California’s Original Declaration of Independence of 1836: Alta California Declares Its Independence
The 1836 "Lone Star" Alvarado Flag of Alta California
“California is free and it will cut off all relations with Mexico until the mother country cease being oppressed by the present ruling faction known as the central government”.
CAPTAIN ANDRES CASTILLERO, DIPLOMAT An Account from Unpublished, Sources of His Services to Mexico in the Alvarado Revolution of 1836-1838
By George Tays
As the early morning mists of November 4, 1836, lifted from over the thickly wooded hills back of the town and spacious Bay of Monterey, the oft-beleaguered capital of Upper California awoke to find itself in a state of siege. Under cover of darkness, on the night of November 3, a revolutionary army of some 125 men, commanded by Jose Castro and Juan Bautista Alvarado and including nearly fifty foreign volunteers of all nationalities masquerading as American riflemen led by Isaac Graham, had stolen stealthily through the deserted streets and had taken possession of the ruined and abandoned fort, which stood on an eminence several hundred yards west of the crumbling presidio, where a company of fifty-five loyal Mexican officers and soldiers commanded by Governor Gutierrez were quartered.
During the day and night of the 4th and early morning of the 5th, negotiations for the surrender of the post were carried on between Castro and Gutierrez. In the meantime, half of the latter’s soldiers deserted him and the rebels were materially aided with arms, ammunition, and other supplies, by some eight or ten foreign vessels, especially those owned by Captain William S. Hinckley, which by some strange coincidence had assembled in Monterey Bay at that particular time. The rebels had also recived the moral support of Commodore Edmund B. Kennedy, Commander-in-chief of the Asiatic squadron of the United States, who had visited Monterey to make some absurd demands upon the authorities and who had sailed south only four days before, after receiving information about the intended revolution.
The negotiations completed, Governor Gutierrez capitulated at 8 a. m. on November 5, having received full assurances for the safety of the lives and property of himself, his officers and his men. The revolutionists then took formal possession of the capital and on the 7th proclaimed California a free and sovereign state, independent from Mexico, until such time as the federal system of 1824, which earlier in the year had been supplanted by centralism, should be restored. This was done amidst great festivities of rejoicing and resounding vivas! to the federation, to liberty, and to the free and sovereign State of Alta California.
For over a year previous to the above events, California had been of political ferment which had finally culminated in the revolt. Just before his death, Governor Figueroa had appointed Jose Castro to act as ad interim civil governor until such time as the Mexican Government might otherwise direct. The military command he transferred to his second in command and friend, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicolas Gutierrez, a loyal Mexican officer.
Below first edition broadside. AII, California 17. Cowan, Spanish Press, p. 16. Fahey 22 (locating only this and the Bancroft copy). Greenwood 23. Harding 22. Libros Californianos, p. 26 (Wagner list). Streeter Sale 2482 (this copy). The printer of this broadside was California’s second printer, Santiago Aguilar (Bancroft, Pioneer Register, p. 28), and this broadside was his second imprint. After the success of the revolution fomented by Juan Bautista Alvarado and José Castro, California’s first printer, Agustín Zamorano, was forced into exile on November 4, 1836 (three days before the present imprint). The government seized Zamorano’s press, and Santiago Aguilar was put in charge. After creating twenty-two imprints, Aguilar made the mistake of giving aid to an abortive revolt that erupted at Monterey on July 1, 1837. The only measurable loss of the fizzled revolt was that Señor Aguilar was fired from his job as Public Printer. Thereafter, Vallejo took Zamorano’s historic press to Sonoma (see next entry for a Sonoma imprint).
California’s Original 1836 Declaration of Independence from Mexico. Only 2 original copies in existence.
Another ominous manifestation of the political rumblings felt during the 1830s in Mexico’s northern provinces, this Declaration of Independence by Alta California occurred the same year as that of the Texans, although the issue was more peacefully resolved in California. Reflecting yet another province aggrieved by the neglect and insouciance of the Mexican central government, this declaration states that Alta California will be an independent state until the central government of Mexico is reformed and reverts to its former situation. The declaration printed here sets up a full government apparatus for Alta California, including appointing leaders, providing for a legislature, and establishing a constitution. One of its highly unusual features is Article 3, in which Alta California declares that only the Catholic faith may be practiced publicly but that citizens will not be molested for their private religious views.
English Translation Below
Declaration of Independence of California
November 3, 1836
The most excellent Deputation of Upper California unto its inhabitants.
Heaven favors us; undoubtedly you are its select few, and this is why you are guided propitiously to happiness. You might have been until now the unfortunate beings of civil factions, whose leaders, satisfied with a passing triumph, pressed you to the limit of your docility and sufferings. You swore solemnly before God and man to be free or to perish rather than to be slaves. Thereby you adopted forever the federal constitution of 1824 as the only social and governing pact that you were to obey. Your government was organized at the expense of many sacrifices that unnaturalized sons found convenient to amass their fortunes and to develop their criminal tendencies. So that when it seemed that you were a certain patrimony for the tyrant aristocrats, you waived the banner of free men and said, “Federation or Death is the Californians’ fate !”
Thus you have exclaimed, and this so patriotic cry will forever be firmly engraved in our hearts, where the eternal and sacred flame of love of country burns. You have tasted the sweet nectar of liberty and you will not share it with impunity with the bitter cup of oppression !
California is free and it will cut off all relations with Mexico until the mother country cease being oppressed by the present ruling faction known as the central government. In order to accomplish such a grandiose and interesting purpose, all the inhabitants of this ground must unite and form one single party, one single mind. Be unanimous, Californians, and you will be invincible if you employ all the available resource at your disposal. Only proceeding in this manner can we prove to the world that we are firm in our convictions, and that we are federalists and free men–that we prefer death to slavery.
The four founders of Alta California
As a tribute to the new independence from Mexico the Alta Californians made a large "lone Star Flag.
Known as the 1836 Alvarado flag, it is possibly the oldest surviving flag of California. Courtesy of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection, Autry National Center of the American West.
The Lone Star Flag of California, associated with Alvarado’s rebellion, contained a single red star on a white background. The California Red Star or “Lone Star” flag of 1836 was meant to symbolize ‘Freedom and Liberty”. Early nineteenth century Americans adopted the five-point star as a symbol of ‘enlightened revolution against old-word monarchies – a moral crusade for the rights of man’. Texas Declared it’s Independence from Mexico in 1836 and has the same “Lone Star” as it’s symbol.
1836 Alvarado flag flying circa 1848
Dodson’s “Lone Star” flag, mid-Sept: 1835. Also responding to the September 19, 1835 call for volunteers, Capt. Andrew Robinson, Jr. raised a company from the community of Harrisburg . Made by Sarah Dodson for her husband, Lt. Archelaus Bynum Dodson for his volunteer company. Made of calico (cotton), blue, red and white squares of equal sizes. “The white star allegedly symbolized that Texas was the only Mexican state in which the star of liberty was rising.” Carried at least as far as Cibolo Creek by James Ferguson and possibly at the Battle of Concepcion and the Siege of Bexar. However, Austin had asked him not to fly it at Bexar for fear that it would be considered a revolutionary flag. Probably made after Scott’s flag. At Washington on March 2 (Declaration of Independence), one of two flags. Considered the first Tri-Color Lone Star flag.
Dodson’s “Lone Star” flag, mid-Sept: 1835
In 1836, a coup led by Juan Alvarado declared Alta California’s independence from Mexico. Declaring himself governor, Alvarado recruited American frontiersmen, led by Isaac Graham, to support him. The rebels easily captured the capital Monterey, but were unable to convince southern leaders such as Juan Bandini and Carlos Antonio Carrillo to join the rebellion. Faced with a civil war, Alvarado and the other Californios negotiated a compromise with the central government wherein California’s leaders accepted its status as a “department” under the “Siete Leyes” Mexican constitution of 1836, in return for more local control. Alvarado was appointed governor the next year.
The prime mover behind this document was Juan Bautista Alvarado (1809-1882) , governor of Alta California from 1836 to1842. During his short tenure as governor of the independent Alta California, he managed to win the support of the majority of the populace, although he was regarded with suspicion by certain elements until his regular appointment in 1838. Working in concert with his uncle, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, who at the time was military governor, Alavardo regrettably accomplished little in the way of progress or reform, leading to the removal of both men in 1842.
Not to be stymied, the Alvarados again led another successful revolt in 1844 against governor Manuel Micheltorena, but the Bear Flag Revolt was their permanent undoing since they had neither the means nor the will to resist the yanquis. (Vallejo was in fact sympathetic to the U.S.) In the same year as this declaration, Texas, of course, flamed into full armed revolt and eventually won its independence.
CALIFORNIA MISSION INDEPENDENCE FLAG
This flag is a reconstruction of the flag believed to have been displayed during the first attempt to have California secede from Mexico. It was not uncommon for the Mexican tri-color without the eagle and serpent to have some other device or words substituted. This was a “Californio” attempt to show rebellion against Mexico.
The text on the flag reads INDEPENDENCIA DE CALIFORNIA or “California Independence.” The story behind this flag is that Mexican officers sympathetic with the notion of independence for California took this defaced Mexican Civil flag to the Padre at the Mission Santa Barbara. The good father refused it, being against overthrowing the established order, but it was later carried south and flown over the Mission San Buenaventura.
There is no surviving original of this flag. The flag is described in a manuscript held at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley California.
In 1836, Juan Alvarado vowed to gain increased autonomy for California from Mexican rule with either “bullets or words.” He hoisted this white flag with a single, centered, red five-pointed star at Monterey. In 1834, Alvarado had been elected to the Alta California Legislature as a delegate and appointed customs inspector in Monterey. The Mexican government had then appointed Lieutenant Colonel Nicolas Guterrez as Governor against the wishes of the legislature.
In November of 1836, Alvarado and Jose Castro (with Vallejo’s political support) surrounded the presidio at Monterey and forced Guterrez to surrender power to them. At the time of Alvarado’s revolt, he still favored remaining a part of Mexico, and working with the Mexican government. With Vallejo’s political support, he went on to become a two-time Governor of Alta California from 1836–1837, and later between 1842–1845