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[TIMELINE] Henry Hamilton/1st L.A. Newspaper Took the Rebel's Cause

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  • madchinaman
    First L.A. Newspaper Took Up the Rebels as a Cause The firebrand editor of the Star backed the Confederacy and advocated splitting California into free and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 17, 2006
      First L.A. Newspaper Took Up the Rebels as a Cause
      The firebrand editor of the Star backed the Confederacy and
      advocated splitting California into free and slave states.
      By Cecilia Rasmussen, Times Staff Writer

      Sutter's gold brought Henry Hamilton to California in 1849, and the
      black gold of printer's ink lured him to Los Angeles.

      Pro-slavery and hot-tempered, he became an outspoken critic of
      President Lincoln. He was a Southern sympathizer whose weapon of
      choice was the city's first newspaper, the Los Angeles Star.

      Armed with his printing press and a vision of a pure white society,
      Hamilton aimed to divide California into two states, one slave and
      one free.

      During the Civil War, the weekly Star's biting attacks on Lincoln
      got Hamilton and a cohort sent to Alcatraz for sedition, according
      to author and local historian John W. Robinson.

      The four-page Los Angeles Star — two pages in English and two in
      Spanish, also called La Estrella — debuted May 17, 1851. One of its
      founders was William H. Rand, a mapmaker who left to start Rand
      McNally Co.

      In its first issue, the Star reported that Los Angeles County had
      8,329 residents, including "Indians and foreigners." Good whiskey
      was 50 cents a quart, and hangings were a community sport. The city
      hadn't changed much when Hamilton bought the paper five years later.

      A native of Ireland, Hamilton immigrated to the United States in
      1848, when he was in his 20s. He worked as a printer and reporter in
      New Orleans.

      Gold drew him to San Francisco with the other 49ers. After a short
      fling at mining, he landed a job as a reporter.

      "Only the barest facts about Hamilton's background are known," said
      Robinson, who wrote about him in the 1997 Dogtown Territorial
      Quarterly, a historical journal now known as the California
      Territorial Quarterly.

      In 1851, when the San Francisco paper folded, Hamilton and two other
      journalists founded the Calaveras Chronicle. He wrote about foreign
      and local politics — until he realized that miners were more
      interested in mining than reading. He sold his share of the paper.

      Slavery was polarizing the nation; already, some spoke of secession.
      Northern California was firmly loyal to the Union, so Hamilton
      headed to Southern California. The region, especially Los Angeles,
      was decidedly sympathetic to the South.

      In 1856, Hamilton took over the foundering Star and turned it into a
      thriving paper that espoused Southern causes, including states'
      rights, secession, tariffs and slavery. As a side job, he sold fire

      Hamilton's first issue was published Jan. 14, 1856, with 500 copies
      in English and 200 in Spanish. (A year earlier, the Star's Spanish-
      language printer-editor had started his own paper, El Clamor

      Within days, Hamilton's paper had a scoop: A young woman who had
      been assumed dead had been seen. Five years earlier, Olive Oatman,
      then 13, and her family had been attacked by Yavapai Indians as they
      crossed the Arizona desert. Everyone assumed that Olive had been
      killed, but instead she had been sold to the Mojave tribe.

      The story brought about her rescue. Then, in the Star, she described
      her life among Indians who treated her kindly — an unimaginable
      concept in the frontier West.

      Racial tension in Los Angeles was increasing in 1856. Vigilante
      committees often lynched Mexican gunslingers but freed white ones or
      allowed them to escape justice through transparent legal maneuvers.

      But the catalyst that brought the city's Mexican population to a
      near-boiling point was the case of William Jenkins, a deputy marshal
      charged with killing a family man named Antonio Ruiz. The deputy
      shot Ruiz while trying to repossess a guitar that Ruiz claimed was a
      family heirloom. The Star barely gave a nod to the shooting, trial
      and 15-minute jury deliberation leading to acquittal.

      In the meantime, El Clamor Publico — The Public Outcry — chronicled
      Mexican fury in meticulous detail.

      The next year, in 1857, Hamilton devoted his entire four-page paper
      to the murder of Sheriff James Barton and three deputies, who had
      been ambushed and killed by Juan Flores and his gang of outlaws.
      Hamilton advocated vigilante justice.

      Angelenos took his idea to heart, and Hamilton recoiled. "When the
      citizens of Los Angeles lynched [Flores gang member] Pancho Daniel
      for asserted complicity in the murder of Sheriff Barton," William
      Rice wrote in his 1947 book, "The Los Angeles Star," Hamilton
      condemned the act — even though he believed Daniel to be guilty.

      Hamilton's foremost passion remained politics, especially as the
      Civil War approached. The slavery issue had already divided the
      nation and split the long-dominant Democratic Party into Northern
      and Southern factions.

      Hamilton's allies included Edward John Cage Kewen, a hot-tempered
      Southern lawyer and orator who had been California's first attorney
      general. Kewen moved to Los Angeles in 1858, opened a law practice
      and served as district attorney from 1859 to 1861. He also wrote for
      the Star.

      "Hamilton and Kewen were bookends that closed an era of Southern
      California's relative isolation," Ronald C. Woolsey wrote in his
      1996 book, "Migrants West: Toward the Southern California Frontier."

      In 1859, Hamilton was honored at a Democratic barbecue in El Monte.
      Kewen addressed the crowd for two hours, lambasting abolitionist
      Democrats. In particular, he singled out a leading citizen, rancher
      John Warner, whom he called a "hoary miscreant, covered with crimes
      like Lazarus with sores." Kewen received a tremendous ovation.

      In 1860, Kewen spent almost as much time fighting his own legal
      battles as he did representing clients. He threatened to kill a
      prosecutor in court, Hamilton reported: First, he hurled a pitcher,
      a glass and an inkstand, then he drew a derringer. As he cocked it,
      bystanders grabbed his arm, "but in the struggle the pistol was
      discharged, the ball lodging in the leg of an unfortunate Mexican."

      During the 1860 presidential campaign, Hamilton vowed to help take
      California out of the Union if Lincoln won. When his firebrand
      editorials failed to sway the outcome, he tried to divide California.

      "Week after week, Hamilton defended the Confederacy and hammered
      away at Lincoln," Robinson wrote. He called the North-South clash "a
      holy war, waged in defense of the Constitution, states' rights and,
      above all, white supremacy."

      Even as the Civil War raged, Hamilton and Kewen continued to
      disparage Lincoln and federal authority. Civic leaders accused them
      of treason and demanded that the Star be closed. On Feb. 14, 1862,
      Los Angeles' leading newspaper was banned from the U.S. mail,
      Robinson wrote.

      That October, federal troops arrested Kewen, newly elected to the
      state Assembly, for "cheering for Jeff Davis and other disloyal
      utterances," the Star reported. Within a week, Hamilton also had
      been arrested for disloyalty.

      Both were sent to the military prison on Alcatraz Island. There they
      stayed for a few weeks, until friends interceded, Robinson wrote.
      Hamilton and Kewen each posted $5,000 bail and signed an oath of
      allegiance to the federal government in exchange for freedom.

      Kewen stayed in office until his term expired in 1864. He returned
      to Los Angeles and resumed practicing law.

      Hamilton focused on his own political ambitions in 1863, using the
      Star to promote himself for the state Senate. He won.

      As legislative responsibilities kept him in Sacramento, newspaper
      subscriptions fell. Hamilton filed for bankruptcy in 1864, the paper
      closed, and he lost his campaign for reelection.

      After the war, he traveled the Southwest, dabbling in Arizona
      politics and later starting the Guardian newspaper in San
      Bernardino. In 1868, he returned to Los Angeles and revived the
      Star, guiding it back to solvency.

      Hamilton, the paper's longest-serving editor, sold the paper in
      1873; it ceased publication in 1879. Other papers had been founded
      in the meantime, including the Evening Express in 1871 and the
      Evening Herald in 1873. The Times began publishing in 1881.

      Hamilton retired to a 10-acre San Gabriel citrus ranch, where he
      enjoyed modest success and served as justice of the peace. He died
      of asthma in 1891.

      "Having faded from public view," Robinson wrote, "his obituary rated
      but two lines on Page 7 of the Los Angeles Times."
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