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Read the resolutions

The question is one of the “Frequently Asked Questions” on the National Park Service website for the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.: “What is inside the Washington Monument?”

The answer, in part, is that: “The interior walls are lined with commemorative stones from individuals, civic groups, cities, states, and countries that wanted to honor the memory of George Washington…”1

One of those stones came from the then-brand-new State of California. Admitted to the union on the 9th of September 1850,2 California was not yet even officially a state when its legislature passed a “Joint Resolution in relation to the Washington Monument in the City of Washington, District of Columbia”:

Be it Resolved, by the people of the State of California, represented in Senate and Assembly, That the Governor be, and he is hereby authorized and requested, to cause to be procured, and prepared in the manner prescribed by the Washington Monument Association, a block of California marble, cinnabar, gold quartz, or granite, of suitable dimensions, with the word “California” chiselled on its face, and that he cause the same to be forwarded to the Managers of the Washington Monument Association in the said City of Washington, District of Columbia, to constitute a portion of the monument now being erected in that city to the memory of George Washington.


Be it further Resolved, That all expenses incurred by the Governor in carrying the foregoing resolution into effect, shall be paid out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, for which amount the Governor is hereby authorized to draw on the Treasurer.3

That was just one of 19 separate resolutions adopted by the Legislature in that very first term of the Legislature, from the 15th of December 1849 to the 22nd of April 1850 at the City of Pueblo de San Jose.

The legislators also resolved to offer their most cordial thanks to Captain John A. Sutter, for his benevolence and humanity in rendering assistance to the immigrants to this country.4

Sutter — whose name most of us know from what we learned in school about the Gold Rush — established an early fort strategically located on the Oregon-California trail that was a key site for newcomers to the west and it was on his land that gold was discovered, setting off the Gold Rush of the late 1840s and early 1850s.5

The senators and representatives instructed their federal representations to “urge upon Congress the importance of authorizing, as soon as practicable, the construction of a National Railroad from the Pacific Ocean to the Mississippi River.”6

Near and dear to a genealogist’s heart, they resolved to authorize the Secretary of State to “forthwith despatch some suitable person to Monterey to procure the Archives of this State…” and allowed expense money for doing that.7

Turning to more mundane matters, the legislators resolved to pay their own chaplains the sum of $16 a day to open each daily session with a prayer,8 and to have the Secretary of State take charge of all the furniture, stationery, and other property belonging to the State and in use by the present Legislature when it adjourned in April,9

And they resolved to allow the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court to visit Oregon or Panama, but only “Provided, such visit be made without detriment to his judicial duties”10 and Justices Henry Lyons and Nathaniel Bennett to each get a three-month vacation as long as only one Justice was absent from the State at a time.11

Each of these enactments had the force of law but wasn’t really appropriate as a statute. That’s the very definition of a resolution: “In legislative practice. The term is usually employed to denote the adoption of a motion, the subject-matter of which would not properly constitute a statute; such as a mere expression of opinion; an alteration of the rules; a vote of thanks or of censure, etc.”12

Still, like other legal enactments, these resolutions can be genealogical gems: putting issues of the day into context (like the desire for a railroad to the Mississippi) and providing details we might not get otherwise (like the daily paycheck of the legislative chaplains).

And there are bits and pieces of personal history that appear in those resolutions, like the one in 1851 directing the Adjutant General “to enter the name of John T. Smith in the Muster Roll of Company A, commanded by Captain W. B. Reynolds, of the Gila expedition…”13

So not just the statutes but even the resolutions… every single word that comes from those legislatures… take a look.

You never know what you might find.

Even the explanation for a stone now part of a monument on the other side of the continent.

Just because it was resolved.


  1. Frequently Asked Questions,” Washington Monument, National Park Service ( : accessed 1 May 2017).
  2. See Wikipedia (, “History of California,” rev. 19 Apr 2017.
  3. “Joint Resolution in relation to the Washington Monument in the City of Washington, District of Columbia,” 9 Feb 1850, in Statute of California … 1850 (San Jose : J. Winchester, State Printer, 1850), 462; digital images, California State Assembly Statutes, Office of the Chief Clerk, California State Assembly ( : accessed 1 May 2017).
  4. “Joint Resolution of Thanks to Captain John A. Sutter,” 24 Jan 1850, ibid. at 461.
  5. See “John A. Sutter – Boom & Bust in California,” California Legends, Legends of America ( : accessed 1 May 2017).
  6. “Joint Resolutions in relation to a National Railroad from the Pacific Ocean to the Mississippi River,” 9 Mar 1850, in Statute of California … 1850, at 465.
  7. “Joint Resolution relative to the Public Archives,” 9 Apr 1850, ibid. at 466-467.
  8. “A Joint Resolution in relation to the pay of Chaplains of the Legislature,” 28 Feb 1850, ibid. at 463.
  9. “A Joint Resolution in relation to the care and protection of the State property now in use by the Legislature,” 22 Apr 1850, ibid. at 468.
  10. “A Joint Resolution permitting Chief Justice Hastings to visit Oregon or Panama,” 9 Mar 1850, ibid. at 465.
  11. “Joint Resolution granting leave of absence to Justices Lyons and Bennett of the Supreme Court,” 22 Apr 1850, ibid. at 469.
  12. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1033, “resolution.”
  13. “Joint Resolution Directing Adjutant General to Enter Names on Muster Roll of Gila Expedition,” 11 Apr 1851, in Statute of California … 1851 (San Jose : Eugene Casserly, State Printer, 1851), 532-533; digital images, California State Assembly Statutes, Office of the Chief Clerk, California State Assembly ( : accessed 1 May 2017).
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