Commodore Sloat TAKES CALIFORNIA for the U.S.
Californians Are Promised the Rights of U.S. Citizens
The Historic ProclamationSIGNED
Sloat, John D., Commodore. Manuscript Document Signed (“John D. Sloat, Commander-in-Chief of the United States Naval Forces in the Pacific Ocean”). Proclamation “To the Inhabitants of California.” [On board the] “United States Flag
Ship Savannah, Harbour of Monterey: 7 July 1846. Folio (12.25" x 8"). 2.5 pp.
Click the images for enlargements.
While relations between the U.S. and Mexico were rapidly deteriorating, but even before the Mexican-American War began, Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft on 24 June 1845 ordered Commodore Sloat, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Squadron, toseize California for the United States after “you ascertain with certainty that Mexico has declared war against the United States.” Specifically, he ordered Sloat in that event to “at once possess yourself of the port of San Francisco, and blockade or occupy such other ports as your force may permit.” Bancroft later modified his order, on 17 October, saying that the occupation should occur even if Sloat learned “of actual hostilities” — the certain declaration of war was no longer needed.
Sloat was aware in mid-May in 1846 that fighting had broken out along the Rio Grande, but failed to act as ordered; indeed, war was formally declared on 13 May. Bancroft wrote him on 23 May that hostilities had begun and explicitly told him to follow the command given in the letter of 24 June previous, but he continued, despite this and despite learning of Gen. Taylor’s battles and successes, to delay and hesitate.
At last, on 2 July, Sloat’s flagship arrived at Monterey from Mazatlan to join the rest of his squadron. He anchored, exchanged civilities with the Mexican authorities, and five days later carried out his orders. It was on 7 July that he issued the formal declaration here in hand:
“I declare to the inhabitants of California that altho’ I come in arms with a powerful force I do not come among them as an enemy to California but on the contrary I come as their best friend, as hence forward California will be a portion of the United States and its peaceable inhabitants will enjoy the same rights and privileges as the citizens of any other portion of that Nation, with all the rights and privileges they now enjoy, together with the privilege of choosing their own Magistrates and other officers for the administration of justice among themselves, and the same protection will be extended to them as to any other States of the Union.”
Other rights and privileges are detailed as are the faults and deficiencies of the Mexican government. In light of the state of war formally existing between Mexico and the U.S., Sloat claims California for the United States:
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“I shall hoist the Standard of the the United States at Monterey immediately, and shall carry it throughout California.”
There is no census of surviving contemporary copies of this foundation document of Anglo-California history. We know of no other signed copy. There are contemporary and near-contemporary unsigned copies in Bancroft Library, the Beinecke Library, and the Huntington Library; searches of the On-line Archive of California, NUCMC, and other sources failed to find additional contemporary copies but we do not doubt that some exist.
Written on unruled blue wove paper with no watermark but with a lightly blind-embossed circular device in the upper inner corner of the first leaf. Old folds with soiling along the fold lines; a very few small fold tears (now repaired to archival standards). The notation on the verso of the last leaf (“Como. J.D. Sloat’[s] Proclamation. July 1846") and the pattern of folds indicate this was stored in the standard 19th-century manner. The text is in a handsome and readable hand; the document is now housed and protected in a quarter leather clamshell case. (33539)
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