All posts by Keith Harris

Los Angeles and the Election of 1864

election-of-1864-lesson-plan-2I will return once more to the notion of wartime voting and the shifting nature of allegiances in Los Angeles City and County. You will recall from a previous post that voters, while predominantly Democratic in 1860 and 1861, were likely to shift between northern and southern wings of their party depending on circumstances.

Well, they shifted once again in 1864 – in a few surprising ways. The contest between George McClellan, former commander of the Army of the Potomac turned Peace Democrat and Abraham Lincoln, now under the banner of the Union Party – a coalition of Republicans and War Democrats – heated to a fever pitch during the summer and early fall of 1864 in Los Angeles county. Except this time, the region’s voters returned against the Democratic Party. In the end Lincoln took the county with 872 votes to McClellan’s 593.

Federal soldiers, many of whom had been stationed just outside the Los Angeles city limits to quell any secessionist spirit, can account for a number of these votes….and they probably pushed Lincoln into the winner’s column.

But the more interesting figures come from Los Angeles city. Here the numbers are nearly dead even – McClellan besting Lincoln by a mere 42 votes. This, I believe, suggests a perceptible shift in loyalty over the course of two years. After a hard summer of Union losses, by election day enough had gone in the Union’s favor to secure Lincoln’s re-election. And perhaps enough had happened from an Angeleno’s perspective to shift the tide toward Lincoln and Union victory. A thus we can begin to see the seeds of Los Angeles city favoring a Union nationalist sentiment…what I believe would only grow to greater strengths later in the nineteenth century.

With compliments,


So Much Can Change in a Year

mcconnellMy last post promised to look a tad more closely at the shifting allegiances of the Democratic Party in Los Angeles. If you recall, in the presidential contest of 1860, John Breckinridge edged out his opponents for a victory in Los Angeles County. His 686 votes easily took care of Lincoln’s 352 and poor Bell’s 201. But his margin over the Northern Democrat, Stephen Douglass, was more on the narrow side. Douglas added 494 votes to his column – not enough to take the prize, but roughly even with his Democratic opposition.

Fast forward to the California gubernatorial election on September 4, 1861. Leland Stanford – Republican – took the state handily. But in the Democratic southern part of the state, The Southern Democrat, John McConnell (pictured), absolutely wiped the floor with his Union Democratic opponent, John Conness. In Los Angeles County, for example, McConnell tallied 1187 votes to Conness’s meager 216. How can we account for such a dramatic shift in the Democratic Party?

Perhaps Conness was simply unfit for the job, and everyone knew it. But there may have been more at work that could reveal shifting allegiances typical in a wartime democratic republic. Two things had happened between the elections that may have had a fragile party in Southern California – at least temporarily – look to the southern wing of their organization. First, the Confederacy had bested the United States at Manassas that July. Second, and perhaps more important in a western context, reports that Confederate armies had invaded New Mexico (also in July) with “thousands” of soldiers who were poised to annex New Mexico and Arizona any time (they did so in December without much fanfare or bite…then things really fell apart in 1862) stirred up secessionist feeling in the Southland. Rumors bolstered by the local anti-Lincoln press implied that Rebel troops disguised as miners were also gathering at the Colorado River in preparation to “liberate” Southern California. Nothing, of course, ever came of these highly exaggerated threats (or promises…depending on how you look at it). But such news, however fraudulent, might have been enough to sway the gubernatorial vote.

At any rate, the idea is worth looking into further. Thoughts?

With compliments,


John W. Robinson Sees Gray

Picture 2Recently, I wrote a brief post reflecting on the presence of Confederate sympathies in Southern California. I concluded that Southern California – while clearly Democratic – was not necessarily Confederate. Perhaps they other things on their minds…perhaps. At any rate, I was not convinced that legions of Southern Californians were ready to rally around the Stars and Bars.

A commenter very nicely suggested that a look at John W. Robinson’s Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860-1865 might help me along in my thinking. So I have had a chance to read Robinson over the weekend and I am still not convinced, as Robinson’s cover would have you believe, that Los Angeles (or any other Southern California city) counted among its residents a “clear majority” of secessionists.

I will be the first to admit that the Confederacy had its proponents in the City of Angels. The “Chivalry,” as they were known – a group of southerners who resided in the Los Angeles area and stood firmly behind secession – were an influential lot and boasted some prominent members among its ranks.

But Robinson analyses this group and a few of its confreres in some troubling ways. To begin. Robinson notes little of the ebb and flow of wartime allegiances until the very last few pages of the book, when Union victory and Lincoln’s assassination pulled Angelenos together. Robinson’s Los Angeles is a mostly unbending city where residents shift little with news from the East – an unlikely tale as voting records alone would indicate between 1860 and 61 (more on that later).

Second, Robinson conflates Democratic griping and groaning with secession and loyalty to the Confederacy. The Democratic Party in Southern California in the 1850s and 60s was a fragile lot. Many were certainly opposed to the war and the Lincoln administration and many could be convinced that the southern states should be left to do what they wanted – indeed…to go in peace. But this does not make them secessionists.

Finally, the most problematic aspect of Robinosn’s argument is that he relies almost exclusively on one source: the vitriolic anti-abolition and pro-Confederate newspaper Los Angeles Star. Headed by Henry Hamilton, an Irishman not known for his love of Lincoln, black people, or anything northern, his paper was filled with vehemence against a war waged mercilessly against the white people of the South. Hamilton himself was something of a mystery. He seems at once to favor joining the Confederacy, restoring the Union as it was, or claiming neutrality and forming a Pacific Republic.

It is indeed true that Confederate sympathizers made their voices heard in Los Angeles, but I am still not convinced that they constituted an overwhelming majority – as Robinson suggests. And it doesn’t seem that the United States government was overly concerned either. They certainly stationed federal troops in the area to maintain the peace should anyone decide to get out of hand and seize government property in the name of Jeff Davis…there was at least some precaution there. But there was no martial law, no suspension of habeas corpus, and the few who were arrested were quickly released after signing loyalty oaths.

If someone can direct me to some really strong evidence that the Secesh held sway in LA, I will be happy to revise my thinking. In fact, I welcome it – such evidence would make a terrific story! But until then, I will stick to my premise that many in Los Angeles were opposed to the Lincoln administration and even the war, but were not necessarily donning the Rebel gray.

With compliments,


Citrus is a Good Place to Start

IMG_0117Those of you who were Cosmic America readers may remember a while back when I stumbled across a Union Civil War veteran’s grave in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Unsure of exactly who this person was, I turned to my readership to discover  – with the help of a few people much better at these things than I – that said veteran, one F.A. Whitehead, had served in two branches of the armed forces, had a run-in with the government over desertion (he name was eventually cleared) and wound up as a citrus farmer in Florida and ultimately…Southern California.

As we all know citrus farming was a primary motivating factor for a number of the Civil War era generation when it came to pursuing their livelihood in the West. Of those who moved to the region to proceed with this lucrative vocation, almost all were well-to-do middle class or higher types, and most were middle aged or older.

It took money, patience, and experience to succeed in the citrus business – something perhaps not best suited for a younger, perhaps insolvent individual.

I revisited Hollywood Forever Cemetery today to pay my respects to Whitehead and look for other Union veterans. I found plenty. So again…I turn to my readers. Any information on these fine fellows would be greatly appreciated. I wonder if they were in the citrus business too.

With compliments,


Picture 5Picture 4Picture 3Picture 2

A Difference Consumption Made

microscope-cellsWell aren’t these handsome little critters? The problem of course, is if you should happen across them, you might just find your self with a case of pulmonary tuberculosis. Our friends in the nineteenth century called it consumption. And it was a killer. By some estimates, in the mid-nineteenth century, consumption accounted for as many as one in seven deaths in certain regions (such as New England) of the United States.

By the 1870s, medical researchers had determined (after a number of years of isolating reports geographically) that climate could greatly help – even cure – those with early stages of consumption. In addition to vigorous activity and proper nutrition, warmth, sunshine, and aridity were believed to reverse the course of the disease.

And consumptives came to Southern California by the trainload. The disease – or rather, the hope of a cure – was thus one of the many motivating factors that brought the Civil War generation to the West in the 1870s and 80s. What is more important is that many, reclaiming their health,  stayed and would help build the region politically, economically, and culturally. Individuals such as James M. Guinn and Thaddeus S. C. Lowe come immediately to mind.

We have the Southern California boosters to thank. During the period the contributed to a real boomtime mania; as one historian suggests – promoting faith in the omnipotence of a healthful climate. Local analysts observed the growth of the “invalid” newcomer community and exactly what they brought to the table.

[quote]Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Diego counties have been practically developed and made what they are by the Eastern people who came out here for their health. They may be a ‘one-lunged crowd,’ as the facetious Missourians and old-timers dub them, but they have shown an amount of business and enterprise which puts the Californian to shame.[/quote]

And so it turns out that a pretty nasty disease became something of a developmental factor when it comes to the culture of Southern California, and as we will likely see in upcoming posts, sufferers having found their cure who stayed on to make a life in the West contributed handily to the identity of the region.

With compliments,

For an informative and well-written book on consumptives in Southern California by John E. Baur, with a new introduction by Robert G. Frank, Jr., see: The Health Seekers of Southern California 1870-1900.