The Birth of the Republic of California


Méxican Empire, 18241822, and the first "colonists" arrive in California as part of Emperor Agustin de Iturbide's project to strengthen the frontier by building up its population. Thanks to the plans developed by the Azcárate Commission, California's population of five-thousand would more than triple over the next five years due to this "influx," which put an immense strain on the territory's local culture and infrastructure (what there was of it, anyway). Admittedly, far more were sent to Nuevo México and Texas (not the least reason being those trips were much easier to accomplish), still, the original Californios began to feel they were being swamped.

Back in México City, officials created elaborate plans that detailed that specified where all these new immigrants were to end up and what land they would be getting, and so forth. However, in practice, those "details" tended to either work only in a California that didn't really exist - except in those plans - or they just plain got ignored by the new settlers who were now thousands of miles away from the planners. Thus, several Californios were...perturbed to discover individual settlers - and occasionally whole communities - calmly farming away (or more often, simply squatting and living off the land) on what was their Rancho land.

Worst hit were Mission lands. The number of Indians on those Missions had been declining dramatically - while funds for the missions and their Franciscans had been drying up even faster - so that large chunks of their lands were, while nominally being held for their Indian clients, for all practical purposes abandoned. And if not, often, the new immigrants would often work at "inspiring" the Indians there to do some abandoning. After seven years of nibbles of land being whittled away - with the occasional huge gulp - what was left of the Mission system in California would be secularized in 1829. Most of the remaining Missionized Indians ended up working as near slaves on the ranchos and farms of the new arrivals, gradually merging into the general population.

In 1823, a substantial portion of the immigration program became not "volunteer" civilians, but instead members of the México's new army, there to form "military colonies" to defend (and eventually enlarge - or so the plans went) the frontier. By deeding land in these "colonies" to the solders who were sent there, they were planned to be not only self-sustaining (very useful, since California, fer instance, could barely support the couple of hundred presidio troops it currently had), with the added advantage that if they were spending their "off-duty" hours working the land, this would keep the solders away from idleness - thus hopefully away from drunkenness, thievery, and other vices... Also, by giving them land of their very own, México City hoped this would give them a very real stake in defending the area.

As the Romans could have told them, this sort of thing actually worked. However, as they also could have told them, these new land owners could develop their own ideas about just who and what they needed defending from...

The first three colonies were started in the Monterey and San Diego areas (where declining population due to Indian raids had made reviving San Diego a necessity). In 1828, five more were started in the relatively untouched (by Méxican hands) Central Valley, both because there were large chunks of nicely available land there not previously divided up into ranchos and whatnot and because this would put the military firmly between the main population on the coast and the Indians of the inland regions. Growth was steady and there were over six-hundred military colonists and their families by 1830.

Yet another plan to import colonists - this time, from China - got to the first boatload stage (twenty-seven men and eighteen women) before it was called off as "too expensive." It had little effect other than to start the first Chinese community in the Central Valley in 1826 (and there'd be a long wait until the second, in 1872).

By this time, Agustin's forced immigration had been going on for a full eight years and many of the older Californian residents felt that enough was enough - the place didn't need any more "strengthening." Even those who had arrived in the first waves from 1822-25 were feeling that it was being carried too far: Just as they were beginning to settle in, here would come a new group to stir things up again.

Meanwhile, more and more of the land the settlers had been given was ending up under the ownership of a small number of wealthy land-owners back in central México, as the settlers were forced to use it to pay the ever increasing debts they were piling up trying to buy the things they needed to, well, settle.

For while local iron working, glass making, and leather industries had begun to spring up (often as not, worked - or at least owned - by foreigners from the US or BNA), these were still tiny and did not supply much more than a fraction of the needs for such material goods in California. Meanwhile, imports from central México were marked up well over their México City price - often four or five hundred percent more - while the government there did their best to block importation from other countries, or slap on very heavy tariffs on it, or both. So it didn't take buying a lot of luxuries - or necessities, for that matter - for one of the new settlers to discover that they now owed more than the total value of their land to someone back in México City.

And California was not the only part of the northern frontier having these problems. Sonora, Nuevo México and Texas were all under tremendous strains from the same combination of factors. Further, in spite of the increased army presence the military colonies brought, the increasing number of settlers (plus the increasing number of guns bought from United States traders) brought an equally big increase in raids by Indians into the territories.

It was now 1831 and the territory was in an ugly mood by May of that year. Hostility by Californios towards Méxicans from "la otra banda" had hit levels at least as high as the average Méxican had towards the Spanish just a decade before. As a result, Governor Hernandez (possibly the least liked Governor California ever had - and that's saying something) had effectively lost control of all but the Monterey area.

Then in Los Angeles, on May 21st, a gathering the major land owners elected José Figueroa as their Governor of California. The majority of the citizens and over three-fourths of California's small resident army (mostly the military colonists, but some presidio troops as well) flocked to his banner. Up in Monterey, an increasingly nervous Governor Hernandez was sending off urgent requests to México City for reinforcements, while his remaining loyal troops tried to set up the capital to withstand a siege as best they could.

México City, however, was more concerned with the ongoing rebellion in Nuevo México and the rumblings coming out of Texas and the Governor's requests got sent to the bottom of the "to do" pile.

On June 1st, 1831, a small group of local residents, backed by a platoon of solders met the latest incoming "Exile Party" in an orange grove two miles east of San Diego. No one is quite sure who organized this expedition, or what their original plans were, but when they met the tired, footsore and badly malnourished exiles (accompanied by their Méxican Army guards who were hardly any better off) things seemed to crystallize.

Locating the Lieutenant in charge of the party, they informed him that México City no longer ruled here, and that he was now under the command of the "Republic of California."

It would be three weeks before Governor Figueroa learned that he had been made head of a sovereign nation in a San Diego orange grove...

When he did, Figueroa frantically called for a convention in early August to formalize California's revolt and form an interim government. At the convention, Juan Alvarado (who would become governor himself in 1836) gave an impassioned speech, telling his listeners that the revolt represented "the dawn of liberty" and a breaking of "the chains that oppressed this unhappy land."

Beneath the rhetoric, Californios saw greater home rule as providing political means for solving local problems: Autonomy to rewrite tariff regulations - which would promote rather than hinder California's vital foreign commerce - a halt to sentencing Méxican convicts to "colonize" California, an end to passing over the local military for promotions in favor of recently arrived officers from México, and a transfer of civil power from that military to civilians. Most importantly, it would end the continual drain of land-ownership to México City.

And the fact that it would open up more political offices to local Californios with political ambitions was a bonus.

More of the local army in California began to come over to the new Republic, as being landowners themselves, they discovered they had more loyalty to a California they actually lived in than a government that only existed in far distant México city. Hernandez held out in Monterey until late September, but finally surrendered on the 23rd of that month.

It wasn't until November - two months later - that México would finally land troops he had called for, in Baja and San Diego, to try and put down the rebellion. However once there, they encounter unexpectedly heavy resistance - and a frighteningly poor logistical chain. Advances were small and transitory - with land only being "Méxican" as long as those troops were actually standing on it.

Then in early 1832, Nuevo México's 1831 Rebellion (which had actually been going on since early 1830 and would last - in some ways - until May of 1836) went into high gear (indeed, it was the worst rebellion the area would ever see) and began to spread down the Río Bravo into a Texas already ready to bolt after their last failed attempt to become a separate state from Coahuila. So suddenly, those troops were needed back in México proper - and as soon as possible.

México City weighed the option of losing California - which it really didn't consider to be worth very much - versus losing everything in the north from Sonora to the Gulf of México and said weight then led to their withdrawal from San Diego a few months later on June 2nd, 1832 (now known as "Independence Day" in the RoC) and San José del Cabo a month after that (July 17th). This led to the effective end of hostilities between the two nations and a de-facto acknowledgment of California's independence - though this was more of an "ignoring it" then formal recognition, really.

On July 19th of 1832, Britain officially recognized the new Republic of California, which started a somewhat sputtering wave of further international recognition from other countries. California's prime trading partner (after México, of course) at the time was the British Empire and this recognition increased Britain's control over and volume of imports into the new nation (at, admittedly, lower cost and better quality than they'd gotten from México).

While getting a lock on the Californian markets was a nice - if tiny - bonus, Britain's main purpose was to bolster a California that otherwise might fall to the Russians north of it. Britain was antsy enough with Russians both being to the north and the south of its Columbian territories, it didn't need them grabbing another thousand miles of coastline - that might give them ideas - and it saw with México's hold on the area slippling, an independent (yet dependent) California seemed the best option.

Modern historians attribute México's "ignoring" of California's independence to the Empire's then desperate need to concentrate on maintaining control over closer - and much more important - territories stretching from Honduras to Nuevo México and stemming the wave of rebellions that culminated with the loss of Tejas (now the Republic of Texas) in 1843. Due to this, it would be the 1850s before "Imperio Méxicano" became, thanks to a mixture of military force and social change, a stable nation.

It should also be noted that the unexpected death of Emperor Agustin I in 1834 - at only the age of fifty-one - and the installation of his son, Don Agustin, who was not confirmed as Emperor later that year (and whose weak rule led to the Emperor becoming defacto figurehead by the 1870s - something that was constitutionally formalized in 1879) also provided additional "distraction" away from dealing with the loss of a small, far away territory.

By the time things had settled down, California was a long-established nation and hardly anyone still thought of it as a "rebellous territory" - though the Emperors would in fact continue to toy with claiming it as "their" territory until the 1890s in a sort of "wouldn't it be neat if" kinda way. Even this ended in 1894 during the Méxican/Nation war, when joint use of the Río Colorado and finalizing of borders became far more important that keeping the then current Emperor (Agustin III) amused.


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