George Stoneman

15th Governor, Democrat

Inaugural Address

Delivered: January 10, 1883


It is a matter of congratulation that we meet under such favorable circumstances. Our people are, in the main, happy, contented, and prosperous. The seasons have, in their turn, bestowed upon us their blessings. The products of the soil have been abundant, and, despite the unreasonable charges for transportation to market from some sections, have yielded a fair return to the producer. The political situation indicates an awakening—in the public mind, and, in my opinion, gives assurance of continued prosperity. Some problems have been solved by the political contests just ended. Among other things, it has been demonstrated that combinations of men, organized for the purpose of advancing the political interests of particular persons and factions, cannot override the will of the people; that the interference of Federal authority in the local affairs of the States will not be tolerated; that the assessment of Federal officeholders and employees, for the purpose of raising large sums of money to corrupt the electors of the States, in order to secure the election and return of particular candidates, cannot avail against the united and determined voice of the people; and that the wasteful and extravagant expenditure of the public moneys meets with disfavor and condemnation by all. The results of the late political contests have given renewed confidence to the advocates of popular elections, and have strengthened the faith of believers in the incorruptibility of the people.

Let us, however, in the hour of our success, not forget that the people have bestowed upon us a great and responsible public trust, and that if we do not fill the measure of their expectations they may as readily transfer their confidence to another party, as they have in this instance given it to the party now dominant. Let us never forget that, under our form of government, the people are the sovereigns and we are the servants; that we are but instruments to effect their purposes; that we are placed temporarily in power to carry out their will. Let us then go forward, without faltering, to the accomplishment of our duty; always acting for the best interests of those whose servants we are, and carefully, religiously, endeavoring to fulfill to the letter the pledges and obligations of our platforms, and the principles of our parties.

I believe it is not customary on an occasion like this to make any elaborate recommendations to your honorable bodies as to the legislation most necessary to be considered at the session just commencing. Many of the subjects to be dealt with by you, being in some measure new to me, I shall at this time content myself with presenting to you a brief outline of the general policy intended to be pursued by me, together with a few recommendations which I consider most pertinent to the occasion. I shall, however, during your present session, take the liberty of communicating with you, from time to time, on such special subjects as may, in my opinion, require your attention.

By the decisions of the Courts, our State Board of Equalization has been shorn of much of the power intended to be conferred upon it by the Constitution. I recommend that you take such steps, as in your judgment may seem proper, to give force and efficacy to the business and orders of that department. In this connection, I desire to call your special attention to the fact that several of the great corporations, created by and under existing laws, have not proven obedient to the laws, and have refused, and still refuse, to bear the just burden placed upon them for their own protection. These interests receive the full benefits of our Courts, the services of our officers—in a word, the full protection and advantages of all our laws—yet refuse, except in a few instances, where compelled, at the end of tedious and vexatious litigation, to contribute anything for the protection and advantages received by them. The present attitude of these corporations is such as to demand, in the interest of common justice to other taxpayers, that laws be passed to bring them within the spirit of the obvious intent of the organic Act of the State. The whole power of the State, within lawful limits, should be exercised to compel them to bear their just proportion of the burdens of government. Powers created by the State cannot, and shall not with my consent, be permitted to become independent of or greater than the State. In the majesty of their sovereign power, the people, through their fundamental law, formulated a system of taxation satisfactory to them, under which it was hoped that railroad corporations, heretofore evading the payment of their proper share of taxation, should find no further methods of escape. Every department of government dependent upon revenue for its support is suffering from this wrong. To permit it to continue is to admit that the State has fostered a servant who has grown into an insolent and tyrannical master. The offended power looks to the proper tribunal—the Legislature—for measures of relief.

Three years have now elapsed since the people solemnly expressed their views upon the subject of the regulation of fares and freights, and delegated to a Commission, chosen under the new organic law, the authority to execute their expressed will. For years the demand for the regulation of fares and freights, and the prevention of discrimination, has been universal; but every movement looking toward the accomplishment of such a wish has been attended by defeat. It is to be deeply regretted that the retiring Railroad Commission has entirely neglected and refused, during the term for which its members were elected, to take any positive steps toward enforcing the powers conferred upon it by the Constitution and the laws. All hope of relief from the Commission has, thus far, been deferred. It is to be earnestly hoped that the incoming Commission will prove to be composed of men of sufficient courage and sagacity to meet this issue in a spirit of fairness; to deal justly by the transportation companies and candidly by the people. I wish it to be distinctly understood that all the power and influence of the Executive Department of the Government will be cheerfully exercised on behalf of the Commission, to bring the issue between the people and the transportation companies to a final and satisfactory termination. The question of the regulation of fares and freights is the great living issue of the day, and no postponement of its solution to the future time will prove satisfactory either to the people of this State or the Union. The question of the power of the State to fix and regulate the charges for fares and freights upon transportation lines, within the State, has passed beyond the limit of legitimate argument; though even now, after the decisions of the Court of last resort, there are those — managers of transportation lines — who hold and publicly avow, as their convictions, that railroads, built and equipped at the public expense, by public authority, for the public use, are the exclusive property of the managers and stockholders; and they still acknowledge no right, in the public which conflicts with their alleged right of sole ownership. As to the policy of enforcing the power of the State to regulate fares and freights, there cannot, since the result of the late election, be further doubt. While the Executive has no desire or intention to interfere with the functions of any other department, except such power as is given to and required of him, to see that the laws are faithfully executed, and that the duties of each office are properly performed, yet it may not be out of place in this connection to state that, in my opinion, it is the imperative duty of the rightful authority to immediately take all proper and necessary steps toward the accomplishment of the mission for which they were placed in power, and ascertain, once for all, whether the Constitution and laws are to be obeyed by all, or whether the creatures of the law are superior to it.

Sumptuary laws are, and ever have been, opposed to Democratic teachings, and find no support among liberal minded people. For many years Sections 299, 300, and 301 of the Penal Code, commonly called the "Sunday Law," have been on our statute books. Under slightly varying forms this law has been in existence in this State during the major portion of the past quarter of a century. Now and then spasmodic efforts have been made to enforce it, but without success. In every contest before the Courts the condition of public opinion has been shown by the fact that the law has been practically placed on trial, and not the particular defendant at the bar. In cases where the testimony adduced has been conclusive that the alleged offense has been committed, juries have almost uniformly refused to convict—a state of facts never before observed with reference to any other portion of our criminal jurisprudence. Such is the condition of the sections above cited. It is unwise to cumber the statute books with an enactment which experience has proven cannot be enforced. The result at the late election is an emphatic endorsement of the attitude of the now dominant party on this important subject, and our duty in the premises is perfectly clear. We all concede that those sections of our Codes which provide for certain holidays and non-judicial days are essential to happiness and health. The repeal of the "Sunday Law" will in nowise interfere with the permanency or effect of our civil legislation in the matter of a day of rest; nor is there any disposition to disturb those penal enactments which are intended to protect religious assemblages from all unseemly interference. The right to worship, free from hindrance or molestation, should always be carefully guarded.

One of the most important duties devolving upon the Legislature at the present session is the apportionment of the State into Congressional, Senatorial, and Assembly Districts. For reasons which it is unnecessary to discuss, the last Legislature failed to comply with the constitutional mandate in this respect. That the people of the State have a right to, and do expect, a fair apportionment, cannot be denied. Section 6, of Article IV, of the Constitution, ordains that, "for the purpose of choosing members of the Legislature, the State shall be divided into forty Senatorial and eighty Assembly Districts." In Section 27 of the same Article is found the organic rule relative to the creation of Congressional Districts. The passage of a law carrying out the provisions of these sections, in a fair and impartial manner, is one of the matters which should engage your early attention. Instances are not infrequent in which the party in power, anxious to perpetuate its authority, has enacted an apportionment law for purely partisan purposes. In these cases little or no regard has been had for local desires or the general welfare. The massing of opposition majorities, and a study of how the vote of the party in power should be distributed, so as best to subserve party ends, have generally been the only objects considered. It is to be doubted whether any real and ultimate party advantage has ever been attained by such an unpatriotic procedure. Honest effort is the only unerring guide to lasting success. But apart from their political effect, the methods which I have criticised are intrinsically wrong. The constitutional mandate is clear and positive. Its phraseology evinces an unmistakable desire, in the minds of its framers and those by whom it was ratified, to prevent anything but an impartial apportionment. I am fully satisfied that the present Legislature is in accord with me on this subject, and the views I have expressed are identical with theirs.

Within the past year Congress has granted to the people of this coast partial relief from the much deplored evil of Chinese immigration. For such relief as has been obtained, and for legislation which, while it might justly and properly have extended much farther, the people are to be congratulated, and our Senators and Representatives in Congress are entitled to the thanks of the public. There are some who affect to believe this important question finally settled by the statute referred to. There are those who evince a desire to nullify its effect by a loose construction of its terms and an inefficient execution of its provisions. The law had hardly taken effect when another bill was introduced into the Senate of the United States, and I believe is now pending in that body, under which many thousands of Chinese, now serving under labor contracts in the West India Islands, might be permitted to cross the territory of the United States to their homes in the Chinese Empire. Considering that we have no power to deport the Chinese if they were once permitted to land in this country, they might remain here permanently. Against this new danger the people of this coast will depend upon their Representatives in Congress to guard.

Other matters of somewhat perplexing natures upon which you will be called to legislate are: a general road law, general laws providing for the incorporation for municipal purposes of cities and towns, and laws establishing a system of county governments, which shall be uniform throughout the State, classifying the counties thereunder, fixing the salaries of officers, etc. Prompt legislation on these subjects is much needed. From the variety of local interests, as well as the peculiar topography of our State, you will experience some difficulty in agreeing upon satisfactory laws on these subjects, but by exercising a spirit of mutual concession you will doubtless arrive at just conclusions. The congregate system of imprisonment, which, owing to the peculiar construction and want of cell-room in our prisons, is necessarily in vogue therein, is, in my opinion, not conducive to the moral well-being of the prisoner. The most important object of penal confinement ought to be to effect a reformation, either partial or total, of the prisoner, so that when his sentence expires, he may go forth into society a better man. I would respectfully recommend that, if practicable, a system of isolation and solitary confinement be instituted among those of the most vicious character. In the absence of such a system of isolation, San Quentin Prison, from its geographical position, might be made a distributing prison. All convicts should be sentenced to that institution, in order that they may be registered and graded by the Prison Directors—selecting those for distribution to Folsom, and any other branch prison hereafter established. After careful study, and an examination of past records, the comparatively good should be retained, and the vicious and incorrigible confined at another prison, so far as the interests of the State may permit. To carry out this system, all commitments should be retained at San Quentin, and a list each month, with the date of discharge, forwarded to the branch prison, of those transferred and discharged. All pardons and commitments should be forwarded by the Governor to San Quentin, and if the prisoner be at the branch prison, the order for his discharge should follow him there. All deaths and escapes at the branch prison should be reported to San Quentin, to be there entered of record. This system, strictly carried out, would form a perfect record of the antecedents and disposition of all convicts within the State. This system is not only essential for the good of the prisoner, and for the guidance of the Directors, but would enable the District Attorneys of each county to be always able to procure a complete record, to embody in their informations, or indictments, the number of convictions of each defendant, if any such there be, as they are now compelled by law to do, under what is known as the "Prior Conviction Act."

In a large portion of the State agricultural interests are being developed by the aid of irrigation. The history of all countries dependent upon irrigation shows that this practice has necessitated the enactment of laws specially designed for the protection and regulation of irrigation; the maintenance of order, equity, and economy, in the appropriation and use of waters, and that the subject has been one most difficult to deal with in legislation. Our own experience, limited though it be, is sufficient to establish this fact, as our Courts are crowded with litigation growing Out of irrigation practices, which constitutes a serious drawback to our prosperity. I mention this subject, perhaps to the exclusion of others equally deserving of attention, because the defects of the present system have fallen directly under my own observation, and I invite your earnest consideration of it, believing that careful action is necessary to establish confidence for the present and to guard against embarrassing complications in the future.

It is one of our cardinal doctrines that "it is the duty of the State to provide for every child within its limits the advantages of a common school education," and it is to be hoped that in the future, as in the past, this principle will be strictly adhered to.

There are many other matters in which the State is directly interested, and which it would be proper to discuss, but, as stated, I have confined myself to those which are deemed most important at this time.

It will be the province of the Legislature to examine and inquire into the conduct of the affairs of the State Insane Asylums, the State Normal Schools, the State University, the Asylum for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, and into the management of those orphan asylums receiving State aid. I believe you will enter upon the discharge of your responsible duties with an honest desire to advance the best interests of the State. It shall be my constant aim and endeavor, during my term of office, to make economy in the expenditure of the public moneys and in maintaining the public institutions the principal features of this administration, and I request your cordial cooperation to that end. Every bill containing an appropriation of money will be closely scanned, and unless the necessity of the appropriation is apparent, it will not receive the Executive approval. Another matter, against which it would be well to guard, is the creation of new offices and commissions, and the perpetuation of useless ones now in existence, if any such there should be. To lighten the burdens of taxation, to reduce the expenses to the lowest possible standard, to allow the largest personal liberty consistent with the general welfare, not to govern except where government is necessary, to administer the law evenly and impartially on all classes and interests—these are my ideas of the requirements of the day, and of the true theory of our form of government; and whatever of ability I may possess shall be devoted to the administration of the government on these principles.