March 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
During the period which has become known as the Progressive Era in American History, San Francisco’s commercial-civic elite operated within this progressive impulse in an attempt to promote a more harmonious, efficient, and progressive social development. Especially in San Francisco and California, the social, economic, and class chaos of the 1870s and 1880s had a profound impact on the city’s leadership, civic and commercial. Business leaders, politicians, and influential individuals began to operate in a new social paradigm which attempted at base to preserve the benefits of the Second Industrial Revolution and Corporate Capitalism, but also to regain a semblance of social cooperation, harmony, and stability. While the benefits of the new economy were clearly apparent with the rise of general material prosperity among the population, the depths of poverty, strife, and conflict grew even deeper through all classes. During the 1870s and 1880s, workers clashed with workers, capitalists debated capitalists, and reformers from both sides worked against themselves and the other. Emerging from this dramatic period and pace of change was a sense that something had been lost in this economic paradigm shift. If liberty, community, and family were the foundations of a harmonious and self-sufficient society, how in the trend away from these practical ideals, can society continue to fulfill the ideas of the Revolution of 1776? Industrialization, corporate capitalism, and a clear class based society produced, not community, but discontinuity in American society.
In San Francisco during the 1890s, this progressive impulse led many of the city’s commercial-civic elite to initiate programs that would foster social harmony and cooperation among a diverse and clearly divided urban society. One way that commercial and civic leaders attempted to foster these ideals of cooperation and harmony was to promote widespread participation in events which celebrated the city and its people. Civic celebrations like California Admission Day, the Fourth of July, and the anniversary of James W. Marshall’s discovery of gold, presented opportunities for the commercial-civic elite to shape society in their own Progressive image. By fostering civic cooperation among classes, businesses, and peoples, the elites saw it as a program of in socialization – or more rightly Americanization. If the traditional ties that bind peoples together were weakening – community, family, and religion – a new civil program must replace it to maintain a cohesive American urban society, they thought. In planning civic celebrations and events in this period, San Francisco’s commercial-civc elite attempted to order their society en mass.
To get a sense of the ideology and percepts of this progressive impulse, I have posted numerous sources of San Francisco’s elite reporting their programs of cultural ordering and Americanization. (Under keyword “collective identity“) Another, from Edward Coleman, a very influential individual among San Francisco’s elite, illustrates the duties and responsibilities of citizens in celebrating their city and its progress. Calling for widespread participation in California’s Golden Jubilee (1898), Mr. Coleman appealed not to individuals or groups, but to the populace as a whole and explained the duty they had in celebrating and funding Marshall’s discovery of gold fifty years prior. It was the duty of these citizens to celebrate what the city’s elites saw as a shared historical precedent.
The San Francisco Call, December 1, 1897:
During the recent meeting of the California State Miners’ convention in this city the suggestion was made that California should fittingly commemorate, on January 24, 1898, the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of gold in the state.
March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment
Faith of the Pioneer Myth:
As California approached its 50th birthday of statehood, its most renowned “poet of the Sierras” penned what would be the motto of remembering the California Gold Rush. Published in the official pamphlet of California’s Golden Jubilee, most visitors and many of the state’s residents would be exposed to this prose. In remembering the Gold Rush, California’s residents referred to the lines in bold (below) for reflection, assistance in commemoration, and in some ways social retribution when invoked in the name of reforming California’s savage past. But more than anything else, Joaquin Miller’s words became a significant temporal linkage. Those who wanted to invoke the Pioneer Myth of California simply had to recite the few words, “The days of old, the days of gold, the days of ’49.”
We have worked our claims,
We have spent our gold,
Our barks are astrand on the bars;
We are battered and old,
Yet at night we behold
Outcroppings of gold in the stars.
Tho’ battered and old,
Our Hearts are bold.
Yet oft do we repine
For the days of old,
For the days of gold.
For the days of forty-nine. (my emphasis)
February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Popular Myth of James W. Marshall’s Discovery of Gold:
When James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848, Alta California and the western continent that would become the United States had only just begun its integration into the larger global economy. By 1898, the fiftieth anniversary of that seminal event came to bear on many Californians. Those who identified with the United States’ westward expansion saw themselves on the vanguard edge of the last frontier. The now famous “frontier thesis,” extolled by Frederick Jackson Turner had only just been declared, and California was but the latest and most promising frontier. The “frontier” according to Turner had closed when open land was gone. And to Californian’s in 1898, little seemed to be left of the frontier wilderness legacy of Alta California and the California Gold Rush. San Francisco had become the Pacific Metropolis in the eyes of many. The legacy of Marshall’s discovery in 1898, suggested that the social development of American California was founded on a single event, a single man. The Californian identity around the turn-of-the century was one of a pioneer legacy.
Printed below is the story of gold’s discovery as presented in California’s Golden Jubilee souvenir pamphlet. The narrative had already been molded and changed since it was first told in 1848-49, as you will read. Official historian of the Society of California Pioneers, John Hittell, when presented with contradictory evidence of the date of discovery, spent a decade tracking down the sources that would speak the truth. By 1893, Hittell presented his findings. But what this change in the narrative suggests is more than a changing date of discovery, but the uncertainty of popular myth and the identities in which they are built upon. Little changed in regard to those who identified with this pioneer myth. However, the fate of John W. Marshall in his later years demonstrates that narrative truth had little influence on the popular myth of California’s birth as an American republic.
The Story of the Discovery of Gold
It was in the fall of 1847 that Marshall began building that famous sawmill which incidentally led to his discovery of gold. Marshall was in the employ of CAPTAIN JOHN A. SUTTER, a prominent man connected with the pioneer era. He was born of Swiss parents in Baden, February 28, 1803, and was there reared and educated. He served in the army of France until he was thirty years of age, and then emigrated to the United States. His main object in coming was to found a Swiss colony, but while examining the region about St. Charles, Missouri, he lost all his effects by the sinking of the steamer in the Mississippi River, and so abandoned the project. He then set out with a party of trappers, under Captain Tripp of the American Fur Company, to cross the Rocky Mountains. Arriving at For Vancouver, he took ship fro Honolulu, and from there came to San Francisco. He then revived his colonizing scheme, choosing the Sacramento River country for the scene of its foundation.
February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
The Duty of Collective Identity:
Mayor Phelan’s Call for a Celebration.
California’s Golden Jubilee is the celebration of an event which meant everything for California, a great deal for the Union, and much for the world.
On January 24, 1898, –fifty years ago–gold was discovered by Marshall. At once–Minerva-like–a State sprang into existence. California and all its subsequent history and development, anticipating ordinary processes by two hundred years, took their inspiration from that day. The world was enriched, and the fame of the new State sounded from pole to pole.
Californians would fail in their duty to themselves, to their State and to their country if they did not fittingly celebrate an event upon which so much depended. A celebration will honor a worthy and patriotic sentiment, recall the fact to the minds of men that this is still “the Golden State,” and at the same time attract the argonauts of 1898, now about to seek the golden fleece in the far North. Bearing in mind that our State’s gold is not only in the hills and streams, but in the sunshine, flowers, fruits, grains and wine,–perennially and inexhaustibly golden,–let us make the Golden Jubilee Celebration commensurate with the golden possessions of California, and the golden promise of the years to come.
James D. Phelan, Mayor
GOLDEN JUBILEE COMMITTEE.OFFICIAL SOUVENIER OF CALIFORNIA’S GOLDEN JUBILEE – HELD AT SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – BEGINNING JANUARY 24, 1898 AND ENDING JANUARY 29, 1898. CONTAINING THE PROGRAMME OF EACH DAY’S EVENTS, WITH MUCH READING MATTER OF INTEREST PERTAINING TO THE DISCOVERY OF GOLD, AND MANY ILLUSTRATIONS.. SAN FRANCISCO: H. S. CROCKER COMPANY, PRINTERS, 1898.
February 12, 2012 § Leave a comment
Living with the Identity of Space:
Continuing a strategy of providing the primary sources along with analysis, here is another significant statement of California and particularly San Francisco’s collective identity. While the process by which this collective identity is established is complex, (see my exchange on the USIH Blog – here) the resulting influence of an established identity is that residents of the state and the city must reconcile their own individual and group identities with those deployed by the commercial-civic elite and the socially powerful. Below is a statement printed in California’s Golden Jubilee Souvenir Program which describes the story of California and San Francisco’s rise as the most significant example of American Manifest Destiny.
Collective Statement of San Francisco’s Established Historical Identity
Fifty years ago to-day a man stood shouting in the wilderness, “I have found it! I have found it!” His hand held rigidly aloft a scrap of yellow metal. It was gold! Being a simple man and ignorant of the fact that he was a maker of world history, an accident of Fate, he naturally thought to turn his find to his and his companions’ profit solely, limiting the rich secret to their own small circle. But see how Fate made little of his intentions, and how events, like a heard of stampeded cattle, overrode his plans.
There were other men and also a woman in this camp in the wilderness, and they shared the secret and soon it was traveling. Just how is not known. One account relates that the woman, having no one else to tell it to, narrated the great event to a passing teamster, who happened providentially along. But he was a doubting teamster, and teh woman finally gave him one of the little scraps of gold, –thus triumphantly convincing him. And so the teamster went his dusty way, and at the first tavern sold the metal to quench his thirst, and with it went the story. Others again say that one of the laborers grew tired of work, and, quitting, took with him some of the shining bits he had picked up in the creek bed. Presently he fell in with a man who had been a practical miner in another country, who stared and questioned, and forthwith hastened to the scene with pick and pan, –the forerunner of untold thousands of other men with pics and pans. But what does it matter how the story leaked away? It was the world’s secret, not theirs; and, while at first it crept forth in devious whisperings, it was not long before it was passing orm mouth to mouth, outspoken, and even as it passed the sound of it grew louder, thrilling and vibrating in the hearts of those who heard and passed it on to others, until its mighty voice went thundering to the four corners of the earth,–Eureka! Eureka! I HAVE FOUND IT!
January 24, 2012 § 2 Comments
The Golden California Holiday:
Printed below is the transcription of a declaration by James H. Budd, Governor of California (1895-1899), that January 24th, 1898 would be declared a legal California holiday. According to newspaper reports, this was not his idea but a request by the leading organizations of the California Golden Jubilee Executive Committee. The members of this committee included San Francisco’s most prominent figures in politics, culture, and industry. James D. Phelan, J. H. Jewett, and T. J. Parsons, respectively, led the push to declare January 24th a legal holiday.
Exemplified in a speech opening the Mechanics’ Fair in 1896 (Click here for full speech), James D. Phelan held a particularly strong view of San Francisco’s providential destiny in which would be codified into California’s newest holiday. Where he wrote:
No longer let it be said, then, of San Francisco, that, in the words of Bret Harte, she is “serene, indifferent to Fate,” but let it rather be known that she is alive to her interests, conscious of her duties, and prepared to merit her destiny manifest, but, as yet, unearned and unwon.
January 7, 2012 § Leave a comment
Continuing with my series of transcribing San Francisco’s primary sources in the late 19th century, below is a transcription of an address James D. Phelan gave at the opening of the San Francisco Mechanics’ Fair, 1896. These fairs were similar to most industrial exposition across the US in the 19th century. However what was unique about Phelan’s speech was the rhetoric of the City Beautiful Movement, as well as the exposition of a peculiar vision of San Francisco’s collective identity.
More transcriptions to come ~ Click on the “Source Transcription” category on the side-bar to navigate to other sources already presented on Gilded Empire. For more information on the digital trends in history, check out this years AHA Convention, or for links to other projects, check out my first digital transcription post.
“The New San Francisco,” an address by Mayor James D. Phelan, 1896:
If, long years ago, a Spanish imperial commissioner were directed to visit Central and Northern California and lay the foundation for a great city, what site, judge you, would he have selected? In the light of the present there can be but one answer; but, surprising as it may appear, the eligibility of San Francisco was not only disputed under such circumstances, but condemned as a place even for human habitation.
Don Pedro de Alberni was, in July, 1796, ordered by the Viceroy of Spain to examine and report on the most suitable location for the Villa of Branciforte. He examined the country about Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Francisco, and reported that in and about the Mission and Presidio of San Francisco there was no irrigable, pasture or grain lands, no water, no timber, “and therefore” he adds, “I am convinced that the worst place or situation in California is that of San Francisco.” In spite of this evil report, however, we find the Mission of San Francisco Dolores, thirty years later, in 1825, possessed of over one hundred and fifty thousand head of horses, cattle, and sheep, besides thousands of bushels of wheat. But agricultural pre-eminence is not claimed for San Francisco, and hence we greet the views of Captain Benjamin Morrel, a more sensible and far-seeing person than the Senor Alberni, who visited the port in the same year, and who declared it to be the finest harbor in the world, and that the presence of enlightened men was only necessary to give the landscape “a soul and a divinity.” Between that date and 1835 a new population, small in numbers, must have settled in the cove of Yerba Buena, now the city, for Richard H. Dana, in his “Two Years Before the Mast,” modestly assumes the role of a prophet when he says he beheld at that time a town composed of Yankee-Californians called Yerba Buena, “which promises well.”
After the discovery of gold, the pioneers found in the quiet little hamlet a hospitable welcome and temporarily made it their abode, but such of them who thought at all about the possibility of a large city growing on the Bay of San Francisco gave Yerba Buena little heed. They located cities further up the bay, near the mouth of the San Joaquin River, and General W. T. Sherman, who surveyed many such sites, and confidently took town lots in partial payment for his services, describes, in his Memoirs, the failure of these enterprises. One after another they dissolved, with the hopes of their founders.