Peter Burnett

1st Governor, Independent Democrat

Inaugural Address

Delivered: December 20, 1849


I have been chosen by a majority of my fellow citizens of the State of California to be her first Executive. For this proof of their partiality and confidence I shall ever retain a most grateful sense. To be chosen Chief Magistrate of California at this period of her history, when the eyes of the whole world are turned toward her, is a high and distinguished honor, and I shall do all in my power to merit this distinction by an ardent, sincere, and energetic discharge of the weighty and responsible duties incident to the position I occupy.

Nature, in her kindness and beneficence, has distinguished California by great and decided natural advantages; and these great natural resources will make her either a very great or a very sordid and petty State. She can take no middle course. She will either be distinguished among her sister States as one of the leading Stars of the Union, or she will sink into comparative insignificance. She has many dangers to encounter, many perils to meet. In all those countries where rich and extensive mines of the precious metals have been heretofore discovered, the people have become indolent, careless, and stupid. This enervating influence operates silently, steadily, and continually, and requires counteracting causes, or great and continued energy of character in a people to successfully resist it. How far this influence may mold the character of the future population of California, time alone can determine. If she should withstand and overcome this great peril, she will constitute a bright exception to the fate that has attended other States similarly situated.

But I anticipate for her a proud and happy destiny. If she had only her gold-mines, the danger would be imminent; but she has still greater and more commanding interests than this--interests that seldom or never enervate or stultify a people, but on the contrary tend, in their very nature, to excite and nourish industry, enterprise, and virtue. I mean her agricultural and commercial advantages. While our mines will supply us with ample capital, and our fine agricultural lands will furnish us with provisions, our great and decided commercial facilities and position will give full and active employment to the energies and enterprise of our people, and will prevent them from sinking into that state of apathy and indifference which can not exist in a commercial and active community.

Our new State will soon take her equal station among the other States of the Union. When admitted a member of that great sisterhood, she will occupy an important position, imposing upon her new and great responsibilities. She can never forget what is due to herself, much less can she forget what is due to the whole Union. Her destiny will be united with that of her sister States, and she will form one of the links of that bright chain that binds together the happy millions of the American people.

How wide and extended is our expanding country! With only thirteen States and three millions of inhabitants originally, we have grown in the short space of three quarters of a century to be one of the greatest nations of the earth. With a Federal Government to manage and control our external relations with the world at large, and State governments to regulate our internal and business relations with each other, our system is peculiarly adapted for extension over a wide field, without danger of becoming unwieldy and impracticable. We have now more than twenty millions of inhabitants, and thirty States, with others knocking at the door of the Union for admittance. Our States and cities have the eastern coast of North America facing Europe, and our country extends across the entire continent to the shores of the Pacific, facing the millions of Asia. We have commanding military and commercial positions on both oceans, and nothing can retard our onward march to greatness but our own errors and our own follies. California has her part to act in this great march of improvement, and whether she acts well her part or not depends much upon her early legislation.

With the most ardent desire to do my duty fully and frankly toward our new and rising State, I pledge you my most cordial coöperation in your efforts to promote the happiness of California and the Union. For the principles that will govern me in my administration of the executive department of the State, I beg leave to refer you to my forthcoming message.

I thank you, gentlemen, for the kindness and courtesy you have shown me, and hope that your labors may redound to your own honor and the happiness of your constituents.