At the Behest of President Polk, Secretary of State James Buchanan Welcomes California to the American Family and Praises American Institutions

“Heaven has blessed our happy land with a Government which secures equal rights to all our citizens, and has produced Peace, Happiness and Contentment...”

On May 30, 1848, the peace treaty between the United States and Mexico became effective. This made California the property of the Unites States, but Congress did not move immediately to establish a government there. This was a significant issue, as with Mexican authority lapsed and American governance not established, Californians were...

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At the Behest of President Polk, Secretary of State James Buchanan Welcomes California to the American Family and Praises American Institutions

“Heaven has blessed our happy land with a Government which secures equal rights to all our citizens, and has produced Peace, Happiness and Contentment...”

On May 30, 1848, the peace treaty between the United States and Mexico became effective. This made California the property of the Unites States, but Congress did not move immediately to establish a government there. This was a significant issue, as with Mexican authority lapsed and American governance not established, Californians were concerned about their status. On August 14, President Polk signed “An act to establish certain postal routes” and “to make arrangements for the establishment of post offices, and for the transmission, receipt and conveyance of letters in Oregon and California.” Under this law, William V. Voorhees was named on-site agent of the United States to accomplish this purpose. Thus he was the senior (if not sole) official U.S. government civilian presence at the birth of American rule in California.

In order to address concerns about governance in California, President Polk had Secretary of State James Buchanan send Voorhees a letter dated October 7, 1848 and designed for publication, containing the official statement of policy of the United States government and conveying “to the people of California the views of President Polk respecting their condition and prospects…” Specifically, it congratulated California on its annexation to the United States, assured that passage of the postal law constituted legal acceptance of the annexation on the part of the United States, and that the U.S. had California’s interests at heart, instructed that the existing local governments would stay in place until replaced, and promised that Congress would provide it with a territorial government as soon as feasible. It also became famous for its lofty characterization of the benefits enjoyed by American citizens.

Manuscript Quotation Signed, Washington, late 1848, being an excerpt from that very letter containing those characterization: “…Whilst the other nations of the world are distracted by domestic dissensions, and are involved in a struggle between the privileges of the few and the rights of the many, Heaven has blessed our happy land with a Government which secures equal rights to all our citizens, and has produced Peace, Happiness and Contentment throughout our borders. It has combined Liberty with Order, and all the sacred and indefeasible rights of the citizens with the strictest observance of law…”.

This unique manuscript was obtained from Buchanan by Adam J. Glossbrenner, who was Clerk of the State Department during Buchanan’s tenure there, and was later Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives and then Buchanan’s private secretary.

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