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Political Science Essay on Power and Politics in California

Power and Politics in California

In the last two years of the 20th century, California celebrated its 150th anniversary, in commemoration of the discovery of gold following the 1849 gold rush. Gold was discovered in the American River at Sacramento by James Marshall during his persona activities. Everything changed when California began to search for gold and since then, great transformation has been experienced. For instance, the search for gold significantly resulted into population growth, political dominance, and Anglo statistics in California, as the U.S created their political dominion and military supremacy over the American West. Although the discovery of gold marked the turning point for California, it was barely the start of the nation’s human history (Struart 17).

In 1542, a Portuguese navigator called Cabrillo conducted a tour of California’s coastline for Spain and found out that for two centuries, 300,000 foreign Californians had not acquired stable settlements by the Europeans. However, a mission led by Captain Portola and Father Serra in 1769 from the Spanish colony of Mexico went on to establish a European settlement and the Franciscan mission in San Diego. Spain was not in acknowledgement of its colonial empire, while Mexico got its independence from Spain at the same time (Amara, 12).

California ushered in its first constitution in 1849, with a delegates meeting made up of 48 members. The ratification of the constitution by the public was done in the same year and confirmation made by the bill of law, thereby making it the legal constitution of California. In 1861, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Collins Huntington proposed a rail road in Central Pacific, with the main aim of building a rail road across Sierra in Nevada. The group then asked the government for support, whereby Leland used his office as the governor of California to acquire financial support and supplementary loans from the state for railroad construction which started instantly. Later on, Stanford became the corporate president of the Central Pacific, as Crocker was in charge of the crews in areas of mountain terrains. However, he saw this earlier on, and hired workers (estimated 12,000 Chinese nationals) for the expedition of the rail construction. Hopkins held the office of the treasurer and supervisor of the Central Pacific that was the supplier of construction materials to the rail line workers. Huntington on the other hand, was the group representative in East Coast and also doubled up as an activist in Washington. The ‘Big Four’ as they were known, played a critical role in the construction of the rail road and had great impact on the country. The four also got involved in the Southern politics, where Stanford showed his style of governance by appointing Edwin (Crocker’s brother) to the Supreme Court of the State (Amara 14).

In 1910, vibrant republican Hiram Johnson won the gubernatorial elections, where he had vowed to ‘kick the Southern Pacific out of politics.’ During his reign, new changes were enacted in the political institutions. For instance, women were allowed to vote, party column ballot system was punched out, railroad commission was enhanced, and the local government and judiciary were declared to be non partisans. Candidates were given the right to contest in two or more parties and the elections were also made free and fair. Besides, democracy structures of referendum and initiatives were made available to the citizens. Hiram became the first governor to be re-elected for a second term in 1914 on a Democratic Party tickets (Stuart 25).

The nonpartisans and republicans would have influenced the policies of California in many ways, although the democrats maintained solid majorities in all the houses. However, the republicans captured the seats held by the democrats in the subsequent elections, indicating a change of policies, which was much needed. The political history of California covers just a short time span compared to the past years. Besides, the developments achieved brought in an era of Anglo political domination and took a different turn on the politics of California (Amara 17).




Amara, Holstein. “Politics of Language: The California Bilingual Education Initiative.” Ethics Studies Review, 1999, 22(1-3):1-45. Print.

Struart, Love. “Law’s Promise, Law’s Expression: Visions of Power in the Politics of Race, Gender and Religion.” New York: NY, Journal of Church and State, 1997, 39(4): 12-87. Print.


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