California Becomes the 31st State!




California's population exploded as a result of the gold rush. New people from all over the world brought their cultures and their ways of living to California. Whereas California benefited from all the new ideas that came, the area also became rampant in crime. There was no single set of laws, and thus, miners had to adjust to new laws as they moved from area to area. As people tried to live within the culture in which they were accustomed, trouble brewed. There were so many beliefs in California about how to live, the miners simply wanted to mine, and there was no constitution to lead people, therefore, lawlessness ruled.

In one week in July, 1850, the town of Sonora had two men from Massachusetts killed by knives, a Chilean was shot and killed and a Frenchman stabbed a Mexican to death. Marysville had 17 murders in one week, and in San Francisco, 30 new houses were being built a day, but two murders a day were also occurring.

The population of California had increased by ten times as much from 1846 to 1850. Most of the newcomers, 80%, were young males. There were no services for a population that large. Costs jumped twenty times as much for some items in California. Disease was everywhere and the people wanted to be represented in the national government in Washington D.C. A government would provide people with laws, a manner in which to build roads, bridges, and set up schools, hospitals and fire departments.



The answer to all of the chaos was to create a government. The structure of that government would be set in a state constitution. After that document was written, California could apply for statehood and the people would live under the rules of the United States. It seemed simple, but it was not!


After California became property of the United States through the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the structure of the government tended to stay as it was when Mexico ruled the land. Alcaldes ran towns, but that was not going to work during the gold rush. Military Governor Bennet Riley called for a convention to write a state constitution. The plan was to elect 37 delegates from several areas around the state. The delegates would meet in Monterey's Colton Hall in September, and they would write the laws for a new state, the state of California.



  The timeline for the California Constitutional Convention




In the end, there were 48 delegates from many types of professions:

14 were lawyers 2 were surveyors
12 were ranchers 2 were of unknown professions
9 were merchants 1 was a banker
4 were military men 1 was a doctor
2 were printers 1 was a man of "elegant leisure"

  • There were 7 Californians, 6 of whom had been in California their entire lives


  • There was one Oregonian


  • The rest were from states east of the Mississippi River and had been in California for less than three years.



Colton Hall today



Colton Hall at the time of the convention



Inside Colton Hall today

Click here to see a photo gallery of Colton Hall



Several small groups met to work on the writing of the state constitution. They worked in small classrooms in Monterey's Colton Hall. After the Constitution had been written and approved by the delegates, they went to Bennet Riley's home to inform him and thank him for his role in creating California's government. The entire convention lasted 43 days.

After the process had been completed, Bennet Riley was quoted as saying :

I am satisfied now that the people have done right in selecting delegates to form a constitution. They have chosen a body of men upon whom our country may look with pride; you have formed a constitution worthy of California. And I have no fear for California while her people choose their representatives so wisely. Gentlemen, I congratulate you upon the successful conclusion of your arduous labors; and I wish you all happiness and prosperity.


The real battle was about to begin!


A Work Desk for a Delegate



Learn more about California becoming a state:

Who was Bennet Riley?

Learn about Colton Hall

California's Constitutional Convention

California Statehood, the Gold Rush and the Compromise

Records of the Constitutional Convention-see the constitution!



 And now, the Compromise!

There were already 30 states in the United States of America. California would be state number 31, but that created a problem. Since 1820, the government of the United States had kept the same number of free states as there were slave states. At the time that California applied for statehood, there were an equal number of free and slave states. Calfornia would upset that balance. There were no other states ready to join the union, so there was no other state to bring in as a slave state and keep the balance. Thus, Congress stalled on admitting California as a state. Meanwhile, the lawlessness continued in California.



Senator Henry Clay from Kentucky offered a compromise. There were many parts to it, but one of them was that California would be admitted as a free state. The problem was that President Zachary Taylor did not agree with the compromise; he wanted California to join the United States as a free state without having any type of compromise. It was feared that if Congress passed the compromise, the president would reject it, and California would still not be granted statehood.

On July 9, 1850, President Zachary Taylor passed away from typhoid fever. His vice-president, Millard Fillmore then became president. President Fillmore was in favor of the compromise.

A series of bills passed through Congress in the summer of 1850. They were collectively known as the Compromise of 1850. On September 9, 1850, California finally became the 31st state. Law and order could be restored in the new state.


Senator Henry Clay

President Zachary Taylor

President Millard Fillmore


This print shows Senator Henry Clay speaking about the Compromise of 1850 in the Old Senate Chamber.
Daniel Webster is seated to the left of Clay and John C. Calhoun to the left of the Speaker's chair.


The pieces of the Compromise of 1850 included:

  • Texas had claimed its land extended all the way to Santa Fe and it was not giving up the land. The compromise said that Texas would give up the land and be given 10 million dollars instead. Texas could use the money to pay its debt to Mexico, a debt which resulted from the War with Mexico. That same war was how the United States gained California.



  • The territories of New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah would all be organized, and there would be no mention of slavery. The territories could decide that issue when they applied to become states. Those areas had also been acquired in the War with Mexico.



  • Washington D.C. had a huge slave market, the biggest in the nation, which embarrassed the government. The compromise stated that there would no longer be slaves traded and purchased in Washington D.C., but slavery would still be allowed in the district.



  • California would be admitted as the 31st state, but not until the Fugitive Slave Act was added. That act required citizens of the North to return escaped slaves to the South. A runaway slave could be caught, put on trial and if found guilty, be returned to his or her owner. The slave had no right to a jury trial. Instead, a commissioner would hear the case, and if the commissioner found the slave guilty the commissioner would earn $10 but if the commissioner found the slave innocent, he would earn $5.00.


The Fugitive Slave Act created a huge increase in the activity of the Underground Railroad. In the ten years after the act became law, approximately 20,000 black people moved to Canada to escape getting caught and tried. Free blacks living in the North were being caught and put on trial, even though they were not slaves at any time in their lives. This act actually worked to get people in the North to fight slavery even more. By 1860, the country went to war with itself with slavery as a key issue.


The Compromise of 1850 did accomplish what it set out to do: it granted statehood to California and actually delayed the Civil War for about ten years.



Learn more about the Compromise of 1850:

Henry Clay

The Underground Railroad-for Kids

The Deal that Gave Statehood to California

California Applies for Statehood as a Free State

The Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act