The idea that land we call California becoming its own independent republic is a very American idea. In fact, it’s difficult to get any more American than Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, regarded as perhaps the most important figure of the American Revolution who later became the United States’ first secretary of state, its second vice president, and third president.
In 1813, Jefferson wrote of an American settlement on the west coast, that he viewed it as a seed of “a great, free, and independent empire on that side of our continent, and that liberty and self-government, spreading from that as well as this side, will insure their complete establishment over the whole,” he said, further writing that he looked forward, “with gratification, to the time when its descendants shall have spread themselves through the whole length of that coast, covering it with free and independent Americans, unconnected with us but by the ties of blood and interest, and employing like us the rights of self-government.”
Clearly Thomas Jefferson envisioned an independent republic sprawling along the North American coast of the Pacific Ocean. He envisioned this independent republic populated by Americans sharing with the United States the values and principles upon which that country was founded. Today we have a republic on the Pacific coast, though it is not independent. To make it independent, as Yes California seeks to do, would be to realize Thomas Jefferson’s inspired prophecy that would become echoed by various other American leaders in the first decades of American history. One of such leaders was Senator Thomas Hart Benton, the architect and champion of Manifest Destiny – the policy of American westward expansion.
In 1825, a year before Thomas Jefferson died in his bed in Virginia, he said, “the ridge of the Rocky Mountains may be named without offense, as presenting a convenient, natural and everlasting boundary. Along the back of this ridge, the Western limit of the republic should be drawn, and the statue of the fabled god, Terminus, should be raised upon its highest peak, never to be thrown down. In planting the seed of the new power on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, it should be well understood that when strong enough to take care of itself, the new Government should separate from the mother Empire as the child separates from the parent at the age of manhood.”
Senator Benton believed that the American settlements on the Pacific coast would spout into a new republic on the west coast that perhaps for some time would be bound to the Union but that eventually “when strong enough to take care of itself” it would “separate from the mother Empire,” referring to the United States, as “a child separates from the parent at the age of manhood.” Yes California believes now as the 7th largest economy in the world with nearly 40 million citizens, that California is strong enough to take care of itself and this campaign is precisely about separating from the American Empire – an emancipation so to speak – now that California has sufficiently matured.
It wasn’t just those first fragile decades of American history when this notion of a separate republic establishing itself on the shores of the Pacific Ocean was a part of the American dialogue. In fact, one of the earliest American settlers west of the Rocky Mountains, Henry H. Spaulding, said in 1846 that, “soon this little, obscure point upon the map of the United States will become a second North American Republic, her commerce whitening every sea and her crowded ports fanned by the flags of every nation.” It was that same year that the Bear Flag Revolt occurred, and that American settlers in Alta California declared their independence from Mexico, establishing the California Republic along the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
However, the journey for the establishment of a great Pacific Republic as Thomas Jefferson envisioned came across a fork in the road: One direction led to the fulfilment of Jefferson’s prophesy; the other to statehood. The path the California Republic would take was decided in 1850, when California was used as a bargaining chip in a compromise over slavery. In that year, the northern states agreed to the Fugitive Slave Act, which required northerners to return escaped slaves to their owners in the south, and the northern states agreed to the expansion of slavery into the New Mexico and Utah Territories. In exchange for all this, the southern states agreed to the admission of California as a free state.
A decade later, it was clear that civil war had still not been completely averted. The notion of the United States going to war led one California Congressman, Charles L. Scott, to declare in 1860, “if the Union is divided, and two separate confederacies are formed, I will strenuously advocate the secession of California, and the establishment of a separate republic on the Pacific. If California links her destiny with the northern government, crippled and ruined as she must necessarily be by the separation and withdrawal of her southern allies, California, instead of being benefited and receiving aid from the northern Confederacy, will be heavily taxed to carry on the machinery of their government.”
“Will be heavily taxed to carry on the machinery of their government.” Let that sink in. Is that not what is presently occurring? While this country is not on the verge of a civil war in 2016, there is no doubt that the partisan and ideological division and animosity in this country are at levels unseen since the Civil War. Today, California is a “donor state”, a nice way of saying we Californians pay, on average, $50 billion more in federal taxes than we receive in federal funding. On top of that, much of these excess taxes we pay are spent in the states of the old southern Confederacy. States like Mississippi receive $2-3 in federal funding for each $1 they pay in federal taxes.
Mr. Scott was not alone. The Governor of California at that time, Governor Weller, shared this sentiment, saying if California had to choose between the Union and the Confederacy, that “California will not go with the south or north, but here upon the shores of the Pacific, found a mighty republic, which may in the end prove the greatest of all.”
The Sonora Democrat, a widely-distributed newspaper at the time also wrote that if the northern and states separated for good, that California should “cut loose from both sections and not involve herself in the general ruin. She has all the elements of greatness within her borders. Situated thousands of miles from the distracted States, she would be an asylum of peace and safety – and many thousands would flock to her shores – the effect of which would be to build upon the Pacific a mighty, prosperous and independent nation.”
In the end, the admission of California as a free state turned out to be a crucial event in the preservation of the Union, when the Civil War broke out shortly thereafter. It was during that war that General Grant said, “I do not know what we could do in this great national emergency, were it not for the gold sent from California.”
Indeed, California was very generous with its financial contributions to support the North, in fact becoming the primary sponsor of the United States Sanitary Commission, a federal relief program supporting sick and wounded Union Soldiers of the Civil War. However, although thousands Californians organized into battalions to fight alongside the Union Army, the Americans did not want them.
A hundred and fifty years later, California is still making financial contributions (in the form of excess taxes) to the United States in order to support “the machinery of their government,” as Congressman Scott said in 1850. Yes California believes it is time to pick up that mantle of Thomas Jefferson’s independent republic of the Pacific, one populated by Americans, sharing American values, and preserving the core principles of the American Revolution. It is, by the way, the reason why several northern Californians who want to secede from California dream of a new state by the name of Jefferson.
Yes California believes independence will keep California together as a united Pacific republic as Jefferson envisioned.