John Bigler (John Bigler)

John Bigler

John Bigler was born in early 1805 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to parents of German ancestry. Beginning work in the printing trade at an early age, Bigler, as well as his younger brother, William, never received a formal education, yet Bigler took it upon himself to educate his younger brother. In 1831, both brothers moved to Bellefonte in Centre County to buy the local Andrew Jackson-affiliated Centre Democrat newspaper, where older John assumed editorial duties. Bigler worked as editor until 1835, when he sold the publication to study law. When news of the California gold rush reached the East Coast in mid-1848, John Bigler, now a middle-aged lawyer, decided to leave for the West Coast to join a law practice. Travelling overland with an ox train, Bigler reached Sacramento in 1849, only to quickly discover that there were no open positions in law. Bigler began to work at a series of odd jobs, including becoming an auctioneer, a wood chopper, and a freight unloader at the town’s docks along the Sacramento River. Upon hearing of the territory’s first general election in the same year, Bigler decided to turn to politics, and entered the California State Assembly as a Democrat, one of nine members representing the Sacramento district. Upon being elected to the first session of the California State Legislature in 1849, Bigler enjoyed a rapid rise to power in the Assembly. Within a year, Bigler was voted by the heavily Democratic majority in the body as the Speaker of the Assembly in February 1850. Now one of the most powerful legislators in the state, Bigler enjoyed widespread name recognition. During the Sacramento Cholera Epidemic of October 1850, Bigler contracted cholera as a direct result of his remaining in the city and assisting doctors and undertakers.

In May 1851, John Bigler was nominated by the Democratic Party convention in Benicia as the party’s choice for governor in California’s first general election after achieving statehood. Bigler’s challenger, the Whig Party’s Pierson B. Reading, derided Bigler as an unpolished, gruff Yankee Northerner, while Reading articulated himself as an educated pioneering gentleman of the South. Bigler won the election by little more than a thousand votes, which remains today as the closest gubernatorial election in California history. Upon assuming the governorship on January 8, 1852, Bigler established his priorities to protect the state’s highly profitable mining interests from leasing or outside monopolies, declaring in his first inaugural address that these mining interests should be “left as free as the air we breathe.” John Bigler also prioritized the industrialization of California, encouraging industrial investment on behalf of the state government. Following his defeat in the 1855 elections, Bigler’s career turned to diplomacy. In 1857, at the insistence of his brother, Pennsylvania Governor William Bigler, President James Buchanan appointed Bigler as U.S. Minister to Chile.[10] Following the completion of his foreign assignment, Bigler re-entered politics, this time on the federal level. Bigler ran as a Southern-friendly Independent for Congress in the 1863 elections, yet failed to win. In 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Bigler as the Internal Revenue Service’s Federal Assessor for the Sacramento district, but due to open animosity between Congress and President Johnson at the time, the U.S. Senate never confirmed the nomination, and thus Bigler never took the position. In 1867, John Bigler was appointed Railroad Commissioner for the Central Pacific Railroad. In 1868, he founded the State Capitol Reporter and served as its editor until his death in Sacramento on November 29, 1871 at the age of 66. He is interred in the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery.

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  • January, 08, 1805
  • USA
  • Carlisle, Pennsylvania


  • November, 29, 1871
  • USA
  • Sacramento, California


  • Sacramento City Cemetery
  • Sacramento, California
  • USA

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