generations. "(Starr)

Notwithstanding the ongoing and different historical views about the importance in either a negative or positive sense of the gold rush, there is a unanimous consensus that the events of the gold rush had a profound and deeply felt effect on the history of California.

The increase in the population and the resultant growth in various activities in the region were to have an influence on all sectors of the community. "...their presence was an important stimulus to economic growth. Agriculture, commerce, transportation, and industry grew rapidly to meet the needs of the settlers; mining, too, soon became big business as corporations replaced the individual prospector. "("Gold Rush")

Another sector of society that was affected was the law and legal process. " Vigilante justice and ad hoc political structures quickly gave way to the complex organization of state government. ("Gold Rush")

One of the areas that were obviously the first to be influenced and to develop was commerce and industry. Machinery and industry related to hydraulic mining were developed. The fortunes that were created by gold also went towards funding essential development that increased growth potential; such as the railroads.

The influence of mining magnates in places like Virginia city were to be instrumental in "shaping modern life for the coming century." (Starr)

While the most obvious way that the discovery of gold influenced the growth of Californian society was through the development of industry, yet there are many other related areas of development. As referred to, the rate of growth in the region was also extremely rapid and resulted in San Francisco soon becoming one of major cities in the country. This was to lead to the concomitant development of roads, schools and smaller towns.

As has been briefly noted, due it the sudden influx of people the structure of law and legal processes soon became a mater of urgency. This led to the creation of a system of government as well as the creation of laws and the necessary legal infrastructure to maintain these laws. Another aspect that was stimulated directly and indirectly by the discovery of gold was the development of agriculture. The increased population obviously required more food and this led to the agriculture as the second major field of growth in California.

More importantly, all the above factors were to work towards establishing the statehood and identity of California. In the first instance San Francisco was viewed by 19th century historians as a "Pacific metropolis decades ahead of the advancing agricultural frontier;" which " finalized the continental nature and Asia/Pacific orientation of the United States. (Starr) All of these factors contributed to the development of California as a state. The Californians sought statehood in 1949 and entered the Union as a "free, nonslavery state by the Compromise of 1850." ("California") The capital at that time was San Jose and later Sacramento in 1854.

An import aspect that is also noted by historians is that the factors that were generated by the exuberance and the energy of the gold rush contributed to the specific character of the Californian region. As one commentator puts it: " From the perspective of the nineteenth-century California historians, the gold rush accounted for all that was good in the California experience: its exuberance, resilience, capacity for development, and political intelligence." (Starr) California also developed its own culture that can in large partly be attributed to the influence of the gold rush. This can be seen in the words and phrases that have become part of the national vocabulary and which hark back to the gold rush years. " The gold rush defined the new state and changed the country, gave it new words. You went to California to stake a claim, hit pay dirt, strike it rich." (BOB EDWARDS)

However, while there is little doubt that the gold rush was central in the creation of the vibrant and prosperous state of California, the more negative historical antecedents should also be borne in mind in an overview of this period. For example, the American rule of the region also brought with it a prejudicial attitude that affected the indigenous people of the region for many years. "American rule, he notes, also brought the introduction of traditional American attitudes toward Indians -- that they were hostile, treacherous, and an impediment to progress and civilization." (Kyle)

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, there is little doubt that the discovery of gold in 1848 and the subsequent influx of thousands of people into the region created the foundations and the special character of California today. What is also worthy of note is that many historians see the Californian gold rush as having an extensive national as well as regional influence. The following extract is quoted at length as it summaries the lager impact of the gold rush on the national psyche

The gold rush... intensified expectation not only among Americans who actually went to California but in the nation as a whole. It solidified, that is, the very psychology of American life -- the sense of what an individual might become. This engendering of higher expectations, building upon earlier attitudes, helped form the national character and personality. From that point forward, Americans became-- as a matter of behavior and self-actualizing myth -- a can-do people, no longer determined by the grim predestinational restraints of the nation's intensely Calvinist origins, which tended to encourage people to accept their place in life.

Starr)

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