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First Constitution of California, 1849

In 1849 California adopted a constitution banning slavery and applied for admission to the United States. To balance California’s entry into the Union as a free state, the Compromise of 1850 included other measures—such as a stricter law on the return of fugitive slaves—that appeased the South.

"...Neither Slavery nor involuntary Servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this State."

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

First Constitution of California, 1849 - Page 1 First Constitution of California, 1849 - Page 2

Conflict Over California

Even before the Mexican War ended in 1848, the question of whether to allow or prohibit slavery in new western territories threatened to rupture the Union. Slavery’s extension to new states could give the slaveholding South a majority in the Senate; its prohibition would favor the North. To balance sectional interests, Congress passed a series of bills known as the Compromise of 1850. California, with a burgeoning migrant population, was admitted to the Union as a free state. Concessions were simultaneously made to slave powers, raising fierce debate.