"Provided that an express and fundamental condition to the acquisition of any territory from the republic of Mexico by the United States, by virtue of any treaty which may be negotiated between them, and to the use by the executive of the moneys herein appropriated, neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of said territory, except for crime whereof the party shall first be duly convicted."
This proviso was adopted by a vote of 83 to 64. The bill carrying this proviso was then reported to the Senate where followed a heated debate which lasted until adjournment, the proviso being killed in the midst of stormy scenes in Congress.
The coming and going of the Negro in California did not especially interest any one until the beginning of the immigration of the forties. The subject of slavery in California was officially called to the attention of the inhabitants through the issuance of a proclamation by the Commander in Chief of the District in regard to the unlawful enslaving of the Indians. He was endeavoring to protect them, but they were enslaved in spite of his efforts.
"It having come to the knowledge of the Commander in Chief of the District that certain persons have been and still are imprisoning and holding to service Indians against their will and without any legal contract for service. It is thereby ordered that all persons so holding or detaining Indians shall release them, and permit them to return to their own homes. Unless they can make a contract with them which shall be binding upon both parties. The Indian population must not be regarded in the light of slaves, but it is deemed necessary that the Indians within the settlement shall have employment, with the right of choosing their own master and employment. Having made such a choice they must abide by it, unless they can obtain permission in writing to leave, or the Justice in their complaint shall consider they have just cause to annull the contract and permit them to obtain another employee. All Indians must be required to obtain service and not be permitted to wander about the country in idleness in a dissolute manner. If found doing so they will be liable to arrest and punishment by labor on the public works at the direction of the Magistrate. All officers, Civil or Military under my command are required to execute the terms of this order and take notice of every violation thereof.
Later there was a steady influx of Southerners and their Negro slaves into the territory of California after the country was taken over by the United States. Then came the question as to the enslavement of the Negro. The situation became serious after the Congress of the United States appropriated three million dollars for the purchase of the new territory, and still more so after gold was discovered there.
The pro-slavery faction in the convention was determined to have slavery somewhere and had managed to have the eastern boundary of California so designated that it extended as far as the Rocky Mountains. This would have resulted in rejection by Congress, or a division of the territory into a Northern and a Southern California, giving the pro-slavery element a new State.
Leaders at the national capital naturally hesitated, not knowing whether or not the admission of California under the conditions thus obtaining would aggravate or improve the national situation. California, however, cared little about the national situation, as is attested by the resolutions of 1850 to the effect: "That any attempts by Congress to interfere with the institution of slavery in any of the territories of the United States would create just grounds of alarm in many of the States of the union; and that such interference is unnecessary, inexpedient, and in violation of good faith; since, when any such territory applies for admission into the union as a state, the people thereof alone have the right, and should be left free and unrestrained, to decide such question for themselves."
After a debate of four months, Congress admitted California as a Free State as one of five compromises. Jefferson Davis, however, repudiated the idea of advantage to his section. He said: "Where is the concession to the South? Is it in the admission, as a state, of California, from which we have been excluded by congressional agitation? Is it in the announcement that slavery does not and is not to exist in the remaining territories of New Mexico and California? Is it in denying the title of Texas to one-half of her territory? " He [Jefferson Davis] held that gold washing and mining was particularly adapted to slave labor, as was agriculture that depended on irrigation.
Another effort to extend slavery in this section came in the unsuccessful filibustering expedition of the Tennessee lawyer, William Walker, who undertook to establish to the south in Sonora, a State with a constitution like that of Louisiana, basing his advocacy of slavery on the lofty grounds of civilizing the blacks and liberating the whites from manual labor.
In 1852 the Legislature passed a rigid Fugitive Slave Law intending to bar slavery from the State. The mischievous clause of this measure was that all slaves who had escaped into or were brought to California previous to the admission of the State to the Union were held to be fugitives, and were liable to arrest under the law, although many of them had been in the State several years, during which they had accumulated considerable property. The pro-slavery element not only profited by this, but the interpretation of this law by many of the Judges enabled them to bring their slaves into the State, work them in the mines, and return to the South and back to slavery with their Negroes.
If they did not wish the trouble of their return passage they auctioned them off to the highest bidder. It also enabled them to make fortunes by selling to the slaves their freedom, charging them twice and often thrice the price he could have possibly brought on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.
The case of Alvin Coffey is equally as interesting. This account was given by a lifelong friend of the subject. Alvin Coffey was born in 1822, in Saint Louis, Missouri. He came to California with his sick master, a Mr. Duvall, who landed in San Francisco, September 1, 1849. They went to Sacramento, October 13, 1849. During the next eight months the slave earned for his master $5,000, working in the mines, and by washing for the miners and mining for himself after night, he earned $700 of his own. As the master continued in poor health he decided to return with Alvin to Missouri at the expiration of two years. When they reached Kansas City, Missouri, the master sold Alvin to Nelson Tindle, first taking from him the $5,000, earned for the master, and also the $700 earned for himself. Nelson Tindle took a great liking to Alvin and in a short time made him overseer over a number of slaves. Alvin, however, longed to return to California and, in order to earn his freedom, bought his time from his master and took contracts to build railroads. One day Nelson Tindle said to Alvin that he was too smart a man to be a slave and ought to try and purchase his freedom. Whereupon Alvin told him if he would let him return to California, he could easily earn enough money to effect the purchase. Alvin was permitted to return to California, and in a short time sent his master the $1,500 to pay for his freedom. Alvin then undertook to earn the money to pay for the freedom of his wife and daughters, who were slaves of Doctor Bassett, of Missouri. He earned the required sum and returned for his family. After paying for their freedom, he went with them to Canada, where he left his daughters to be educated. He and his wife Mahalia came to California. It cost him for the freedom of himself and family together with the trips to and from California about $7000. - California Reports
In certain Southern counties of the State it was unpopular to speak on behalf of the slaves. In 1855, Chase and Day, two Abolitionists of Alameda County, were ridden on a rail, ducked and otherwise maltreated.
Some of these eases are more than interesting.
A Mississippi slaveholder brought several slaves from that State and promised to give them their freedom in two years. They all ran away save one, Charles Bates, when they learned that they were already free. The owner, finding mining did not pay, started east, taking Charles with him. On the Isthmus of Panama, Charles was persuaded to leave his master. He returned to California and to Stockton with his true friend. On the street one day he was recognized by a party who had lent money to Charles's master. The debtor got out an attachment for the former slave as chattel property, and according to the State law, the Negro was put up and sold at auction. A number of anti-slavery men bought the boy for $750 and gave him his freedom. - California Reports
The tendency to free the Negroes brought there, checked the importation of that class. The rights of the master to his slave, however, were not easily relinquished and the institution of slavery in California did not come to an end until 1872. Freedom, however, had to win and the pro-slavery element had to change its policy. In 1856 and 1857, efforts were made to call a convention to change the constitution so as to permit the importation of slaves, for with the expiration of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1855, slave-owners who held minors had to return them to slave States or let them go free. Since the Negroes brought into the State could in most cases become free, the pro-slavery [Democrat] party then sought to get rid of the free Negro.
In his message to the legislature in 1850, Governor Burnett recommended the exclusion of free Negroes. This was always Burnett's hobby. He incorporated this into the laws of Oregon when he revised them in 1844. Burnett had been brought up in the South and although he had ceased to be a slaveholder, he could not think of living with Negroes as freemen. The exclusion of the blacks too had a sort of popular appeal in it. The legislature, however, was divided on the question as to what should be done with the free Negro. A bill in compliance with the wishes of the Governor was introduced but defeated.
DELILAH L. BEASLEY
Now before I go on, let me just say that I've read period newspaper accounts of slave auctions being held in California in spite of the fact that slavery was never legal in California. And in fact, California joined the Union as a "Free State." So, before you write to tell me that there was slavery going on in California, please understand that I fully understand that it was taking place -- but it was not legal in California. Yes, just as there are those who buy and sell meth and other illegal drugs today, there were those who bought and sold slaves in California. It was done. But those doing it were in reality breaking the law.
At California's Constitutional Convention, there were Democratic Party members who came to California with the mission of getting the new state of California to officially sanction slavery. While most of them were Southerner slave owners, they were outnumbered by Northern abolitionists. As for the opposition to slavery by White-American miners, it's said that they didn't like the idea of having to compete with slave owners who wanted to flood the gold fields with slaves.What I found especially interesting about this piece is that in 1852, when a resolution was introduced to allow fifty Southern families to immigrate into California with their slaves -- some of them came without permission but left after learning that they could not legally own slaves in California.