San Francisco, the Paris of the Pacific

Posted today at 00h46

Gold? The French did not believe it right away. An old background of national skepticism. In 1848, we were wary of Americans, hardly less than today. No doubt they are seeking to populate these western territories, these vastnesses deserted now that they have annexed them. In Paris, we take from above these Anglo-Saxons of the New World, always ready to promote their achievements. To smoke you with their puff , as the newspapers say two centuries before “fake news” …

But everything changed on December 5, 1848, when the President of the United States, James Polk, mentioned the discovery of gold in his State of the Union address. A very political announcement: he intends to show the opposition, which continues to balk at the expenses incurred by the conquest of the West – and in particular the $ 15 million paid to Mexico for the purchase of California – that the he investment was wise. A stroke of luck, another, of those who comfort the Americans in the idea that they are fulfilling a providential destiny: the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between the two countries was signed on February 2, 1848, ten days after the discovery of the or, January 24. Fortunately, no Twitter thread has informed Mexicans that California conceals unsuspected riches …

Paris is starting to believe it. The province too. And soon, all of France is seized with Californiamania. The newspapers publish travelogues recounting fabulous adventures in the land of gold (and crocodiles, the press believes). In Parisian theaters, plays are performed in a hurry: Fun train for California, Les Chercheuses d’or… France is fantasizing. France wants gold, movement, change. On February 24, 1848, Louis-Philippe was driven from the throne and the IIe Republic proclaimed in jubilation. Since then, it is the doldrums. The wind of freedom has died down.

The new promised land

The French joined the migrants who, from 1849, flocked from all over the world: Mexicans, Chileans, Peruvians – who only had to go up the Pacific coast; Europeans attracted by the Californian utopia, at a time when revolutionary hopes were suppressed on the Old Continent; Chinese, who will be the last but will arrive en masse and will be enlisted in the construction of the transcontinental railroad. And, of course, Americans, who walk over land: the Oregon Trail, the trail of settler caravans migrating west, is diverted south to reach the “Gold Country”. In total, some 300,000 hungry for gold land on the new promised land. They will take the name of forty-niners, or “forty-nine”, depending on the vintage at the start of the rush.

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