William Gwin: Southerner became California’s ‘first senator’
The Forty-Niners rushed into California by the thousands and discovered a bucolic land with untold natural resources -- including gold -- and a gentle, salubrious, climate. They also found themselves in a land devoid of any social, political or legal order, a land beset with confusion, uncertainty and remarkable opportunity. William Gwin, an astute and experienced Southern politico, saw a political vacuum and decided to fill it. Tall, erect, with a mane of silver-gray and aquiline features, Gwin, one observer noted, looked like "a Mohawk chief." On leaving for California, Gwin told Sen. Stephen A. Douglas that he would return within 12 months as a U.S. senator from the new state of California. And he did. Gwin was born on Oct. 9, 1805, in Fountain Bend, Sumner County, Tenn. Gwin's father was a close friend and neighbor of Andrew Jackson.