John Bigler

3rd Governor, Democrat

First Inaugural Address

Delivered: January 8, 1852

(Second Inaugural Address - January 7, 1854)


If other scenes and other considerations were not sufficient to inspire the sentiment, the imposing solemnities of this occasion could not fail to impress me with the sacred responsibilities of my position. Selected by the voluntary suffrages of a sovereign people to fill the highest office within their gift; standing upon the threshold of an official career consecrated by all the endearing ties of country, pregnant with future good or ill, and having just taken a solemn oath faithfully to discharge the many and onerous duties devolving upon me in this interesting capacity; surrounded, too, by the high functionaries and law-givers of the State, I feel at once deeply impressed with a sense of the delicate nature of the trust with which I am invested, and grateful to those to whose flattering confidence I am indebted for the distinction.

In endeavoring to direct you through the untried scenes which lie before us in this, the infant stage of our political existence, it shall be the leading object of my action to reduce our system to the practical principles of honesty, economy and fair dealing. No State can prosper so long as its councils are governed by schemes of speculation and private aggrandizement; no community can flourish under the influence of a wild, vascillating and unsettled policy. California has been, perhaps, more unfortunate in this respect than any of her sister States. It shall be my steady purpose, so far as the Executive arm can reach the evil, promptly to apply the remedy.

Stability and simplicity in our laws are greatly to be desired, and my energies shall be exerted for the attainment of this object. Under a sure and stable system of laws States will grow and flourish, while under an ever-changing policy, though the principles of that policy be even as correct and just, retrogression and decay must ensue. We should, also, sedulously guard against innovations and untried experiments in our system of law and government as an evil greatly to be deprecated. We have before us an example of thirty States of the American Union who have adopted almost the same unvarying plan of government and law—exceptions only occurring where local peculiarities made them necessary and appropriate—and all of them have experienced under it unprecedented prosperity and renown. It is better to adhere to those principles and systems, which have been matured by time and tested by experience, than follow after ideal and imaginary good. The highway which has been successfully trodden by our sisters may be safely and prudently pursued by us. So long as we adopt and adhere to American precedents we need not blush for our plagiarism.

It has been wisely remarked, "That the fewer and plainer the laws by which a people are governed, the better." The leading objects of Legislation are few and simple, and may be embraced within a narrow compass. All beyond is either supererogation or actual injury, and serves but to complicate that which should be direct and simple. There is much in the remark that "danger to popular governments is to be apprehended from being governed too much." Few laws, well directed, will effect more good than numberless statutes restraining, fettering and directing private enterprize. The greatest liberty consistent with good government is the true principle of Republics, and will contribute most to the development of the resources and energies of' a people.

When we look abroad over our State, we cannot fail to perceive how greatly altered and rapidly progressive is her condition. But a short time since and we were a roving and unsettled people; mere "dwellers in tents." Our rich valleys were wild and unbroken by the plough, and even our cities were only places of temporary sojourn, where we took up our lodgings but for a season. How changed now is the prospect! Our valleys are beginning to teem with the rich products of agriculture; the neat and comfortable dwelling, surrounded by the well cultivated farm, meets us on every hand. No circumstance could demonstrate more forcibly our advancement in all the elements of State greatness and stability. With heartfelt pleasure will I lend all the aid in my power to promote the interests of Agriculture, by securing to the poor and industrious a home and a freehold, and thus, whilst ameliorating their condition, bind them more closely to their country. The greatest strength and wealth of a State consists in her hardy yeomanry. When by luxury and dissipation virtue and honesty take their flight from our cities, they will find a cherished home around the hearth of the generous farmer. I am a firm believer in the most liberal policy towards those who lead the way in bringing into subjection the wild and unsettled lands of the wilderness; and will use every exertion to obtain the extension of the pre-emption and donation system over the State.

The Mechanic Arts are also of vast importance to us in the cultivation of a spirit of enterprise, industry and invention; and they serve to rear up a class of citizens than whom none are more valuable and useful.

Commerce is, in our country, of native growth, and requires no stimulus save that of free trade and unrestricted competition. To extend this—to relieve it of all unnecessary embarrassments, and to faithfully execute all provisions of either the State or General Government which have for their object the promotion and protection of our yet inadequately provided for commerce, shall constitute one of the chief aims of' my administration. To the General Government we are to look chiefly for facilities which shall promote and foster our interests in this respect and, so far as Executive influence can avail anything, I shall endeavor to secure them.

Our mining interests are of inestimable value in affording lucrative employment to a large number of citizens, and supplying us with the sinews of energy, enterprize ,and improvement. The mines should be left as free as the air we breathe. At present no proposition to lease or sell them should be, for a moment, entertained, because the inevitable tendency of such policy would be the establishment of monopolies, which would serve more than every thing else besides to paralyze the energies of the most enterprising and energetic class of men the world has ever seen.

Up to this time we have made little or no progress in Manufactures. No State of the Union, however, it is believed, possesses greater facilities for manufacturing purposes than this of ours; and whatever will conduce to the development of her resources in this particular should, and, I trust, will be speedily considered. I need scarcely say that my cordial co-operation will be given to all efforts having for their object the attainment of this desirable end.

In surveying the diversified capabilities of our State—her Commercial, Agricultural, Grazing, Mining and Manufacturing—we may safely challenge the world to present a parallel. It will be our own fault, then, if California does not grow to be one of the most prosperous and flourishing States of the Union. Providence seems to have designed her for no ordinary destiny, for, nowhere are combined so many of the elements of greatness. I refer; of course to her natural advantages. All the evils which have heretofore attended her may be ascribed to adventitious causes. Her growth and development, great as it confessedly has been, has yet been seriously retarded by financial embarrassments. These, however, may be obviated and removed by wisdom, economy and integrity. A State possessing the resources of this, cannot be long burdened with debt under judicious management. It shall be one of my cherished objects to remove this incubus of our prosperity. But, after all, fellow-citizens, laws and the efforts of Government exercise only an auxiliary influence in working out the problem of national greatness. The true element of greatness is with the people—in their economy, industry, integrity, intelligence and prudence. Education widely disseminated is a mighty means of advancing the happiness and elevating the condition of a people. Moral and Charitable Institutions, Associations for Internal Improvement, for the spread of useful knowledge and bringing within the power of man the hidden treasures of nature, are all powerful auxiliaries to individual and national improvement.

Although I fear you are already wearied, I feel that I should fall short of my duty did I not seize this occasion to warn you against some of the most prominent dangers which beset us. The spirit of the age may be truly said to be the passion for wealth and luxury, than which, nothing can be more inimical to the purity and stability of Republican Government. History teaches the destructive tendency of these vices. When a people become so far enamored of Gold as to gloss Guilt, and veil Ignorance when clothed in the garb of wealth, then it is, that virtue and real worth, the only true and stable pillars of our institutions, begin to totter, and the reins of power to gradually lapse into the hands of the inefficient and dishonest.

A spirit of disaffection towards the Union, and a disposition on the part of some to interfere with the affairs and domestic institutions of other States is becoming too apparent. Those who indulge these dangerous sentiments could not more widely mistake the object for which these States confederated, nor the true duties of a good citizen. It is not ours, as politicians, to become the fanatical propagandists of mere moral tenets. Our Union was formed for no such purpose; but, on the contrary, for the mutual protection of each other in such forms of Republican Government, and such domestic regulations as each might choose to adopt. The storm has not yet ceased to howl around us which had well nigh razed to its foundation this most glorious of Civil Governments.

It is to be hoped that California will be found at all times the earnest and unwavering friend and advocate of Union; that she will devote her energies, sedulously and exclusively to the development of her own resources, and modeling her own domestic institutions, freely permitting to others the enjoyment of the same high privilege. It shall be the constant care of my administration to carefully cultivate a spirit of harmony and conciliation, and to resist all attempts to alienate these States one from another. In union consists our national being: with it we must stand or fall, and the day which writes its epitaph will sound the dirge of American glory and renown.

The Constitution of our common country, it has been well remarked, "Is an object to which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. On parts, provisions or phrases, it is still and always will be possible for ingenuity to raise constructive doubts; but on the whole, as the Organic Chart of a limited, confederated government, a practical trial of more than sixty years, would seem to place its wisdom and efficiency beyond dispute or rivalry." To support this Constitution, then, in spirit and letter, is the imperative duty of every good citizen, and especially is a strict conformity to its requirements obligatory upon all in official stations.

The quiet of our beloved country and the preservation of our glorious Union, may be said to depend on a careful compliance on the part of the people of the several States, with its wise and liberal provisions. The people of California, ardently devoted as they are, to the Constitution and the Union, it is scarcely necessary to affirm, warmly approve the Compromise Measures, which were adopted by Congress, at a time when the peace if not the integrity of the Union, was seriously endangered. As the first Executive chosen by the people since the admission of California into the Union, I stand pledged to exercise all the powers vested in me by the Constitution to enforce obedience to the requirements of these judicious enactments, and invoking the aid of Divine Wisdom to direct and the public voice to sustain me, this high duty will be cheerfully assumed and promptly discharged.

In conclusion, permit me, Fellow Citizens of Senate and Assembly, to assure you, that, as Chief Executive, it will afford me unfeigned pleasure, at all times, to coöperate with you in the exercise of all the powers delegated .by the Constitution to promote the true interests of the people by' advancing the substantial prosperity of the State' and to express the hope that in the faithful discharge of our respective duties the same great object—the promotion of the good of the common whole—will conduce to harmony and concert between the Legislative and Executive branches of the State Government. Relying upon the goodness of a superintending Providence, let us enter earnestly and faithfully upon the great work before us.