Waiting for Takeover

california relief mapSpain held California for 300 years; its successor Mexico ruled the province for another 25.  Neither spent much effort to develop its potential. Each was fearful of outside conquest, yet both lacked the resources to promote more than minimal colonization, or install adequate military defenses.  Not long after Mexico acquired Spain’s former New World territories, a French sea captain expressed astonishment that the beautiful, fertile, easily-taken California had not already become the prey of other Old World powers. The British were interested, but not ready to pounce. Meanwhile American seafaring traders brought back reports of California’s unexploited resources and balmy climate, raising interest in Washington D.C.  Richard Henry Dana’s widely-read Two Years Before the Mast influenced thinking by opining that California’s governors and citizens were lacking in the American virtues of “industry, frugality, and enterprise.” The Californios themselves grew weary of obedience-without-benefit to rulers in far off Mexico City, many favoring complete independence or acquisition by another nation, with England and America the strongest contenders. Then Texas petitioned for annexation to the United States, and a dispute over its southern border led to a war with Mexico. California was one of the prizes ceded to the victorious Yankees.