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The agitation concerning Oregon, to which the United States had claims, served to direct attention also towards the adjacent territory of California, to which it had none. The desirability that the United States should control that part of the Pacific coast, both for the sake of its trade and in order to exclude other nations, obtained secure lodgment in the minds of Democratic political leaders and made them anxious to obtain possession of the good bay of San Francisco. In the mind of one especially, James K. Polk, this idea worked out most important results.1
Up to 1841 the relations of the United States with California depended on commerce, which was carried on partly by sea around Cape Horn and partly overland through Santa Fe\ The trade by sea may be dated practically from the visit of the ship Otter from Boston to California in 1796.2 The beginning of that by land followed hard upon the path-breaking work of Jedediah S. Smith, who in 1826 made the first overland journey into the country." In 1841 some twenty trading-vessels brought to California goods, including wine, shoes, cloth of various kinds, tea, coffee, etc., to the value of about one hundred thousand dollars. The main exports were hides, horns, tallow, and furs.4
r Cf. Bourne, in Oregon Hist. Soc, Quarterly, VI., 27. 1 Bancroft, California, I., 539. 'Ibid., III., 153.
4 Ibid., IV., 209, and foot-notes; Dana, Two Years Before the Mast, 85, 324.
The Spanish government in California was most uncertain and inefficient in its working, and conditions were not materially improved after Mexico became independent.1 The central government in the city of Mexico was passing through almost constant revolutions, and was either too weak or too busy to look well after the affairs of its distant territories on the north. California was therefore left, for the most part, to take care of itself; and the hold of Mexico on that part of her dominions was exceedingly slight. The situation was still further complicated by the inauguration in 1831 of a series of disturbances in that distant province, revolutionary in their nature and effect, and in part due to jealousy of the central government, the results of which were usually accepted by that government, because it saw no better way to get rid of the trouble. These disturbances continued until they were ended by the conquest of California by the United States in 1846.2 The local government itself was little better in respect to its efficiency than the national; that life and property were in any degree safe was due rather to the want of criminal propensities among the Mexicans than to the enforcement of law.3
Richard Henry Dana noted in 1835 that Englishmen and Americans were "fast filling up the principal towns" of California.1 In 1841 there was a white population in the department of some six thousand.2 Of these about three hundred and eighty were foreign immigrants.3 As a matter of fact, the movement to California was not yet fairly begun. The Anglo-Americans had already freed Texas from Mexico and stood waiting to deliver it to the United States; but if California was to be had, it must be taken.
1 Bancroft, California, II., 675. 1 Royce, California, 19-30.
'Dana, Two Years Before the Mast, 196-198; Royce, California, 30.
1 Dana, Two Years Before the Mast, 91, 200.
'Royce, California, so. 'Bancroft, California, IV., 117.
ELECTION OF 1840
THE political alignment that separated the mass of voters in the United States in 1840 into "Democrats" and "Whigs" dates from the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Under his dominating influence there developed a new system of political ideals and policies; and meanwhile there grew up an opposing system, which seemed hardly to understand itself until it had won its first great victory. For twelve years Jacksonian Democracy controlled the government with vigorous self-assertion, till in 1840 the Whigs were at length in a position to challenge its supremacy.
The party divisions of the period (1824-1840) were essentially personal. The parties were no more than inchoate groups, all claiming to be of the same political household, but each looking to a different leader. While all claimed to be of Jefferson, one was of Adams, another of Clay, and another of Jackson. But to follow Jackson after he became president meant the adoption of a positive and aggressive policy and a set of principles which could not be misunderstood. With the Whigs, however, the common bond was not in their uniformity of political faith, but in their opposition to Jackson, which was carried over to Van Buren as "following in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor."l The name of the party was given it by James Watson Webb, in 1834, through his newspaper, the New York Courier and Enquirer, and it was intended to suggest opposition to the encroachments of the executive. A more accurate name would have been the Anti-Jackson party. It included Adams Republicans, Nullifiers, Anti-Masons, and every element, in fact, that could be rallied to the attack on Jackson or Van Buren.2
The presidential campaign of 1840 was opened by the Whig national convention at Harrisburg, December 4, 1839.3 Clay was the most prominent and efficient among the leaders of that party, and would have been its logical candidate; but there were objections to him on the score of availability. He was a free-mason and an avowed protectionist, and it was feared that he could not harmonize the elements which it was necessary to consolidate in order to defeat Van Buren. A man to whom the same objections did not exist, who had already been a prominent candidate for the presidency, and
1 Cf. Hart, Slavery and Abolition (Am. Nation, XVI.), chap, xxi.
* Lalor, Cychpadia, art. Whigs; cf. Tyler, Tylers, I., 477.
* Proceedings in Niks' Register, LVII., 248-25*.