Criminal Annals, Part 87 – The Wandering Capital

The May 6, 1852 edition of the “Daily Union” has an editorial on the “Wandering State Capital,” an important and interesting part of early California history that is only lightly touched upon in our history books. In his editorial, the editor of the Daily Union treats the situation with both seriousness and more a bit of humor.


“The government of California is the most migratory civil institution known among men. It has only been in existence a little more than two years, and within that brief period it has changed its local habitation no less than four times. At first, it was located in San Jose. By a singularly astute provision of the Constitution it was ordered to be removed to the imaginary city of Vallejo, constructively situated somewhere in the uninhabited hills adjacent to the bay of Carquinez, so soon as the grass should be burned and some ‘State buildings’ erected. That provision of the Constitution was somewhat prematurely complied with, and after a sojourn of some months in that spacious city, the government was suddenly driven by the rains – and other causes – back to San Jose. In a little while, the Legislature was about to assemble, and it was deemed incumbent upon our sage lawgivers to meet at the imaginary Capital, even if they should be compelled to leave the next day. It was necessary, therefore, for government to take up its line of march once more for Vallejo. But, it being impossible to remain there , in consequence of the scarcity of tarpaulin in the market, the poor weather-worn government had to trudge again. It finally found a resting place in this city, where, it was hoped, it would be allowed to repose, at least for a season. But it was doomed to another practical proof of the scriptural adage, that ‘there is no rest for the wicked.’ Scarcely had the dilapidated institution settled in its new quarters, before the Legislature ordered it to pack back to the sheep pastures, (but the Legislature took special care to not go there itself.) But there are – or ought to be – shade trees in that rural region, and we presume the State officers can rusticate there pleasantly enough during the dry season.

“To be serious, we think this consummate farce of moving and removing the capital has been carried far enough. If there were any reason founded in justice, common sense, or the public interest, for this constant upsetting of everything, it might be submitted to patiently; but as there is none, and as every person who has business with any of the departments is put to unnecessary trouble and inconvenience by it, to say nothing of the useless expenditure of public money, we think it high time to have the matter finally settled. In our opinion the Legislature has no further jurisdiction in the matter of controversy between the projectors of the town of Vallejo and the State. The adjustment of the question rests with the Supreme Court, and we wish to see it tested before any further expense is incurred in moving and removing the archives and public offices. The matter must, inevitably, come before the Court for adjudication sooner or later, and there could be no more proper time to bring it there than the present. The sooner it is done the better will it be for the public and for the State Treasury.”

Note: The capital would move one more time, to Benicia in 1853. A year later it would come back to Sacramento to stay.

“The May 8, 1852 edition of the paper has a letter regarding the establishment of a Committee of Vigilance in Auburn due to the number of crimes.


“Auburn, May 8, 1852.

Messrs. Editors: – The people of this place are laboring under much excitement on account of the frequent depredations which have been committed within the last few days by some persons in our midst. Several citizens have been robbed of money and in one case the perpetrators went so far as to threaten the life of a miner, whom they found asleep in his cabin, unless he gave up his money. The alarm was immediately given by him, but the robbers succeeded in making their escape.

“The shop of a baker was entered in open daylight yesterday, while the owner was absent for a moment, and eighty dollars extracted from the drawer. Two other similar cases are reported in which both valuables and money have been lost. In consideration of these deeds, a meeting was called tonight, which was numerously attended. The object of the meeting being explained by the chairman, it was resolved a committee of five be appointed to draft resolution for the organization of a party of Vigilance for the purpose of better protection to both lives and property.

“Auburn has always enjoyed a fair name heretofore, and its citizens are determined that these characters shall be extirpated. The meeting adjourned till 3 o’clock to-morrow. [signed] J. N.”

In addition to the crimes against people and property by private citizens, there is a growing feeling among the people that the government officials might be doing the same. The following story, also in the May 8, 1852 edition, points this out.

“The Calaveras Chronicle, a neutral paper, is published in the heart of a very rich and populous mining district – and which is, of course, more or less a reflex of the sentiments of the people of its locality – has the following pregnant paragraph touching the Legislature and some of its sage enactments. It seems that, after all, the mining population cannot discover the wonderful virtues attributed to the flour inspection law. The only virtue that we have found in it is, that every man in California who eats bread is compelled, whether he will or not, to pay ten cents a barrel for flour, over and above its market value, for the support of a gentleman whose duty will consist in sitting in his office, and sending his clerk out with marking pot and brush in hand to write ‘superfine’ on sacks of spoiled flour. The Chronicle says:

“We have to announce an act of this August body which we are sure will be heartily commended by all parties. They at last have had the magnanimity to adjourn sine die [Without designating a future day for action or meeting; indefinitely]. Whether proceeding from their own free will, or persuaded thereunto by the pressure from without, they have resolved at last to give up the sixteen dollars per diem, and retire to their native obscurity. Few have been their acts for the permanent welfare of the country, which their time has been frittered away principally in discussing bills creating snug berths for greedy office seekers – such, for instance, as the flour inspector, beef, pork, and lumber inspector, and, ye gods, an inspector of gold-dust boxes! They embraced every opportunity of voting themselves money as it accrued in the treasury, taking advantage of legal quibbles for the purpose of raising their allowance, and in very manner consulting their own profit at the expense of the revenue of the State.”



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