Book Review: Lower California

Lower California, by the Lower California Company

Among the dirty little secrets of American history is the role of land speculation in the growth of America [1].  All the way back to colonial times, the lure of land speculation was a major influence in the spread of population across the lands that became the United States.  George Washington was a major land speculator and it influenced his role in the beginning of the French & Indian War as a defender of his own claims and that of fellow Virginians in what is now Western Pennsylvania.  Virginia’s overselling of Kentucky land led to some of the poverty suffered by Abraham Lincoln during his childhood because of insecure land title which led his father to move first to Indiana and then Illinois.  After the Civil War, a group of people, some of whom (like Caleb Cushing) are relatively famous 19th century people, joined together as part of a company to speculate on Mexican land in the Baja California, and this short book is the result of their efforts to promote their claim and fill a land that was empty then and is still pretty empty today with large amounts of docile Chinese labor.

This particular book, which is around 50 pages or so of material, is divided between statistics and hopeful speculations to help drive up interest in the land speculation company and letters involving backers and important people to increase the credibility of the efforts of the company.  A surprisingly large amount of this book is made up of letters as the backers tried to write to various influential people to help encourage the importation of foreign labors for plantation labor and mining operations, as well as to show the support of the Mexican government in the efforts of the land company.  The authors note, almost apologetically, that the portion of Baja California granted to the company did not abut the U.S. border, likely because of concerns that the United States would take more Mexican territory, which was not an unreasonable concern.  The statistics and hopeful speculation seem particularly striking in light of the fact that the area that Lower California Company had been granted is still an area known for its remoteness, low population, and danger to people thanks to drug cartels, all but the last of which were problems at the time.  From the mirror of hindsight, it is easy to tell that this was one effort that failed but the book still shines an interesting light on land speculation practices of the 19th century.

This is the kind of books that prompts historical fiction literature.  How did the company fail?  Did it simply fall apart because of the economic panics of the Guilded Age?  Was the claim nationalized by Huerta’s government during that same time period?  Did any people leave California or other places to travel to this claim?  If so, what happened to them?  Did the backers of this scheme make the money they were looking for?  If not, did their powerful friends bail them out?  This sort of company has all kinds of implications for contemporary business practices, and the fact that the authors of this scheme were so honest about their search for borrowed credibility and their exploitation of mistreatment and trouble to engage in proposals for massive population transfers in foreign countries is staggering to the imagination.  The audacity and moxie of this particular pamphlet demands respect even if one has deep reservations about human rights concerns and the political instability of Mexico.  Even though one can gather that these were corrupt men, they were corrupt men with a certain amount of genuine daring and ambition, and there is something to be said for that.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: Lower California

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Black Nile | Edge Induced Cohesion

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