My 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?