Frederick Low

9th Governor, Unionist

Inaugural Address

Delivered: December 10, 1863


In cheerful compliance with established usage, I desire to present, in general terms, the policy by which I intend to be guided in the discharge of the responsible trust which you have placed in my keeping. If I enter upon the duties of the Executive office with some natural misgivings, arising from a want of that long experience in public affairs which one of more years might have brought to the service of the State, they are in some degree compensated by a consciousness that my desire to be faithful in this high office is unalloyed by any less worthy aims.

While the Executive Department has but little power other than its designation indicates, it is always properly held responsible for a failure to suggest to the Legislature measures so evidently necessary and desirable as to insure co-operation and success. The recent amendments to the Constitution have increased the term of the Governor’s office to four years—a period of time during which great changes must of necessity occur in the wants and resources of the State. The Legislature will hereafter convene biennially only, and the wants of two years, instead of one, as heretofore, are to be anticipated and provided for at each session. This new order of things—calculated to lessen the expenses of the Government, and to give to our legislation more permanence than has been hitherto enjoyed—increases the responsibility of both the Executive and the Legislature, and makes an additional call upon their zeal and watchfulness in the conduct of public affairs. While I shall affect no unbecoming distrust of the future in this connection, I have thought it well thus to remind you at the outset that these constitutional reforms impose some labors differing from those of previous administrations.

My primary duty of seeing that the laws are faithfully executed will happily be an easy one, for amid the throes of a terrible civil war, the people of California have steadfastly maintained their established regard for local authority. The executive officers of the Courts will not be likely to require any aid from beyond their respective neighborhoods in the performance of their duties.

In view, however, of our National troubles, and of possible (let us hope not probable) foreign complications, this habitual respect for our State laws, and for the decrees of our Courts, will not render it wise for us to disregard the importance of a well organized and disciplined militia. The able-bodied men of the State ought certainly to be instructed in the use of arms and in military drill. Whether this desirable end cannot be attained, and the efficiency of the militia be promoted by such modifications of the present system as will materially lessen the expense, is a subject well worthy of consideration. Our people have in times past given but little thought to the organization of the militia, and I should regret to see any check given to the growing inclination to bestow upon the matter the attention its importance demands. At the same time, utility rather than a love of display should be kept in view, and economy be thereby consulted.

The financial condition of the State demands serious attention, and the immediate adoption of measures which shall not only provide for necessary current expenditures, but by which the floating debt shall be surely extinguished and our affairs be placed upon a cash basis. Whether this is to be accomplished by an increase of the revenues, or by a decrease of the expenditures, or both, or by other means, I have now no data upon which to base any suggestions. It must be apparent to any one who has examined into thc public finances, that the State is paying an interest, directly and indirectly, of two per cent per month as a minimum, on a large portion of the current expenditures. Until a remedy can be found for this state of things, little hope can be entertained of inaugurating, in many departments, reforms which seem necessary—nay, imperative. I shall at an early day inform myself concerning the condition of the finances, and transmit the result to the Legislature, accompanied with such recommendations as may seem to me practical and conducive to the ends I have indicated.

It will devolve upon me to make some appointments to office. In the discharge of this responsible duty I shall endeavor to select men of earnest loyalty, unquestionable integrity, and the requisite capacity. I believe that these are times in which men of intelligence, energy, conscience and courage should alone be placed in positions of trust and influence. It will be my aim to appoint such, and none others, to the few places I am charged with filling, to the exclusion of drones whose small talents and less energies are usually exhausted in efforts to obtain places which they are not competent to fill. It would, I think, be well if all officers, not elected by the people could be made more directly responsible than many of them are under existing laws to the power appointing them. If the Executive, or the Legislature, or any Board of officers authorized to make appointments, find that confidence has been misplaced, the unworthy recipient should be subject to removal by the power which appointed him. This is particularly to be desired now when every man’s fidelity to the right is undergoing the severest conceivable tests, and when time-servers may, almost any day, make some one of the great events of the war a pretext for opposition to the National Government. I trust that the importance of this subject will not be overlooked by the Legislature.

The veto power conferred by the Constitution upon the Governor should be used with caution, and only in cases where to refrain would be detrimental to the best interests of the State. In considering bills which may come to me for my official sanction, while I should greatly regret to differ with the legislative representatives of the people, I shall not forget that I, too, have been intrusted with a share of the responsibility in the matter, and that I cannot render a good account of my stewardship if my approval is given to a single Act which my judgment tells me is inconsistent with the fundamental law or with the public welfare.

The support of penal, reformatory, and benevolent institutions forms a part of the burdens which must always be borne by well regulated communities. In this State there are, in addition to the usual public institutions of this character, a number of private charitable enterprises, which have hitherto received material aid from the State—the appropriations in their behalf amounting last year to thirty thousand dollars. Such munificent gifts in aid of suffering and helpless humanity would be a source of pride to every good citizen, if the State had anything to give; but appropriations so large of mere promises to pay, while State warrants to the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars are selling in the market at rates far from flattering to the public credit, seem to me to be an exhibition of generosity at the expense of justice towards those who have become creditors of the State. I am firmly of the opinion that no additional debt should be created for these purposes, and that the various local charities should, for the present at least, rely upon the aid of private citizens, and, where circumstances justify it, of the county authorities. Our State Prison system is far from perfect; the various attempts at reform heretofore made not having been followed by the desired results. It shall be my endeavor to do something toward making the prisoners support themselves by their own labor. The Prison, in its present state, but poorly answers the purpose for which it was intended, and until a considerable outlay is made, to enable the enforcement of discipline by the solitary confinement of the disobedient, it will be next to impossible to compel the labor of the convicts. It would be economy for the State to make some provision for the necessary improvements.

The Insane Asylum will, I trust, under the provisions of the Act of the last Legislature, be so improved and enlarged as to be fully adequate to thc wants of the unfortunate class for whom it is intended, thus permanently disposing of the proposition heretofore frequently agitated, for a branch Asylum in some other portion of the State.

The reformation of juvenile offenders has become an established portion of the labor and expense of good and wise governments in the older States, and in Europe. It seems that but few offenders have been sent to our State Reform School. From this it would appear, either that there are very few boys in the State, outside of San Francisco, requiring the discipline of such a school, or very few men who attend to the duty of sending them there. The subject is one that is everywhere else deemed worthy of more consideration than it has thus far received in California.

The State has, with commendable liberality, provided for the care and education of the deaf, dumb, and blind. An appropriation of seventy-five thousand dollars for the completion of the Asylum buildings was submitted to a vote of the people at the late election, and the proposition was indorsed [sic] by the popular vote. It may well be questioned whether so large an amount is necessary to provide adequate accommodations for this unfortunate class, and it is to be hoped that the Commissioners in whose charge this matter is, will keep in view the embarrassed condition of the State, and expend only so much of the Fund as may be absolutely necessary.

Special legislation has been a crying evil in this State. A large proportion of each session of the Legislature has been consumed in listening to the advocates of relief bills, bills granting franchises and other special privileges, and bills even to advance the personal interests of criminals, litigants in civil cases, and the Administrators of the estates of deceased persons. The Legislature cannot judge as intelligently concerning the bridges, ferries, and roads of the several counties as can the county authorities, nor concerning the rights of parties in Courts as can the Judges thereof. Believing that bills of the character referred to are too often allied together, and passed by the joint efforts of the friends of all, I shall not hesitate to withhold my approval from any bill granting privileges which might have been granted, under the general laws of the State, by the Supervisors of the county therein concerned, had they deemed it, advisable, or any bill intended to aid parties in Court to favors denied them there. It may be, that the general laws intended to confer upon Supervisors the authority requisite for the proper management of local concerns are in some particulars insufficient for the purpose. If it should so appear, the true remedy is to be found in proper amendments to those laws; but under the guise of a general law no special interests should be subserved.

The San Francisco water front has been a perplexing subject in and out of the Legislature for several years past; but fortunately for the interests of the State it was finally disposed of by the Act of last session, and will henceforth hardly be a public question, excepting so far as the general desire is concerned to see the existing legislation upon the subject faithfully carried out.

The cause of education must always be regarded as of the very first importance by those who desire the perpetuation of our free republican system of government. The right of the people to govern themselves is of no value unless coupled with the capacity to govern themselves well. It is essential, then, that all classes of the community should enjoy the benefits of a liberal and enlightened educational system. Probably this has been as well cared for in this State as our rapid growth would permit; but there is ample room for improvement, and I sincerely trust that, at the close of my term of office it will be found that such progress has been made as the times shall have demanded and our means justified. The proceeds of the bounties so liberally granted to the State by the General Government for School purposes should be inviolably preserved to their proper uses, and the debt due to the School Fund—which under no pretence should ever have been contracted—should be preferred before all other claims. The State Normal School, now in its infancy, will doubtless prove the same indispensable auxiliary to the general cause that similar institutions have become in older communities, and should be liberally fostered. The conditions imposed by the Acts of Congress granting lands to the State in aid of institutions of learning of a higher order, render it necessary that steps be taken speedily to avail ourselves of the benefits to be derived from these munificent donations.

I am glad to see a growing disposition among the people to guard the elective franchise from abuse, and to erect additional guards to its fair exercise. Nothing can so greatly conduce to this end as a well considered and practical Registry Law. The slight inconvenience which such an enactment would impose upon the legal voters of the State would be much more than compensated by the security it would give them against being overborne at elections by fraudulent voting. Of the constitutionality of such a measure I have no doubt, although I am aware that many persons entertain a different opinion; and it is unfortunate, perhaps, that a provision giving to the Legislature ample power over the subject in clear and unmistakable language, was not submitted to the people among the late amendments to the Constitution.

Our agricultural districts are being steadily settled by an industrious and stable population, whose patient and well directed energy will in a few years place California in the front rank of the Agricultural States. For this we are indebted to the wise and generous Public Land policy of the National Government, and in co-operating [sic] by every means possible with that policy we shall best promote the material interests of the State, and at the same time encourage the industry of a worthy class of citizens, upon whom the prosperity of the State must always largely depend. Commerce is an element of great importance to our State, and it is her true policy to provide ample accommodations for it, and place upon it as few restrictions as are consistent with the enforcement of such police regulations for our ports as may from time to time be found necessary. No tax should ever be laid upon commerce for the aggrandizement of individuals or corporations, or for the support of useless public officers.

While evidences are multiplying around us of the steady progress, in the State, of her agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing interests, it is apparent to every one that our mining interest is far the most important of any, and must continue to be so for some years to come. The policy of the General Government in respect to the mines is well understood; and assurances have been very recently publicly given that no change is contemplated or considered desirable. So long as the title of the United States to the mineral lands is recognized and respected by those engaged in working them, the local regulations of each district, made by the miners themselves, will continue to prevail. The attempts made some years since, in an opinion by one of our then Supreme Judges, to assert for California the ownership of the mineral lands of the United States within her boundaries, was so repugnant to the loyal sentiment of our people, and so manifestly in conflict with the rightful sovereignty of the Nation, that but few men can now be found who have the hardihood to engage in its defence. I have always considered it as most consonant with our popular form of government, and at the same time the wisest policy financially, both for the State and the United States, to encourage all citizens to enter freely upon the public mineral lands for mining purposes. In the present embarrassed condition of the National finances, it seems to me peculiarly desirable that every encouragement should be given to the increased production of the precious metals. The present system is unquestionably the best one by which the mineral wealth of our State can be made available to the country; any radical change in it would only serve to lock up our gold in the bowels of the earth, which would be a short-sighted policy indeed. It is fortunate that, on the one hand, the General Government adheres steadfastly to its established course, and on the other hand, that our California miners are ready to show at all times a proper understanding of the fact that they are upon the lands of the United States.

The Geological Survey of the State, which is in the hands of a gentleman of high national reputation, is an important branch of the public service. The publication of the results of his labors will give to the world a correct knowledge of our mineral resources, which can be imparted in no other manner so likely to carry conviction. The cost of the survey, and of the publication hereafter of its reports, is as nothing compared with the advantages to be derived by the State. I hope the State Geologist, and those whom he has selected to aid him, will receive that encouragement and material aid to which their capacity and zeal, and the magnitude and character of their labors entitle them, and without which their useful work would have to be abandoned. I congratulate you, my fellow-citizens, upon the renewal you have recently made at the ballot box of your pledge to stand firmly by the National cause. Twenty thousand majority for Representatives in Congress, known to be the ardent friends of Liberty and Union, must finally destroy all hopes which foreign or domestic foes of the United States may ever have entertained of receiving aid and sympathy from the Pacific Coast. Our position on this great question has now been four times announced by ballot since the commencement of the Southern rebellion, and four times has the popular will here emphatically declared against any other peace than that which will follow upon the submission of the rebels to the Nation’s rightful authority. To the States now loyal is California indebted for all that Congress ever did for her advancement—from the Act of Admission in eighteen hundred and fifty, upon which the now insurgent chiefs threatened secession, down to the Pacific Railroad Act of eighteen hundred and sixty-two, which those bad men had lost the right to longer oppose in Congress; and this, too, notwithstanding the persistency with which, up to eighteen hundred and sixty-one, she clung to her unnatural alliance with the Cotton State politicians. If our brethren in the North and West were so ready to respond to our calls then, when we seemed cold and distant, we can hardly fail to be heard now, when we send to the Councils of the Nation men who are earnest co-laborers with them in the greatest cause ever contended for in the field or in the forum.

The admission of Nevada into the Union as a State, at the present session of Congress, is, I presume, a foregone conclusion. She will be the third State formed on this side of the continent within fourteen years, and, like her older neighbors—California, and Oregon—has already shown that she will be jealous of her reputation for fidelity to the Nation. Let us look to it, here on the Pacific slope, that such safeguards as prudence may dictate, be placed around this happy condition of things, to prevent the possibility of the current of civilized progress being stayed or turned back by disfranchised refugees from the rebellious regions.

The war for the suppression of the rebellion is making steady progress toward the accomplishment of that, its only end. During its continuance discussions naturally enough arise concerning the political effect of the rebellion upon the governmental organizations which existed at its commencement in the rebel communities. No combinations of men or of circumstances can prevent the proper and safe solution of the great problems involved in this terrible conflict. The events now transpiring seem, indeed, too mighty to be absolutely controlled by mere human agencies. The laws of change and of progress are doing their appointed work among this people, who, amid much material prosperity, suffered a domineering element to so gain strength as finally to set at defiance all previous restraints—appealing to the arbitrament of the sword when it could no longer control the ballot box. The great body of the Union men of the country are agreed upon this main proposition: that the rebel State authorities have no legitimacy or legal existence; that no loyal citizen of the United States can yield them willing obedience; and that our Government can never, without humiliation and disgrace, recognize any one of their acts. Other and loyal State Governments must succeed them as our arms prevail. Our whole duty now is by all possible means to strengthen our armies which are contending with the rebellion. By what agencies and through what modes local governments, republican in form, are to be re-established in those States by the loyal inhabitants, old and new, is not a vital question now, and cannot be until they have ceased to be battle fields. That the rebels will neither consent nor be permitted to participate in the erection of the new Union State Governments, is certain. That the loyal men who do erect those governments will do their work well, and make it worthy of the age, seems to me equally certain. With the triumph of our arms must come the destruction of the order of things by which a resort to them was compelled. This is the logic of events, and not a mere question of parchments. Let us all continue to agree with regard to these ends, and no means will ever be adopted by those we have intrusted with power which do not have them in view.

With a full determination to devote whatever of capacity and energy I may possess to the promotion of the best interests of the State and Nation, and invoking the assistance of Almighty God to guide me aright, I am now prepared to enter upon my official duties.