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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Vallejo had short-lived stint as state capital

Jerry Bowen


Historic site, built in 1852, is now long gone

The next time you are in the area bounded by York, Santa Clara, Maine and Sacramento streets in Vallejo, you will be near a long-gone historic site. Back in 1852 a two-story building sporting two flags dominated a hill that was centrally located between those streets.

Today the hill is gone and York Street, which used to continue west has since been cut off by redevelopment.

In 1852, Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo built the structure at a cost of $125,000.

Many important events led up to the structure’s construction. The gold rush of 1848 was just the beginning followed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico about nine days after the discovery of gold at Coloma by James Marshall.

With the treaty signed, California became a United States possession.

With the massive flow of people into California beginning in 1849 and the failure of the Thirtieth Congress in Washington D.C., to declare California an official territory, emotions among the politically minded began to erupt. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, California operated under an “Alcalde” style of government that was governed largely by decisions made by what we would call today “mayors” of large territories or ranchos. Many of the new arrivals considered the Hispanic style of government “no government” and clamored for a form of government the same as the eastern states.

Even though the federal government failed to declare California a territory of the U.S., it did manage to find time to impose a revenue tax on the citizens of the “possession” that had no formal government in place.

Gen. Bennett Riley, who was appointed as governor and commanding general of California issued a proclamation calling for an election to form a Constitutional Convention at Monterey on September 1, 1849. Forty-eight elected delegates drew up and enacted the first constitution of California, but they didn’t authorize a site for the capital, which would become a nagging controversy for the next few years to come.

An attempt to hold the first legislative session in San Jose on December 15, 1849, failed because of a lack of a quorum due to weather and poor facilities.

Peter Barnett was elected the governor of California and took office December 20, 1849.

Congress finally passed a bill to admit California to the Union and was signed by President Fillmore on September 9, 1850. Two legislative sessions that became known as the “Legislature of a Thousand Drinks” were held at San Jose during 1850 and 1851. On Jan 9, 1851, Burnett resigned as governor and John McDougal, known as a “gentlemanly drunkard,” was elected.

By now many of you will have figured out that the building we spoke about in the first part of this article was once the California State Capital if only for a very short time.

I’ll continue this story in my next column about the short-lived but lively tenure of the City of Vallejo as the capital of California.