Criminal Annals, Part 31 – The Placer Times: The California Question

The April 22, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” is the first Monday issue of this newspaper, this being the week that it has gone from a weekly to a tri-weekly. It starts out with an article on what is often called “The California Question.”

California, at this point in time, has been ceded to the United States by Mexico, but is neither an official territory nor a state. It is what some call “A State out of the Union,” as it has a constitution, elected state officials and elected representatives to both houses of Congress. The issue that is holding up statehood is slavery and, according to this article picked up from the “New York Evening Post,” Congress is in a difficult position.

Some in Congress want to admit California as a free state, some as a slave state and others want to divide California, keeping the southern half as a territory. Although we today know what happened, in 1850 this was the most important issue before the citizens of California as it affects their legal and judicial rules, and it will be several months before it is settled.

“The Debate on the California Question has been opened in both houses of Congress, we are happy to observe, with a high degree of calmness worthy of the importance of the subject, and auspicious of an early conclusion of the controversy. The southern politicians may struggle to defer, but they cannot change the event of the dispute. California will be admitted into the Union with her present constitution, and with the boundaries marked out by it. There is no chance whatever of the success of any plan of mutilating her domain by keeping the southern half of it in the condition of a territory. No such plan can pass the House of Representatives, nor will the Senate, we think, dare to apply to one portion of the territory a constitution made for the whole of the State, nor venture to send back the Senators and Representatives – for that must be the effect of such a mutilation – who have come from the shores of the Pacific to take their seats in Congress. These men, elected by the entire state of California, cannot, of course, be allowed to represent a state from which they have received no commission – a different body politic from that which sent them to Washington – a state formed by the caprice of Congress out of a part of the country which elected them. If any such scheme be adopted, it will give them to understand that they have come to the Atlantic states on a fool’s errand, and that they are at liberty to go back, if they please, and solicit to be re-elected for the northern half of California. We are very confident that this farce will not be played during the present Congress.

“Nor will the admission of California be made to depend on any other question, or connected by congress with any controverted scheme to settle the slavery question. The political projectors, who are numerous enough in Congress, will doubtless endeavor to do this, but we are confident it cannot obtain the sanction of the majority. The people of California have been given to understand by the politicians, both of the south and the north, that all they had to do was to frame their own constitution, deciding for themselves the question of tolerating slavery, and that they should be immediately admitted into the Union. Shall those who have given these assurances keep the young state shivering on the threshold of the capitol, till a controversy, which may last for years, is adjusted between the slave states and the free? It will require a good deal of hardihood [boldness] to do this. It will require more hardihood that any of them, except the fanatical few, possess.

“The northern Senators and Representatives will all vote for the immediate admission of California. The most subservient to the southern aristocracy among them all are so fettered by their previous engagements, that they cannot so otherwise without making themselves infamous. The administration presses the immediate admission of the new state with what influence it can command. Mr. Benton will give the measure his powerful support, and Mr. Clay has declared that it is not his intention to shackle the proposal for receiving California into the Union, by connecting it with any debatable question.

“It seems to us, therefore, that the opposition made in Congress to the admission of California, will have no other effect than to show in what manner the fanatics of slavery would treat the new state if they were able. [N. Y Ev. Post.”

The “Mr. Benton” mentioned in the story is Democratic Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) from Missouri, a strong advocate of the extension of the United States to the Pacific Coast. He was also the father-in-law of John C. Fremont, who, as an officer in the United States Army, explored the west in the 1840s. Fremont was also one of the two elected by California to serve in the Senate and in 1856 ran for President of the United States as a Republican.

The “Mr. Clay” is Senator Henry Clay, Sr., (1777-1852) from Kentucky, the “father of the Whig Party.” He served in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and lost a son, Henry Clay, Jr., at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican War. Senator Clay was several times an unsuccessful candidate for President of the United States and well known for his ability to obtain compromises on the slavery issue.

As we have previously seen, injury from a crime, accident or sure stupidity, was very common in the early days of California. There were doctors (some trained, some not), with few tools and little medicine, who could treat an injury. There were also a few early hospitals that could care for patients. One such hospital posted their rates in the newspaper on a regular basis. It was called the Sacramento Hospital.
“Sacramento Hospital, Under the care of Dr. Robert M. Stansbury.

“The undersigned, having purchased the interest of Dr. Cragin and Mr. Abell in the Sacramento Hospital, near Sutter’s Fort, are prepared to receive sick persons at the following rates:

“A patient occupying a room alone, $15 per day. Two or three patients in one room, each $12 a day. Ward patients, each $10 per day.
“This charge covers board, lodging, medicines, medical and other necessary attendance, and the washing of bed-linens and towels. An extra charge will be made for surgical operations.

“No person laboring under any form of mania will be received.

“Upon the admission of a patient, full security will be required for the payment of all charges which he may incur during his stay in the hospital.

“There is now on hand a large stock of medicines, carefully selected and imported direct, but the late superintendent, from which physicians and others can be supplied at reasonable prices.


Dr. Robert M. Stansbury would be one of the 17 doctors who would die while caring for victims of the 1850 Cholera Epidemic in Sacramento. He is buried in the Sacramento City Cemetery in an unmarked grave. There is a plaque at that cemetery commemorating the 17 doctors and their service to the community.


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