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History of San Luis Obispo 5History of San Luis Obispo 5 Joseph A. Carotenuti City Historian/Archivist Put yourself in their shoes. The mission settlement of San Luis Obispo is now part of a new nation, laws, traditions, customs and beliefs. Indeed, some among you have been citizens of three sovereign nations. Your obligation is to establish some form a local government in concert with the new nation’s Constitution (only vaguely known). So it was on September 9, 1850 when California became the 31st state of the Union. Set against an increasingly strident debate between “slave” and “free” states, the Compromise of 1850 allowed California a star on the American flag. Fortunately, the years between 1846 with the raising of the Stars and Stripes in Monterey to Statehood had spared San Luis Obispo much of the chaos and disorder of the north. While far from the formerly somnolent settlement along San Francisco Bay with its dazzling array of humanity intent on accumulating wealth, the central coast had few resources available for the governmental seismic shift. As if scripted for a theatrical production, an entirely unexpected overlay of humanity poured into the eventual state fueled by the allure and fascination with gold. Within a very short time, those who sought instant wealth – and even more who never found it – inundated whatever semblance of order existed in the vast territory. For a loosely organized area along the central coast, few had even a clue as to what to do to “insure domestic tranquility.” Even before an attempt was made to form a constitution for an eventual state, governance was by the military. First as an occupied territory as a “belligerent” in the Mexican-American War and then as a military protectorate of the United States formalized by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), there was little experience in forming civic protocols to replicate locally. Recalling the 1849 State Constitution Convention (it was replaced 30 years later) provides a fascinating report of men originally from many parts of the nation meeting in Monterey debating just what kind of government and laws were to be provided for the new state. There were few Californios involved in the discussion and many required a translator. Locally, Henry Tefft from Nipomo was among the delegates. Against a backdrop of a few fortunes and many more frustrations, California was finally admitted into the Union four years after the Union Jack was raised in the capital. The debates in Congress over admission provide a preview of the fissure in democracy that resulted in the brutality of the Civil War a decade later. Having attained Statehood, simply finding enough lodging for the legislators to determine state regulations had been a challenge. California’s capitol started in San Jose moved first to Vallejo, then Benicia, followed by Sacramento (twice) and San Francisco before settling in its current location. At least for our county, the place… Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa…became the center of governance…but only for the new County. Even though there was a State Constitution, a designated county and county seat, locally there were few to somehow assume the reins of leadership, develop, pass and enforce laws, and – most importantly – pay for the machinery of government. Next time: San Luis Obispo continues to contend with governance. Questions? Contact: jacarotenuti@gmail.com