Founding the Far West: California, Oregon, and Nevada, 1840-1890

Overview

Founding the Far West is an ambitious and vividly written narrative of the early years of statehood and statesmanship in three pivotal western territories. Johnson offers a model example of a new approach to history that is transforming our ideas of how America moved west, one that breaks the mold of "regional" and "frontier" histories to show why Western history is also American history.

Johnson explores the conquest, immigration, and settlement of the first three states of the...

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Overview

Founding the Far West is an ambitious and vividly written narrative of the early years of statehood and statesmanship in three pivotal western territories. Johnson offers a model example of a new approach to history that is transforming our ideas of how America moved west, one that breaks the mold of "regional" and "frontier" histories to show why Western history is also American history.

Johnson explores the conquest, immigration, and settlement of the first three states of the western region. He also investigates the building of local political customs, habits, and institutions, as well as the socioeconomic development of the region. While momentous changes marked the Far West in the later nineteenth century, distinctive local political cultures persisted. These were a legacy of the pre-Civil War conquest and settlement of the regions but no less a reflection of the struggles for political definition that took place during constitutional conventions in each of the three states.

At the center of the book are the men who wrote the original constitutions of these states and shaped distinctive political cultures out of the common materials of antebellum American culture. Founding the Far West maintains a focus on the individual experience of the constitution writers—on their motives and ambitions as pioneers, their ideological intentions as authors of constitutions, and the successes and failures, after statehood, of their attempts to give meaning to the constitutions they had produced.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For decades the vast Rocky Mountain area of the U.S. could claim only three states, all clustered in a region known as the Far West. From 1849 to 1864, California, followed by Oregon and then Nevada, achieved statehood. But, as first-time author Johnson demonstrates in this lengthy and lucid history of the region, proximity in no way produced homogeneity. Focusing on each state's constitutional convention and founding fathers, the author, a history professor at Portland (Ore.) State University, paints a picture of stark contrasts that he claims remain visible to this day: California, a mixture of Hispanic and American cultures; agrarian and isolated Oregon; and ``jackpot mentality'' Nevada. Well organized and clearly formed. (May)
Library Journal
Johnson (history, Portland State Univ.) argues that the white settlers who shaped governmental structure in the Far West reflected different strains of American political ideology and culture. He examines the process of constitution writing in California, Oregon, and Nevada, showing how it reflected the sectional conflict of the 1840s and 1850s, and profiles the men who wrote those documents, analyzing their use of the vocabulary of Jacksonian democracy and, in Oregon, earlier classical republicanism. This thoughtful study will be useful to all scholars of 19th-century American history, not just Western specialists. Interested lay readers will also gain an appreciation for the West's intellectual links with the rest of the nation. Recommended.-- Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520073487
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 7/24/1992
  • Pages: 474
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 1.31 (d)

Meet the Author

David Alan Johnson is Professor of History at Portland State University.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction 1
I Politics and Society
1 Politics in a Divided World: California, 1769-1840 15
2 Farming and Politics: Oregon, 1835-1857 41
3 "The Land for the Old Californian": Nevada, 1849-1864 71
II Personality, Ideology, and Political Culture
4 A New Regime: California, 1849 101
Diversity and Gold Rush Democracy 103
The Dilemmas of Democratic Freedom 120
5 A Liberal Commonwealth: Oregon, 1857 139
Nineteenth-Century Commonwealthmen 140
Virtue and Interest 172
6 Between Golden and Gilded Ages: Nevada, 1864 189
The Old Californians 191
The Corporation and the Individual 211
III History and Memory
7 Progress and Poverty: California, 1849-1885 233
8 Crisis and Renewal: Oregon, 1857-1890 269
9 Industry and Exodus: Nevada, 1864-1885 313
Epilogue 349
Appendixes 353
Notes 381
Index 461
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