John Weller

5th Governor, Democrat
1858–1860

Inaugural Address

Delivered: January 8, 1858

FELLOW-CITIZENS:

For the first time in my life, I am about to enter upon the duties of a state office. Notwithstanding I have some experience in public affairs, that experience will be of little service to me in discharging the various and complicated duties imposed upon the chief magistrate of this state. That I can give satisfaction to all the generous friends who placed me in this position, I dare not hope. That I can reconcile conflicting interests, heal divisions which exist amongst the people, and steer the ship of state clear of all the shoals and rocks which discordant elements have thrown in her track, I can scarcely expect. It will, however, be my constant aim to administer the affairs of the executive office in such manner as to advance the interests of the state and secure the confidence and respect of honest men. Whilst I place a high estimate upon the good opinion of my fellow-citizens, and am always proud to have it, no one has less regard for what may be denominated popular clamor. I may injure myself, but the state shall not be shipwrecked during my administration, if I have the power to prevent it. It is far more important that I should be right than that I should be praised, and therefore I will do what I conceive to be my duty, at all times and under all circumstances, and leave the vindication of my character, if assailed, to my acts and to posterity.

Every lover of republican institutions, must deplore the disposition, so frequently manifested by a portion of the people in different sections of the country, to take the law into their own hands and place the regularly organized tribunals at defiance. Ours is emphatically a government of law, and that law is the essence of popular will, as expressed through constitutional channels. In its execution the sovereignty of the people is manifested. It may be that the law sometimes fails to give adequate protection to persons and property, but the fault will generally be found with the people themselves. In many localities there is an unwillingness upon the part of respectable citizens actively engaged in business, to serve upon juries; and as a consequence, irresponsible men, with no visible means of support, are entrusted with the power of passing upon the guilt or innocence of persons charged with high crimes.

If, as is often the case, under these circumstances, a notorious offender is allowed to escape, the whole community is thrown into a high state of excitement, and summary punishment demanded. It is certainly a disagreeable duty to be taken from one's business, and compelled to spend a week or two in the criminal courts, but every good citizen ought to be willing to make the sacrifice when the public interest demands it. These burthens, however, should be as equally distributed as possible. Elevate the character of your jurors by selecting them in strict conformity with the law, and by imposing severe fines and penalties upon citizens refusing to serve, and in my opinion, fewer villains will escape, and communities will be less disposed to disregard the forms of law and resort to violence.

Another cause of difficulty may be found in the manner in which our judicial and ministerial officers are elected. Political parties hold their primary meetings and present their respective tickets. Because of the indifference manifested by respectable men of all parties, these elections are too often controlled and governed by irresponsible men, whose patriotism is generally subservient to their pecuniary interests. Ballot-box stuffers, in the absence of honest voters, declare the result, and men without intelligence, capacity or integrity, are placed in responsible offices. All this might have been avoided if the people had attended to what was strictly their business. It is probable that the present system of selecting candidates will prevail amongst us for years to come, and in my opinion, the election laws should be extended to these "primary meetings." The ballot-box, in our system of government, is the medium through which the people speak, and he who attempts to stifle their voice, is an enemy to public liberty, and should be treated as such. He poisons the public fountain, and corrupts all the streams which flow from it. He places men in judicial and ministerial offices in whom the community have no confidence. The severest punishment should be inflicted upon those who strike this deadly blow at free institutions.

It is not strange that the people of California have sometimes been excited, even to madness, by the conduct of their public functionaries. The fact is undeniable that men have sought office in this state, not from a laudable ambition to be useful, in contributing to its greatness, nor from an anxiety to acquire reputations and confer honor upon their families or kindred, but from a sordid desire to make money. The contest has not always been who should confer the greatest benefits upon the state, but who should make the most money out of his position. Their whole energies seem to have been directed to discover some short and easy road to fortune. The good old beaten track, which requires time, toil, labor and industry, has been abandoned. Itinerant politicians, having neither interest nor sympathy with us, and wholly indifferent as to the future character of the state, have sometimes controlled its legislation, and by their acts put money in their own pockets, at the expense of the public treasury. Wild schemes have been devised, and special acts passed in violation of the rights and interests of the people. This may not be a very pleasant picture to look upon, but, in my judgment, it is a true one, and therefore I choose to present it. I trust, however, a brighter era is about to dawn upon our state.

As the chief executive officer, it is made my duty to see that the laws are faithfully executed; and it is scarcely necessary for me to say that the whole power of the state will be used, when required, to protect our regularly organized tribunals and maintain the supremacy of the laws. This must be done, at all hazards.

The unsettled condition of our land titles has not only seriously retarded the prosperity of the state, but engendered much ill feeling, which has sometimes terminated in bloodshed. The act of Congress of March 3d, 1851, was intended, as its title imports, "to facilitate the settlement of land titles;" but its practical effect has been to retard improvements, prevent settlements, and, in many cases, to impoverish claimants under Mexican grants. Many of those who held perfect titles, guarantied by the treaty with Mexico, have been ruined by litigation with the government in the federal courts. Some of them, after seven years war in our judicial tribunals, are fortunate, indeed, if they are able to retain a moiety of that estate which we plighted our faith should be fully secured to them. The policy of the Spanish or Mexican states has always been so entirely different from that which has prevailed in our government in regard to the disposition of its lands, that the agricultural interest here has suffered very much in consequence thereof. The confirmation of these grants has placed an immense amount of the best farming land in the hands of a few persons, whilst true policy demands that we should have as many freeholds as possible. The American farmer always desires to be the owner of the soil which he cultivates.

In many cases grants were so loosely made, and the boundaries so indefinitely given, that honest persons, who supposed they were occupying public land, are now about to lose their improvements by the manner in which the surveys are made. When individuals have gone, in good faith, and made improvements upon what was supposed to be a part of the public domain, but which, by the decision of the courts, is found to be covered by Mexican grants, the settler is entitled, upon every principle of justice, to full remuneration for his labor and improvements. The whole constitutional power of the Legislature should be exercised to protect him. These hardy and industrious pioneers, who have gone upon wild and uncultivated land, and by their labor and industry made the earth give forth its richest productions, and surrounded themselves with all the comforts of home are entitled to our especial consideration. Their energy and their enterprise have already placed California amongst the first agricultural states of the Union.

The condition of our finances impose upon us the necessity of practicing the most rigid economy. Ever since the organization of our state government, the expenditures each year have far exceeded our receipts, and, as a consequence, we are now burdened with a public debt. A state, as well as an individual, must be ultimately bankrupted, if its expenses are allowed, for a series of years, to exceed its income. Our debt, amounting to some four millions of dollars, has been incurred to pay current expenses of the government.

All over $300,000 of this amount, contracted since the adjournment of the first Legislature, was in direct violation of the constitution; and, although the proceeds of our bonds were shamefully squandered, yet a very large majority of our people, at the recent election, ordered that the debt shall be paid. They have determined that innocent holders of our bonds shall not suffer by the unconstitutional acts or dishonest conduct of our own agents. California has said, in unmistakable terms, that the disgrace of repudiation shall never rest upon her escutcheon. I rejoice that those who have placed me in the position which I now occupy, have so nobly vindicated the reputation of our state. A state which violates its plighted faith, and trifles with its honor, would soon become a reproach to republican institutions, and a by-word among civilized nations.

We must take care to steer clear of these difficulties in the future. Provision must be made for the prompt payment of the interest on our debt, and especial pains taken to confine the expenditures within our income. This we can do, and must do, or bankruptcy, at no very distant day, is inevitable. The people have heard enough from their public agents upon the subject of economy—they now demand that it shall be practiced. Much was done by the last Legislature, but more remains to be done. The expenses of conveying prisoners to the penitentiary, and supporting them whilst there, is an enormous tax upon the people. Whilst the convicts in many of the states are supporting themselves, we are taxed $120,000 per annum to provide for them, and that, too, under a system which allows a large number to escape every year. If you add to this the amount paid for transportation of convicts ($35,000) you will have a sum equal to the whole expenses of some of our sister states, with four times the population?

In the state of Indiana, the whole amount of the ordinary expenses of the government for the year ending in October, 1855, was $147,442; and during the succeeding year was reduced to $59,522, and this with a population of nearly one million and a half!

In the three State prisons of New York with nearly two thousand convicts, in the year 1855, the expenditures over the earnings were but $35,000.

In California, the expenditures for state prison purposes, and for printing, alone, in the year ending 30th June, 1856, amounted to more than half a million of dollars.

These are certainly crying evils, which demand prompt action on the part of the Legislature.

The thirteenth section, eleventh article of the constitution, declares that "taxation shall be equal and uniform throughout the state. All property in this state shall be taxed in proportion to its value, to be ascertained as directed by law."

It may well be doubted whether our present revenue system is in accordance with either the letter or the spirit of this clause in the constitution. It declares that all property shall be taxed; and yet it is notorious that many persons hold property which annually yields — and in all probability will continue to yield for a series of years — a handsome income, on which no taxes whatever are levied. In imposing taxes necessary for the support of the government, the great principle of equity and justice should be observed, and each interest made to contribute its proper share. Those who receive from the government protection in their persons and property ought to pay their just proportion of the taxes. Nothing short of an equal distribution of the burthens of government can or ought to give satisfaction to the people.

The second section, ninth article of the constitution, declares:

"The Legislature shall encourage, by all suitable means, the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvements. The proceeds of all lands that may be granted by the United States to this state for the support of schools, which may be sold or disposed of, and the five hundred thousand acres of land granted to the new states, under an act of Congress distributing the proceeds of the public lands among the several states of the Union, approved A. D. one thousand eight hundred and forty-one, and all estates of deceased persons who may have died without leaving a will or heir, and also such per cent. as may be granted by Congress on the sale of lands in this state, shall be and remain a perpetual fund, the interest of which, together with all the rents of the unsold lands, and such other means as the Legislature may provide, shall be inviolably appropriated to the support of common schools throughout the state."

The embarrassed situation of our finances and the unsettled position of land titles and public surveys have no doubt prevented the Legislature hitherto from carrying out the patriotic design of the framers of that instrument. By its terms, certain lands donated by the federal government to the state are to be appropriated for school purposes, and if this fund is properly administered, the time is not far distant when every child in the state can receive the rudiments of a good education at the public expense. The ignorant are often vicious, and it is scarcely necessary for me to say that there can be no stability in a government like ours, based upon public opinion, unless the great body of the people are educated. It would be folly to attempt to sustain a republican government amongst an ignorant or depraved people. If we expect our children to transmit our institutions to their descendants, we must take care to provide ample means for their education. We must teach them that without education, without morality, without religion, they must soon become the slaves of despotism. We must enlighten their minds and impress upon them the inestimable value of a free government. And in this connection you will allow me to say, that if we desire to lessen the expenses of our criminal courts and prisons and elevate the moral tone of society, we must send the schoolmaster on his mission of labor and usefulness into every section of the state. A well educated people never can be enslaved. Violence and commotion are the natural fruits of ignorance. Man is only capable of self-government after his head and heart have been cultivated.

How many of those who are now mere sojourners in our state, would bring their children amongst us, if suitable means were provided for their education, and become permanent citizens and useful and honorable members of society. A few friends of education have taken the lead, and much has already been accomplished in establishing a system of schools, and the beneficial effect is being seen and felt in almost every part of the state. In our cities and towns, seminaries and schools have been established, which would reflect the highest honor upon any people. In fact, we can proudly claim to have accomplished more for education in six years than some of our sister states have accomplished in a quarter of a century. I trust that the fund which has been provided may never be diverted from its constitutional channel, and that wisdom may direct all our actions in the administration of it.

The appropriations made at the recent session of Congress will, if properly expended, go far towards giving us good wagon roads across the Rocky mountains by means of which we might anticipate a large immigration this year, if it were not for the difficulties in which the federal government has become involved with the Mormons and Indians. The establishment, too, of an overland mail route will be of incalculable benefit to us.

The financial hurricane which has recently swept over the older states, with such fearful violence, would drive thousands of strong, active and energetic men to our shores, if they could reach us by an overland route, or by sea, at a reasonable expense. The multitude of hard-working men in the eastern cities, who have been recently thrown out of employment, and who are now crying in agony of their souls for "bread," could find ample and profitable employment in our inexhaustible mines, or comfortable homes in our health-giving and ever verdant valleys. The victims of a villainous paper-money system could here find, in our mountains, banks which never issue an irredeemable currency, and seldom, if ever, fail to remunerate the industrious laborer. But the Mormons and Indians on the one hand, and a heartless monopoly, having no sympathy with our people on the other, may diminish this immigration, so essential in developing the resources of the state.

Our people are certainly entitled to protection whilst traveling through American territory, and to secure this, the whole power of the federal government should be invoked.

Whenever a government habitually fails to give protection to its people, it must cease to command their confidence or respect. Hundreds of emigrants during the past year, who had abandoned their homes, and whilst wending their way over American soil to our shores, were inhumanly butchered. That government which claims to extend its protection over its people, (whether native, naturalized or unnaturalized,) in every part of the world, and is ready to resort to arms in order to secure it, will, we hope, see that such bloody scenes are not reenacted upon our great highways and in our own territory.

In my humble opinion, the establishment of a multitude of small military posts between our frontier and the Atlantic states, will never answer the purpose. They are so weak as to provoke assaults from the Indians, and not strong enough to pursue and chastise them. The marching of a full regiment, properly appointed to and from the Pacific coast, through our own territory every year, would strike more terror amongst the Indians, inspire more confidence amongst the settlers and immigrants, and make the highways more secure than all the small military posts which could be established upon these routes.

Besides, troops sent from the Atlantic for this coast, instead of being enfeebled and enervated, as is the case now, by a voyage of six thousand miles, over rough seas and through an inhospitable climate, would be found efficient soldiers, and ready for active service, at once, in the field, should the exigency demand it. The march and the camp duty would transform raw recruits into a disciplined corps.

I make these remarks with great diffidence, because I know but little of military affairs, and have no personal knowledge of the different overland routes which pass through the Indian settlements.

But after all, the federal government will never be able to give Americans residing on the Pacific coast, that protection to which they are justly entitled, until a railroad connection is given to us with our brethren on the other side of the continent; and I am glad to see that our excellent President, whose ability and patriotism are acknowledged by the whole country, has recommended this subject to the especial consideration of Congress. A war with any respectable maritime power would cut us off effectually from our sister states, and leave our trade, our commerce, our material wealth, if not our lives, at the mercy of the public enemy. The surveys which have been made during the past four years, have fully demonstrated its practicability; and its necessity for military and political purposes, is no longer questioned.

It is quite probable that the events of the present year will show that economy would have been consulted by commencing a pioneer, or preliminary railroad, for the transportation of troops, munitions of war, etc., through our own territories long since. This would be followed, as soon as the commerce of the country demanded it, by a first-class railroad, over which the traffic between Europe and Asia and America could pass, and thus give California the place to which her natural position entitles her.

Civilization, the arts, and sciences, have for ages been making their way from the East to the West. In the meanwhile the East has sunk into semi-barbarism and, in the providence of God, the West is destined to send civilization and Christianity, with all their countless blessings, back to the East. California, situated on the extreme verge of the western hemisphere, through her trade and her commercial enterprise, will contribute largely towards re-establishing in the East that religion which was originally taught in Jerusalem, but which has, for centuries past, found its chief power and most salutary influence in this hemisphere. What a glorious destiny awaits us if we are only true to ourselves, and properly use the means at our command.

Although geographically separated from our sister states by uninhabited mountains and boisterous seas, we feel none the less interest in maintaining that Union which has made the name of an American honored and respected in every portion of the civilized world, and secured to us at home a degree of freedom and prosperity unparalleled in the history of man. Under that constitution which spoke the federal government into existence, we have built up a mighty empire which now attracts the wonder and admiration of the world. It is the bounden duty of every American to brighten, and strengthen, and extend that Union, and transmit it unimpaired to posterity. Different laws and different customs prevail in the respective states, and the only way to secure the peace and tranquillity of the republic, is for each to abstain from intermeddling with the affairs of its neighbor. That fraternal feeling which ought to exist among members of the same family requires more than this. We should avoid, as far as possible, the discussion and agitation of questions calculated to impair the constitutional rights of others. An honest man will not agitate a question, when the effect of that agitation is to infringe upon the rights and lessen the value of his neighbor's property, but leave him to the free and undisturbed enjoyment of it. The people of California, with great unanimity, decided that slavery should not exist in this state. No one denies our right so to decide, nor do any of our sister states attempt to interfere with this question. Other communities, in the exercise of their sovereignty, have seen proper to tolerate slavery. They have a right to enjoy their institutions without being disturbed by us. It is true, the freedom of speech and of the press are guarantied by the constitution to the people, but is there not a moral as well as a political obligation resting upon us to exercise these privileges in such a manner as not to invade or trespass upon the rights of other states? The agitation of the slavery question in the Northern states, while it has in no degree benefited the African race, has engendered a feeling which is now threatening the permanency of the government. These states can never be kept together by force. The tie of affection can alone hold us. Destroy this, and it requires no prophet to foresee that disunion is inevitable. We must live together as friends and as equals in all respects, or we cannot live together at all. We cannot live as friends unless we cease slandering and abusing each other. We cannot be equals unless territory acquired by our common blood and common treasure is left free to emigrants from the respective states, with their different species of property. When a state government is organized, then slavery may be sanctioned or prohibited, as the people may direct. If they have not intelligence enough to decide this question without the interference of Congress or any other power, republican institutions can no longer be sustained by Americans.

May He who controls the destinies of nations preserve and protect our national ship from the impending storm which threatens its destruction.

SENATORS AND GENTLEMEN OF THE ASSEMBLY :—Having, in accordance with the established usage, expressed my opinions briefly upon several questions of public interest, let us now proceed to the discharge of our respective duties, and with a fixed determination to consume no more time than is indispensable to the transaction of the public business.

The constitution confers upon the Executive the veto power. I shall regret very much to differ with the Legislature in any case; but if an act should unfortunately be passed which I may regard in conflict with the constitution, or in derogation of the rights and interests of our common constituency, I could not hesitate to exercise this power. The practice of leaving the most important bills to the last days of the session is, in my opinion, a very bad one, and should be abandoned.

Ample time should be given to the Executive to examine every bill passed by the Legislature, for it cannot be expected that I will attach my signature to any until I understand its contents.

In conclusion, gentlemen, let me say, I will cordially co-operate with you in all measures calculated to advance the interests of the state and promote the prosperity of the people.

JOHN B. WELLER.