Destiny and the Law: The California Land Act of 1850
The California Land Act sought to remake landholding in early California. Though bound by promises to uphold existing ownership in the treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo, the United States attempted to use the law to fundamentally change who held land in California and the exploitation of its resources. Analysis of archival materials demonstrates that the California Land Act intended to transform California from a ranching-based economy dominated by large landholders of Spanish descent into an agrarian economy dependent on small scale farming modeled on the traditional land use of the eastern United States. This intrinsic policy characterized the legislative formation of the act, and years later influenced North American settlement policies of formerly French and Imperial Mexican territories. As such, this study focuses on a little understood agent of change: the administrative law. A careful examination of the crafting and implementation of the California Land Act reveals that land law legislation and its extra-judicial commission, alongside other more traditional markers of American occupation, occupied a prominent place in the continued colonization California.