“Victory Perches on the Banner of the Gallant Democracy”: The Democratic and Union Tickets for the California State Election, 2 September 1863

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

While California remained apart in distance from the horrific battlefields of the Civil War, it was very much energized politically by the terrible conflict and had its own North/South divisions. Southern California was definitely more Southern in its attitudes and Confederate sympathizers and supporters were far more powerful through the dominant Democratic Party, which largely controlled the greater Los Angeles political scene in the era.

In the 1860 national elections, for example, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln fared badly in Los Angeles County (he won the local vote four years later only because of the presence of Union troops) and, while there were some members of the Grand Old Party in the area, they were more likely, once the war erupted, to call themselves Unionists. Among these was F.P.F. Temple, who hailed from Massachusetts, yet his father-in-law, William Workman, with whom he was close personally and professionally, was a Democrat.

How tied Workman was, however, with the pro-slavery (or “states rights”) contingent of the party is not known because, in his only attempt at political office when running for county supervisor in 1863, he was in a minority faction that lost to the mainstream Democrat candidates. Otherwise, we know nothing, to date, of his political views.

Los Angeles Star, 18 July 1863.

On the other hand, Temple ran for office several times: serving as Los Angeles city treasurer from 1850 to 1852, followed by a one-year term on the first Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors—during which time he was a member of the Whig Party, which, however, soon disintegrated. From the ashes rose, by the 1856 national elections, the Republicans, but Temple did not seek office again until this 1863 campaign, by which time he was a Union man.

Tonight’s highlighted artifacts from the Homestead’s holdings are state tickets for the Democratic and Union parties for that election, held on 2 September, and, while neither was printed in Los Angeles County (the former is from far-flung Del Norte County in the northwest corner of the state and the latter is undesignated), they are representative of the statewide office slates for the two parties.

The Union candidate for governor was Frederick F. Low, a native of Maine and one of the many gold-seeking ’49ers, whose earnings in the mines grubstaked his San Francisco mercantile house. Low served brief in the House of Representatives before mounting his campaign for the chief executive’s seat.

Star, 18 July 1863.

Facing off against the Unionist was John G. Downey of Los Angeles, who was born in Ireland, came to America as a teen, and who also came seeking his fortune in 1849, though he soon became a druggist in San Francisco before settling in the Angel City. While owning a successful drug store, Downey invested heavily in local real estate, while service twice on the Los Angeles Common Council (1852 and 1856) and resigned during that second term to take a seat in the state Assembly.

After a term in that body, Downey returned to the fray by running for Lieutenant Governor in the September 1859 election as a so-called Lecompton Democrat, a faction which was pro-slavery and sought to preserve the Union by forestalling secession of Southern states with its platform. Workman may well have been an anti-Lecompton and, therefore, anti-slavery Democrat, though, again, we don’t know enough about his views to determine if that was certain.

Downey won his seat, but Lecompton Democrat Milton Latham, who won the governor’s race, then won a special election for a United States Senate seat and resigned after just nine days in office, putting Downey in the chief executive’s office. Later in 1860, when the national elections were held, the governor switched to being an anti-Lecompton and, when the war burst forth, Downey pledged loyalty to the Union and justified this by his oath as governor to uphold the laws.

Star, 1 August 1863.

When his two-year term was coming to an end, Downey found himself without enough support from the main party factions to secure a nomination for the 1861 campaign. There were two Democrats who ran against Republican Leland Stanford of the Central Pacific Railroad and because of the split (the Democrats winning 53% of the vote), Stanford won the race with just 46% of the count, not unlike what happened with the 1992 presidential election.

Despite his being shut out of the nomination, Downey lobbied hard for 1863 and, when the party convention was held on 8 July in Sacramento, he was one of five men put forward as the potential party frontrunner, but, when his name was offered as the candidate by acclamation, it was stated “that under no circumstances” would he accept the nomination. Yet, when an informal vote was taken of the 329 delegates, Downey garnered just above 60% of the total. After some further haggling and a diversion to nominate candidates for Congress including former governors John B. Weller and John Bigler, Downey was finally nominated by acclamation.

Star, 5 September 1863.

He then addressed the convocation, expressing his thanks for “an honor for which a king might well be proud” and claiming to not have solicited the nomination from any delegate at the convention (though this is obviously hard to take seriously). He then went through the motions of demurring that there was a better candidate than him and, with expressions of sincere thanks, stated, “I am compelled to decline this compliment.” Weller then mounted the stage and insisted that it was by a broad consensus that Downey was to be the Democratic standard-bearer and that he could attribute two political defeats to him. He concluded that “the interests of the Democracy of California could not be disregarded in these times of peril” and that Downey, who started to leave the hall, was obligated to accept.

Returning with requisite drama and feigned humility, Downey told the assemblage, “I accept it, and I only regret that you have not selected a standard bearer . . . better than I.” After hearing the platform (including many resolutions condemning Lincoln’s “arbitrary power and despotism”) read to the body, the nominee stated the fully concurred and again claimed not be deserving of the honor and that it should have been placed “upon the shoulders of someone more worthy.” Henry Hamilton, an ardent Southerner and editor of the Los Angeles Star since 1856, wrote that “in the nomination of Governor Downey, we hail the realization of the complete union of the party,” as obviously the split and loss to Stanford two years before simply could not be repeated.

Star, 5 September 1863.

Downey then issued a lengthy letter on 13 July to the people of California to help pave the way at the state Democratic convention that summer. Much of the missive railed against the power exercised by the president and the purported threats of his administration to constitutionally protected rights and liberties, as well as specific attacks on taxation, the rumored confiscation of California gold for the war effort, and other matters.

When it came to Blacks, though, the nominee tried to have it both ways, saying on one hand that “duty enjoins us to act with kindness toward those of African descent,” while insisting that it was “sound judgment” to deny immigration into California of Blacks because they were “a race which must ever remain a separate and inferior caste.” Beyond this, African-Americans coming to the state would “bring their labor into riotous competition with of our worthy [white] industrial class,” a charge leveled against the Chinese, as well.

Star, 5 September 1863.

The candidate not only stated that he would do everything within his “personal and official influence, as far as it may be legitimately exerted,” to keep Blacks from migrating to the Golden State, but that:

It will be my proudest ambition to aid in making California in every respect, what the pioneers of the State [that is, the whites who formed the 1849 constitution] designed it should be, the home of a happy, enlightened and patriotic race of white freemen.

Hamilton, in the 1 August edition of the Star, lionized Downey for his letter, claiming that it was “the most important document which has ever emanated from any public man in this State” and that “it is a document of national importance” with “a force, a potency, a breadth of design” above ordinary political discourse.

The editor averred that “with such a man for Governor, we will have security for person and property,” particularly for those subject to arrests for disloyalty and other reasons during wartime, of which Hamilton would have direct personal experience the following year when he was seized and sent to Alcatraz for being too free with his editorializing (the Star went dark for four years until Hamilton briefly resurrected it in 1868, though it continued under other proprietors until 1879.)

Star, 8 August 1863.

Because Hamilton reprinted the letter regularly, sometimes twice in one issue, through the remaining weeks of the campaign, he concluded his editorial by stating, “it is not necessary for us to refer at length to this important address. Our readers will peruse it, and appreciate the importance and soundness of Governor Downey’s position. In the same issue, the editor proclaimed that, “in San Francisco, the name of John G. Downey is hailed as a tower of strength” while “at the mention of his name, the corruptionists tremble.” The people were encouraged to put Downey in office so that “the property of the State will be saved from the conspirators who are seeking to drain her life-blood.”

It should be noted that, when the Los Angeles County Democratic Party convention met in early August, it was certainly dominated by powerful white men, including County Judge William G. Dryden, lawyer and future Superior Court judge Volney E. Howard, attorney Alfred B. Chapman (namesake of the prominent street in the city of Orange), Benjamin D. Wilson, lawyer Andrew Jackson King and William McKee (shown with Hamilton in a photo previously highlighted in this blog).

Star, 15 August 1863.

While most of these power brokers were natives of or long-time residents of the South (Howard, for example, was from the North but spent years in Mississippi and Texas before coming to California as a land claims commissioner), there were some prominent Spanish-speaking Californios as delegates, such as Antonio Franco Coronel (later a Republican, including as state treasurer in the early Seventies), Enrique Avila, Cristobal Aguilar, and a young Ygnacio Sepulveda, a newly minted lawyer who became a judge before spending years in Mexico as a main confidant and advisor to dictator Porfirio Diaz. In outlying townships, such names as Sepulveda, Yorba, Polloreno, Colima, del Valle, Dominguez, Alvarado, and Vejar show that propertied and monied Latinos in Los Angeles County were allied with the Democrats.

In mid-August, Hamilton kept the propaganda going, opining that Downey and Weller, while campaigning throughout the state, “are everywhere meeting the enthusiastic Democracy” and that the issue of the purported Republican seizure of California’s mines for the war effort would, “even apart from the other topics of the day,” mean that “the vote for Governor Downey will give him a triumphant majority at the election.” He crowed in conclusion that, “the skies are bright, and already victory perches on the banner of the gallant Democracy.”

Star, 15 August 1863.

Flowery and purplish as the prose was, and Hamilton had plenty and more to spare, he could also frequently be brutally and horribly racist in his broadsides against Republicans, Lincoln and what they allegedly stood for during the war. In that same 15 August edition of the Star, there was “The Office Seeker’s Catechism,” a mocking of the administration’s patronage system, in which a potential bureaucrat was asked seventeen questions, including:

Who made you?

Abraham Lincoln

What is the noblest work of God?

A negur [sic]!

What is the object of this war?

The nigger!

Who is this war benefitting?

Army contractors, rich men, Republican Generals, money shavers, cotton stealing Generals and niggers.

Why is the negro the equal of the white man?

Because God created them both!

Are you capable of supporting yourself by honest labor?

Never tried it. Don’t know.

Do you hate a Democrat worse than you do the devil?


All right—if there is no office vacant a new one shall be created!

The following week, the election rhetoric ratcheted up with statements like “never before in the history of our State was there such a need for union among the Democracy” and the paper opined that the campaign hinged on a seemingly simple question: “whether Democratic institutions will be preserved, or whether we will tamely submit to a centralized military despotism, established on the ruins of the Constitution?”

Star, 29 August 1863.

If some of this language sounds familiar, we can see at least some of the antecedents of today’s fractious politics and polarized discourse and Hamilton ended his editorial by asking, “Democrats, which will you have? If Lincoln be your political God, then worship him. Will you bend the knee to this abolition Baal? At the ballot box, decide.”

On the eve of the election, in its number from 29 August, the Star claimed that Low’s fate was sealed by the Republican platform, including the mining matter, and that Downey was sure to be elevated to office, “there to give force and effect to his principles, and guarantee to the enterprise and industry of the people of the State the true Democratic doctrine, protection for their labor, and a title to the claims and the lands which they open up or occupy.” Hamilton ended by offering that the party and its nominee “are the only friends of the working men.”

Star, 5 September 1863.

Elsewhere in the issue, Hamilton rhetorically queried whether voters would submit slavishly to the government; allow arbitrary power to continue; permit military authority over civil rule; see the Constitution “be trampled under foot” by “the vile crowd” in the nation’s capital? As is too often the case, he opined that “this is the most important election which has yet occurred within our history as a State.”

The firebrand publisher asked his readers: “do we acknowledge the right of the people to make their own laws, to do their own voting, to organize their own government? Or are we serfs, acting under the orders of militry satraps, to obey the behests of our rulers and masters, and simply give effect to the orders from military headquarters?” Hamilton implored, “Men of Los Angeles, judge ye! And by your votes on election day, decide.”

Star, 5 September 1863.

Three days after the election, the proprietor of the Star crowed “the triumph of the Democracy of the county is complete—our ticket has been carried in its entirety—from Governor to Constable.” Despite this, Hamilton assailed the use of money and military power, because of the presence of Union troops in the area at polling places and, purportedly, as speakers at rallies, as a means of trying to benefit Republicans and Unionists and intimidate Democrats. He stopped short of asserting that there were orders to vote Republican, but claimed that there was a “moral force of this display” calculated “to operate in favor” of the G.O.P. and that some Democrats feared voting “lest they should be held as acting against the Government.”

Sure enough, up and down the ballot, the Democrats won handily, including Tomás Sánchez defeating Andrés Pico (who’d authored a successful bill in 1859 to create the state of “Colorado” for southern California—only the Civil War and the shelving of the matter prevented that from happening) for sheriff; Sepulveda and Southern firebrand Edward J.C. Kewen winning Assembly seats; Hamilton fending off former newspaper competitor Francisco P. Ramirez, the youthful proprietor of the Spanish-language El Clamor Público for the Senate; Howard winning the District Attorney race; and the slate of Wilson, Asa Ellis, John L. Morris, Philip Sichel, and Aguilar defeating the Union/Republicans, including Temple, in the contest for county supervisors.

For state offices, all of the Democratic candidates, including Weller and Bigler for Congress and Lewis C. Granger, a former Los Angeles attorney who moved to Butte County in the north, for District Attorney, were victorious. Downey garnered 426 votes to 332 for Low (there were two for José Rubio) and that margin was basically the same for virtually every race, showing how consistent the party lines really were.

But, statewide, the Republicans nearly swept the table. Low easily bested Downey, winning by about 20 percentage points with just shy of 60% of the vote and the winners of the three House races, included Santa Cruz who served a single term before winning a seat in the United States Senate for a term from 1867-1873. Cole moved to Los Angeles in 1880 and the community Colegrove later became part of Hollywood, while he lived to be 102 years old, dying in 1924!

The sole Latino candidate of either party was Romualdo Pacheco of San Luis Obispo County, a former judge and state senator who was appointed by Stanford as state treasurer and won election in this campaign. Later, Pacheco returned to the state senate and then was elected lieutenant governor as 1871—when Newton Booth resigned as governor to be appointed to the United States Senate, Pacheco became governor, serving through most of 1875, and remains the only Latino chief executive in the American era. His political career concluded with service in the House of Representatives from 1877 to 1883.

These rare state tickets are representative of a fascinating and important election in California history because of their association with the Civil War, with John G. Downey, and other aspects, and the Homestead is fortunate to have them in its collection.

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