8th Grade, Part II:

Gold, Greed and Government

by Jean Mundell

Overview and Rationale:

Gold, greed, governmentthis is a capsule description of California from the time that gold was discovered through the early years of statehood. The promise of enormous amounts of wealth created conflicting emotionsgreed and selfishness in some, and a desire for order, fairness and fraternity in others. California also experienced a sudden political change from being a Mexican frontier province to an American territory, causing bewilderment as thousands of newcomers from every state and nation in the world arrived and settled in areas that had been tiny villages or lands used by California Indians. Residents and newcomers alike were uncertain about what laws prevailed (Mexican, U.S. military, makeshift municipal, vigilante?) and about who was responsible for maintaining order. 

Connections with U.S. Eighth Grade History Course

The lessons in this curriculum packet can be integrated into a regular U.S. history course. Because teachers are expected to cover enormous amounts of material in the eighth grade, these lessons are designed not as additions to a full curriculum but as alternative ways to cover material that is already in the curriculum: the role of the West (including Manifest Destiny) and the Compromise of 1850events that highlight major issues that eventually led to the Civil War. In the process, students will learn that California played a major role in our nation's development. Students also will discover that California has been dealing with cultural diversity since its beginning. In this, as in many other ways, California leads the nation. 

A preliminary exercise and four lessons comprise Part II. All were designed to complement each other, but each can also stand alone. Thus the teacher has the option of picking and choosing the lessons and activities that are most suited to his or her situation. In addition, maps of the gold mines in Northern and Southern California are included, along with ideas for map analysis. Even the maps provide evidence of the rich diversity that existed in the gold fields. 

Relevance of the California Gold Rush to Today's Students

The lessons in this curriculum will help eighth-graders understand that California continues to debate issues that existed when gold was discovered in California. Incidents of prejudice as well as examples of justice occurred then. Some groups used legal methods while others employed extralegal methods to maintain order or to develop the kind of order that they preferred. Throughout the period when California was transformed from a Mexican province to an American possession to a young state, anarchy occasionally erupted, but it did not prevail. Today we look upon some early laws as cruel and unjust, but ideas and values have changed, and eventually those laws also changed. The legacy of those policies continues to haunt us, providing reasons for some groups to feel resentful and for others to feel remorse. 

California in the 1850s was similar to California today. Issues that confronted the young state have reemerged countless times. Diverse newcomers from many parts of the country and the world continue to enter the state, pursuing the promises of other "gold rushes"employment and perhaps an entrepreneurial role in agriculture, oil, real estate, movies and television, industrial technology, Silicon Valley high tech, and so on. Sometimes everyone gets along; at other times certain groups or individuals are blamed or criticized because they are perceived as benefiting unfairly or are seen as the cause of societal problems. 

Often today our diversity still involves ethnic differences. We've also added other diversitiesof gender, sexual orientation, medical/physical and emotional disabilities, religions and philosophies 

Part II, Overview
Page 1