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The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil Warby Leonard L Richards
Synopses & Reviews
It has always been understood that the 1848 discovery of gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada influenced the battle over the admission of California to the Union. But now, in this revelatory study, award-winning historian Leonard L. Richards makes clear the links between the Gold Rush and many of the regional crises in the lead-up to the Civil War.
Richards explains how Southerners envisioned California as a new market for slaves and saw themselves importing their own slaves to dig for gold, only to be frustrated by Californias passage of a state constitution that prohibited slavery. Still, they schemed to tie California to the South with a southern-routed transcontinental railroad and worked to split off the southern half as a separate slave state. We see how the Gold Rush influenced the squabbling over the Gadsden Purchase, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and various attempts to take Cuba and Nicaragua. We meet David Broderick, a renegade New York Democrat who became a force in San Francisco politics in 1849, and his archrival William Gwin, a major Mississippi slaveholder and politician who arrived in California with the intent of making it a slave state and himself one of its first senators. Richards recounts the Washington battles involving Taylor, Clay, Calhoun, Douglas, Davis, Webster, Fillmore, and others, as well as the fiery California political battles, feuds, duels, and perhaps outright murder as the state came shockingly close to being divided in two.
When war did break out efforts were made to push California to secede, but there was little general enthusiasm for secession, and many prominent Southerners went off to join the Confederate Army. And with the South out of the Union, the Pacific Railroad Act passed, insuring a comfortably northern route.
About the Author
Leonard L. Richards, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, took his degrees at the University of California, Berkeley and Davis. He has also taught at San Francisco State College and the University of Hawaii. His Gentlemen of Property and Standing: Anti-Abolition Mobs in Jacksonian America won the 1970 American Historical Associations Albert J. Beveridge Award. The Life and Times of Congressman John Quincy Adams was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, and The Slave Power: The Free North and Southern Domination, 1780—1860 took the second-place 2001 Lincoln Prize. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
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