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Auction 12: The Zamorano 80 Collection of Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lot 11

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Item 11. John Ross Browne’s Report of the Debates in the Convention of California—“The most important printed document pertaining to government in the Golden State” (Kurutz).

11. BROWNE, J[ohn] Ross (1821-1875). Report of the Debates in the Convention of California, on the Formation of the State Constitution, in September and October, 1849. Washington: John T. Towers, 1850. 479 [1, blank] xlvi (appendix) [1, contents] pp. 8vo, original brown blindstamped cloth, spine gilt-lettered. Some outer wear with a few splits and abrasions, a few small oxidized spots to text edges, internally very fine. On front pastedown is the small blue and white printed label of Oakland bookseller Fred M. DeWitt. Preserved in chemise and slipcase of half dark brown smooth calf with olive green spine labels and raised bands.
First edition. Cowan I, p. 26-27. Cowan II, p. 79. Holliday 138. Howell 50, California 26. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 11. LC, California Centennial 258. Norris 416. Rocq 5633. Sabin 8661. Zamorano 80 #11 (Homer D. Crotty): “A Spanish translation of the debates, bearing the title Relación de los debates de la convención de California, sobre la formación de la constitución de estado, en setiembre y octubre de 1849, por J. Ross Browne, was printed in New York in 1851, by S. W. Benedict. The translation, however, contains only the proclamation of the Governor, the proceedings at the Convention, the list of delegates, and, as an appendix, the Constitution as adopted by the delegates.” ($300-600)


This work preserves in detail the workings of California’s 1849 constitutional convention in Monterey and consequently may be regarded as the most important printed document pertaining to government in the Golden State. The delegates met at Colton Hall from September 1 to October 13, a full year before the federal government voted on California becoming the thirty-first star on the U.S. flag. The Report recorded the debates and decisions over such key questions as the property rights of women, slavery, suffrage, elected judiciary, inclusion of Mexican laws, and the eastern boundary. This record of political discourse on the frontier further serves as a superb overview of the political, economic, and sociological thoughts of California’s pioneers in forming a self-governing dominion in response to the chaos brought about by the Gold Rush. In addition to the debates, the volume includes military governor Bennet Riley’s call for the formation of a civilian form of government, a list of the delegates, a digest of Spanish laws, the state constitution, and a memorial sent to the federal government petitioning the admission of California to the Union. On October 13, the delegates adjourned with the signing of a state constitution and a thirty-one gun salute.
J. Ross Browne, future Western journalist and humorist, was elected “Reporter to the Convention” on September 6. Robert E. Cowan notes that “he was the only shorthand reporter in California at that time.” Browne persuaded Elisha Crosby’s finance committee to pay him the handsome sum of $10,000 for his services which included producing 1,000 English and 250 Spanish copies of the debates. From that date until the conclusion of the convention, he dutifully recorded the day-to-day proceedings. After the convention and apparently lacking confidence in California’s nascent printing industry, Browne headed east and contracted with John T. Towers of Washington, D.C., to do the job. Seeing an opportunity to turn an even larger profit, Browne arranged to sell thousands of additional copies to the federal government. S. W. Benedict and Company of New York printed the Spanish language edition in 1851.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Robert Ernest Cowan, A Bibliography of California and the Pacific West 1510-1906 (San Francisco: The Book Club of California, 1914), pp. 26-27; William Henry Ellison, A Self-Governing Dominion: California, 1849-1860 (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1950), pp. 22-46; David Michael Goodman, A Western Panorama 1849-1875: The Travels, Writings and Influence of J. Ross Browne (Glendale: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1966), pp. 34-35.

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