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While the American Dream applied to the whole country, California and the Gold Rush breathed new life into this dream. Dreams of becoming rich, managing successful businesses and the prospect of new jobs gathered thousands of people to California. The American Dream became unattainable and dull in the rest of the country but California offered the opportunity to make it exciting once more. And for a while, the dream had new meaning and momentum. However, California lost some of its excitement as it became part of the United States. Yet, California changed the nation permanently. California brought hope and encouraged citizens to try, try, again despite failure. California spurred America into a state of hope and success and trials and the pursuit of happiness.
To further understand the effect that the gold rush had on California, one must take a look at the state’s backstory. When the gold rush occurred, California was a new territory that the country won in the war against Mexico. To put it into perspective, the first bit of gold was discovered on January 24th 1848, right before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was completed on February 2nd. The new state was sparsely populated with only 150,000 Native Americans (reduced from the original 300,000) and 6-12,000 “Californians”, children and relatives of colonizers. Settlements were concentrated along the coast and the primary means of provisions came from ranching, farming and some fishing.
Political effects of the Gold Rush include huge areas of lawless settlements. These places lacked structure and property rights did not exist. To compensate for no property rights, the system of staking claims ruled where an individual could claim a plot of land for themselves. As the amount of gold diminished throughout the state, the competition for land increased drastically. To keep some sort of peace and to maintain land stakes, one person would be elected to be the law enforcer of the area. Usual forms of punishments included whipping and lynching and the laws set up proved to be discriminatory towards Hispanics and native people. No banks existed and vigilante justice prevailed as a method to make up for the nonexistent law and order of the land. To put it into simpler terms, citizens were taking it upon themselves to carry out justice. More political effects of the gold rush extended to heavy discrimination as African-Americans and native peoples were not allowed to vote.
New jobs ruled as the leading effect that the Gold Rush had on the economy. Besides finding gold, one could become wealthy by becoming involved in the general goods/dry goods industry and selling mining supplies: shovels, pick-axes, explosives, protective clothing and hats benefitted all miners. Native Americans also found employment by working at Sutter’s mill and by working off of the land. An estimated 600,000 million dollars (10s upon billions in today’s currency) came out of the Gold Rush and an infusion of wealth and capital was born and boosted the economy. Since most people had physical gold in their pockets, prices sky-rocketed in areas such as San Francisco. With this in mind, California quickly became the richest agricultural area in the world/ The Germans, 14% of the population, spearheaded this movement and the agriculture movement continued to move the economy up.
Socially, women took control as they made money through boarding houses by cooking and allowing miners to stay on their floors. The Gold Rush brought a multitude of young people into the picture, hungry for success. A new generation swept the scene and new ideas and social ideals were born. The Manifest Destiny also developed during this time through the growing support for the annexation of Texas and Oregon. The Manifest Destiny, or Destiny of American [white] people, influenced Americans to “occupy the continent”. Basically, it was the equivalent of the expression “go big or go home”. Americans pushed their boundaries and sough to expand their horizons as far as they could.
The Gold Rush didn’t stop there. Cultural effects of this phenomenon mainly featured immigration. California became, like the rest of the United States would, a melting pot. Immigrants, primarily men, from Ireland, China, Australia, Britain and Mexico came in floods, seeking fortune and success; basically, the American Dream. This resulted in 100,000 non-native people occupying America.
While the Gold Rush happened during 1848-1849, California wasn’t admitted as a state until 1850. The acting governor, Bennet C. Riley, called for a constitutional convention and the constitution was eventually passed by voters (in a 15 to 1 vote) and went to Washington. California wasn’t even a territory yet when this happened but eventually became a state. This made the California Gold Rush so unique, this singular event charged forth and pushed California into statehood in a matter of three years. California held an abundance of treasures: the beautiful landscapes, the possibility of finding gold, the perfect agricultural setting and the leader of a changing generation and world in terms of ideas, inventions, and dreams. For the people who moved to California, they were motivated to pursue freedom and the right to make a life for themselves. While not perfect, California offered just about anything that anyone could dream of. While the United States prided itself on the American Dream, California held the American Dream and its entirety in one single state. For these people, California really was the golden state.
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