John Bigler

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John Bigler : biography

1805-1-8 – 29 November 1871

Moving the capital

While Bigler continued to advocate and sign legislation restricting Chinese immigration and labor, the state government failed to find a permanent location for a capital or a capitol building. State Senator Mariano Vallejo’s promises of Vallejo as being an ideal capital city failed to materialize. For one miserable week in early 1852, the California State Legislature met in the township, quickly discovering the lack of facilities, supplies and furniture. With the suggestion of Bigler and support from city government leaders, the Legislature would temporarily relocate to his adopted city of Sacramento, while Vallejo would remain the permanent capital. However, after flooding problems in Sacramento, and dire weather conditions in Vallejo, the Legislature and Bigler agreed to relocate the capital to nearby Benicia. Conditions in Benicia proved once again poor for state bureaucrats. Sacramento offered its services again as a capital, and on February 25, 1854, Governor Bigler signed into law making Sacramento the capital of California. With the exception of a temporary move to San Francisco in 1862 while Sacramento was again flooded, the capital has stayed there since.

Bigler’s popularity peaked around 1854 to 1855. For the 1855 general election, the Democratic Party renominated Bigler in his bid to gain a third term of office. However, his monopoly on anti-immigrant sentiment began to lose ground. Growing economic troubles due to the slow collapse of gold mining in the Sierras and other gold discoveries in Australia, as well as failures to solve growing state financial debt led to popular discontent with infrastructure and fiscal management within his administration, one that was generally perceived by the public for its fiscal extravagances. Bigler urged adoption of measures to secure for San Francisco the benefits of the whale trade of the Pacific. The anti-immigrant and Nativist American Know-Nothing Party, led by its nominee, former Democrat J. Neely Johnson, defeated Bigler by a moderate margin during the 1855 election. Bigler is the first California governor to be defeated through a general election.

Post governorship career

In 1867, Bigler was appointed Railroad Commissioner for the Central Pacific Railroad. In 1868, he founded the State Capitol Reporter and served as its editor until his death in Sacramento on November 29, 1871 at the age of 66. He is interred in the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery.

Political career

Upon being elected to the first session of the California State Legislature in 1849, Bigler enjoyed a rapid rise to power in the Assembly. Within a year, Bigler was voted by the heavily Democratic majority in the body as the Speaker of the Assembly in February 1850. Now one of the most powerful legislators in the state, Bigler enjoyed widespread name recognition. During the Sacramento Cholera Epidemic of October 1850, Bigler contracted cholera as a direct result of his remaining in the city and assisting doctors and undertakers.

In May 1851, Bigler was nominated by the Democratic Party convention in Benicia as the party’s choice for governor in California’s first general election after achieving statehood. Bigler’s challenger, the Whig Party’s Pierson B. Reading, derided Bigler as an unpolished, gruff Yankee Northerner, while Reading articulated himself as an educated pioneering gentleman of the South. Bigler won the election by little more than a thousand votes, remaining today as the closest gubernatorial election in California history.

Lake Tahoe/Lake Bigler

At the height of his popularity in 1854, the Democratic majority State Legislature named modern-day Lake Tahoe "Lake Bigler" in honor of California’s third Governor, who was then beginning his second term. For nearly ten years, the name of the lake had been in dispute. John C. Fremont, one of the lake’s first White discoverers in 1844, named it "Lake Bonpland" after Aimé Jacques Alexandre Bonpland, a French botanist who had accompanied Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt in his exploration of Mexico, Colombia and the Amazon River. Lake Bonpland’s usage never became popular, with the name’s lake changing from "Mountain Lake" to "Fremont’s Lake." several years after. By 1853, the name "Lake Bigler" began to be applied to maps of the lake after the then-popular California governor. The state legislature officially changed the name the following year."