Select Page

Setting the stage for statehood

It is an extraordinary document, this record of early California.

One of only two such documents in the history of that western state.

And extraordinary in its own right.

It is the Constitution of 1849.1

Yes, The Legal Genealogist is still poking around in California’s laws, getting ready for tomorrow’s spring seminar of the Root Cellar Sacramento Genealogical Society. And this one is a joy.

Ultimately copied by hand onto parchment and ordered to be entered “among the archives of the State”, the 18-page document was the end result of California’s first Constitutional Convention, which met in Monterey from 1 September to 13 October, 1849.

The delegates to that convention were tasked with preparing a document that would smooth the path of California towards statehood. Anglos and Californios with names ranging from Sutter to de la Guerra, longtime residents and newcomers, they were an extraordinary bunch:

Most of the delegates to the Convention came from states east of the Mississippi, with the highest number (10) from New York. Of the 48 delegates, six were born in California. Nineteen had lived in the area for less than three years.

The ages of the delegates ranged from twenty-five to fifty-three. The two youngest, J. Hollingsworth and J.M. Jones, hailed from Maryland and Kentucky, respectively. They represented the San Joaquin district. The oldest delegate was Californio José Carrillo, representing the Los Angeles district.2

They based the provisions of the new government largely on the constitutions of Iowa and New York,3 but included provisions that were distinctly Californian: “Article XI of the 1849 Constitution decreed that all laws must be published in Spanish and English. Thus, for its first 30 years, California was a bilingual state. This provision was not included in the 1879 Constitution.”4

The enrolled version itself was copied onto parchment by John Hamilton, a West Point graduate on his first tour of duty. It took him three days and nights to copy the 18 pages, and he was paid $500 for his work.5

And all 18 pages have been digitized and are online for your viewing and reading pleasure at the California State Archives website.

Oh, you can read the text, in transcribed form, easily enough online.6

But being able to see that original version is just plain fun. If for no other reason that for this one additional page, added at the end of the 18 pages of text:

Yep, those are the signatures of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. All but one of them signed that page on 13 October 1849 — the name of delegate Pedro Sainsevain — who missed the last days of the convention due to family illness — was added by Hamilton in pencil.7

A really neat document and one of many fascinating early California records available online and off at the California State Archives for genealogical research.


  1. California Constitution of 1849; digital images, California State Archives ( : accessed 4 May 2017).
  2. About the 1849 California Constitution,” California State Archives ( : accessed 4 May 2017).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. See
  7. About the 1849 California Constitution,” California State Archives ( : accessed 4 May 2017).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email