Andrea G. McDowellFeb 17, 2023
We the Miners
Self-Government in the California Gold Rush
Harvard University Press 2022
When miners arrived in California seeking their fortune during the gold rush of the 1840s and early 1850s, they encountered a place with few existing legal systems. Recently acquired from Mexico, California was truly America's frontier, and when American miners arrived they did what Americans have always done: they held meetings.
In We the Miners: Self-Government in the California Gold Rush (Harvard UP, 2022), Seton Hall law professor Andrea McDowell explains the development and working of miners codes and other legal systems put in place during the heady and often violent early days of the California Gold Rush. Before statehood, miners were on their own to construct a version of direct democracy that reflected their values and gave them power to govern, until the creation of state government and the arrival of corporate mining entities. In McDowell's telling, the early days of the gold rush speak to Americans strong belief in democracy and self-governance, and who gets a say in justice when gold is on the line.
Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.