After yesterday’s post on how the Gospel and the Christian worldview shapes all that we do should be for the glory of God, I thought I share a more fun read that I finished a few weeks back. We must read also for the glory of God, even with historical reading. I will give first a review of the book itself and provide in the end a brief Christian reflection so that the Christian reflection doesn’t take away from my review of the book.
Leonard L. Richards. The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War. New York, NY: Knopf, February 13th, 2007. 304 pp.
This turned out to have been quite a fun read largely because the author was able to present a non-stop account of the many interesting personalities during an interesting time period of American history’s pre-Civil War days. The book is about California’s influence upon the sectional divide between the States and also how the people and interests of the different parts of the United States shaped the politics and direction of California. Before this I never really thought much about how California’s role in the undercurrent that led to the Civil War.
The author begins with how gold was initially found that eventually sparked the Gold Rush. Again, as I said the author teaches history in a wonderful way by giving us details of the personality and quirkiness of the participants involved. We read about the attempt of a group of people trying to keep things secret—only to have it become known worldwide! Once the gold rush began, it brought people from all over America and all over the world. The book even mentioned about Peruvians and Chinese prospectors. Even people within California left their respectable occupations such as lawyers, judges and businessmen to head to the mountains to strike for Gold. Eventually however Whites wanted California to be only for White people and the question of slavery arose since some in the South thought California would be a great place for Blacks to be used in the search for gold. The other reason why those in the South wanted to bring slaves to California was because of the sectional divide between Slave and Free States and the South’s perception that an increase of Slave States would balance the amount of Free States being added into the Union. However in California where the Gold Rush has shaped the economic and social fabric that encouraged independence and freedom of mobility for free workers, the idea of slave labor competing with free workers wasn’t appealing and eventually California entered the Union as a free state. The book gives accounts of how some who tried to bring slaves over were threatened with force to leave, and slaves themselves running away. But that didn’t mean that there were former Southerners within California and those in the South that tried to pull stunts to allow slavery in California which was already a Free State.
The personalities in the book is already interesting enough ranging from shrewd opportunists, explorers and politicans but this book is a further delight with its descriptions of intriguing events. There were so many duels during that time from the beginning to the end of the book. I also learned also of how some from the South during that time had an imperialistic desire to expand the amount of slave states into the union that they even tried to get Cuba to become a Slave state in America. The attempt wasn’t just only in name, but there were actual plots of insurrections by means of backing colorful personalities to go overthrow Cuba with financial funds and Southern mercenaries. Of course the two plots described in the book failed but it was interesting to see the seriousness some in the South took up the cause and the outcome were men being killed and even a governor of one of the Southern States (I want to say Mississippi) being indicted for conspiracy.
Readers must also not miss the epilogue which I felt should have been arranged as a concluding chapter since it is equal in length to the average chapter and also brought the whole discussion of California and the role with the sectional divide to a powerful conclusion. The epilogue talked about how the state of California’s contribution towards the Civil War. While the state remained with the Union, because California had many residents from all the parts of the country, there were pro-South sympathizers who encouraged men to join the Confederate army. However most of those who joined the war joined the Union Army. Many did not see combat since it was expensive to ship men to the East in an age before connecting train lines, so they ended up manning Western outposts. Yet some paid for their own way to the East and fought in Californian units under other States larger commands. But the biggest contribution to the Union that California helped with is the vast amount of gold sent to back the war economically, a contribution that was even acknowledged by the military as a quote from a leading Union general demonstrate.
If you want to know more about early California history and its relationship to the rest of the United States I think this would be a book that should be on your shelf.
What’s in it for the Christian:
Every time I read a history book that gives an account of history that’s not related to the Bible, I’m reminded of the fact that God orchestrate events that is beyond our control. God is sovereign and we are not. The book has stories of what people planned and yet how history unfold is otherwise.
With all the colorful personalities described in this book, it reminded me that there is nothing new under the sun as Ecclesiastes tells us. Most of these figures in the book is largely forgotten except as a brief blurb in a history book. And yet the train of interesting personalities keep on marching on, one after another. It also made me think about how in the end walking in God’s way is what matters most.