US Stamps

1894 cover harkens to California before 1850 statehood

May 17, 2024, 9 AM
This 1894 unmailed, illustrated cover illuminates a period in California’s history before it became a state in 1850.

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

We think of California as an integral part of the United States, but it was not always so. This was brought home to me by a cover I recently purchased even though it had not been sent through the mail.

That cover, illustrated above, is franked with a 2¢ Washington stamp from the 1894 First Bureau Issue in the lower right corner. The top two-thirds of the envelope features an illustration and the text, “Semi Centennial Celebration of the American Occupation of California, Monterey, Cal. July 4 to 7, 1896.”

I must have been home with a cold the day this was taught in American history class, so I looked it up and found that today’s California was part of Mexico as late as the start of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.

We are generally more familiar with the Texas aspects of this war, but U.S. forces also moved against the Mexican province of Alta California.

After the U.S. military had inflicted a series of military defeats and taken control of population centers (often without resistance), the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed in 1847. For practical purposes, this treaty ended the military hostilities between the two countries in California.

That outcome was formalized in the better-known Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. In that treaty, Mexico ceded present-day California, among other territory, to the United States.

The consensus of the historians I have read is that the United States caused the war because of its ambition to expand into what the government at the time considered to be a part of the continental United States.

The cover shown here, created 50 years later, is just another example of how philately and history intertwine, making both come to life.

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