Part II: Gold, Greed and Government (continued)
|is an excellent way
to begin a U.S. history course, but students should be reminded that, while
some presidents might be considered great, they usually also had to rely
on a supportive nation, legislature and judiciary.
Lesson 1 deals with how California changed from a Mexican province to an American state. Students will examine data that will help them to see that California skipped formal territorial status and went from an American possession to an American state. As they speculate on why so many people suddenly swarmed into California, some students should recall from their fourth-grade studies that this growth is related to the 1848 discovery of gold in California. (The burgeoning population also represented the broadening of California's diverse populationan enriching experience in some ways, but the beginning of interethnic tension.)
Lesson 2 asks the question "How did California's constitution and laws reflect the values of the political majority?" Students will analyze and read a variety of primary source images and statements, and will then predict how the constitution and laws would respond to questions about slavery and the rights of minorities. Some of the students will read material about what people said and did in early (post-Rancho) California that will be totally new to them. Because information about how California (and other states) treated minority populations is not usually found in U.S. history books or included in the fourth-grade California history curriculum, a large number of activities, images and source readings are included. The teacher can select and use any or all, depending on time constraints.
Lesson 3 helps the student to realize that California has had a long history of cultural and ethnic diversity, conflict and cooperation, and that California laws, like those of any other society, reflected the values of the political majority. The influence of unchecked majority rule, however, is sometimes tempered by respect for the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and students should recognize such incidents. Other Californians acted on behalf of minorities because they cared about justice and fairness for all, and students should appreciate this time-honored practice, which many Americans still support today.
Students will find a number of similarities between early California and contemporary California. The readings and worksheet for Lesson 3, "Law and Order in California," give examples of prejudice and intolerance, but they also document compassion and empathy. Some students will recognize a practice that foreigners observed as peculiar to Americansthe impulse to organize and to establish some sort of sociopolitical order before anarchy prevails. Students also will identify factors that encourage "civilized" societies, and those that permit lawlessness or extralegal behaviors to emerge, elements that they might recognize even today.
Lesson 4 calls for the use of resources already available in the classroom and the school library, because U.S. history textbooks and other available resources generally cover the Compromise of 1850 fairly well. However, the significant role that California played at this time is sometimes overlooked. Therefore, this lesson is designed to provide a different perspective on the Compromise of 1850. It emphasizes California's pivotal role during this crucial moment in our nation's history.
Gold Mines of California is an optional map activity that will give students an idea of the physical geography of the region and further insight into the diverse population of miners. A magnifying glass might be of help in reading the place names.
Part II, Overview