CUP Undergraduate Research

Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2019

Document Type



College of Arts & Sciences



Degree Name

History, BA

First Advisor

Gerd Horten, Ph.D.


With a population of 40 million and a gross domestic product of nearly 2.5 trillion dollars the state of California on its own accounts for one of the top 10 largest economies in the world as well as one of the most diverse populations. But California’s emergence on the world stage did not occur overnight. In January of 1848, a local carpenter named James Marshall found a nugget of gold in the south fork of the American River when constructing a lumber mill for John Sutter. As a result of the construction project, Marshall’s discovery would be referred to as the first finding of gold in California. And almost instantly, word spread round the globe in the California gold rush was on. This thesis will explore several key aspects of California’s development while keeping a central focus on the impact of Marshall’s discovery, starting with the national climate toward westward expansion under President Polk and the actualization of Manifest Destiny. After the details of Marshall’s discovery is fully examined, the direct impacts of the California gold rush can be observed. Specifically, this paper will be broken up into four distinct sections each analyzing specific aspects of California’s early history, starting with the very beginning and those who shaped the region as well as how these communities wrestled with concepts such as law, religion, and racial diversity. Likewise, this thesis explores the state and local policies and politics up until 1852 as well as the broader implications for and the ensuing transformations to the state, including the emergence of California’s timber, agricultural and mining industries.

Included in

History Commons