California’s First Constitution

One-hundred, forty-seven years ago this month, 48 delegates at Colton Hall in Monterrey worked to draft California's first Constitution.  This past week, visitors to the California Museum were treated to a rare public display of both the English and Spanish versions of the original 1849 California Constitution as these documents are typically housed at the California State Archives.

Though California was not officially admitted into the Union until September 9, 1850, the people of our Great State were eager to establish a formal government following the United States’ acquisition of the territory from Mexico. On September 1, 1849, California’s first Constitutional Convention was held in Monterey and on November 13, a Constitution was ratified. 

The Constitution of 1849 begins with a Bill of Rights, establishes the branches of government we use today, and includes provisions on the prohibition of slavery, separation of powers, allowing married women to own separate property, and granting every white male citizen the right to vote. It also left questions of taxation up to the Legislature and established San Jose as the permanent seat of government. This document also decreed that all laws must be published in both English and Spanish, making California originally a bilingual state.

At the signing, the US flag was raised and a thirty-one gun salute echoed in the air.  As the signing finished, and the 31st gun was heard, there was a shout, "That's for California!”

This constitution was only amended three times in the 30 years it was active. In 1879, it was determined that the original Constitution omitted direction on too many key issues, such as the expenditure of money, and a new Constitution, the one we currently use today, was adopted.