On September 1, 1849, elected representatives of ten California districts met in Monterey to draft a constitution for a new state, in hopes that it would be admitted into the United States. This Constitutional Convention met to determine the future of the land called by the Spanish and the Mexicans, "Alta California".
In the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War, Mexico ceded to the U.S. the lands that make up much of the Western United States. At almost the same time, the discovery of Gold at Sutter’s Creek set off an international emigration into California that dramatically altered the social and political character of the region. Californians believed that the United States government was moving too slowly in making decisions regarding the newly acquired western lands. Brigadier General Bennett Riley, head of the military government established to govern California, decided to call a constitutional convention in Monterey, California. He took this action to ensure not only law and order in the new land but also proper representation of the people in Washington, D.C.
Forty-eight delegates, of interesting and diverse backgrounds, met in Colton Hall for the convention. Thirty-six of the men were born in the United States; six were native-born Californios, and the remaining came from Spain, Ireland, Scotland, France, and Switzerland. Their backgrounds varied, but law, ranching and merchandising predominated. Because not all the delegates spoke English, the proceedings were translated into Spanish by English merchant of Monterey, William Hartnell. For six weeks the men worked on creating California’s first constitution. They met in the small schoolrooms of the first floor of Colton Hall on specific issues, then came together in the large second story hall to debate and vote. The work was completed and the final constitution, written in both English and Spanish, was signed on October 13, 1849.
Important issues were debated during the convention. Article XII, which dealt with the placement of the new states’ eastern boundary, took up many days of debate. The Sierra Nevada was finally settled upon because it was felt the mountain range made not only a natural boundary, but also a defensible border. A unanimous vote proclaimed California as a free state, a decision that was of vital importance to the balance of power between the slave-owning states and those, which stood against slavery. The first capital of California was designated to be San Jose. Rights of suffrage, who could hold an elected office, education, and women’s property rights were some of the issues that were settled during the convention. When the constitution was signed, General Riley addressed the assembled delegates with these words:
"I am satisfied now that the people have done right in selecting delegates to form a constitution. They have chosen a body of men upon whom our country may look with pride; you have formed a constitution worthy of California. And I have no fear for California while her people choose their representatives so wisely. Gentlemen, I congratulate you upon the successful conclusion of your arduous labors; and I wish you all happiness and prosperity."
After the people of California approved the new constitution it was sent to the United States government. It took nearly a year for Congress to deliberate over the question of admitting California into the Union. Finally, on September 9, 1850, President Millard Fillmore signed the documents declaring California the 31st