Friday, July 25, 2008

California Dreaming

I've been reading Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History by Frederick Merk and came across this example of a vintage 1840s information operation:

"Moreover, he [Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft ] gave Californians a suggestion as to the means by which freedom could be attained. He sent Sloat, by some conveyance not yet identified, copies of the Texas Constitution translated into Spanish, for distribution at Monterey and at San Francisco. Thus, in the season when Oregonians were being sent the President's December message and the rifles to hearten them, Californians were being offered the heady wine of the Texas compact as incentives to seek freedom.

"Commander John B. Montgomery, of the sloop of war Portsmouth, was detailed to distribute this literature to Californians. He was told:

"When on that coast you will communicate frequently with our consul in Monterey and will ascertain as exactly as you can the nature of the designs of the English and French in that region, the temper of the inhabitants--their disposition toward the U. States and their relations toward the central Government of Mexico. You will do every thing that is proper to conciliate towards our country the most friendly regard of the people of California

"When at Monterey and San Francisco you will distribute the accompanying constitutions of the State of Texas printed in Spanish.
"

What's interesting is that a republican constitution was perceived to be powerful enough to capture people's imaginations and thus could be used as part of a persuasion operation. Texas of course provided the model that many had hoped California would follow. The 19th century was a time of establishing the institutions that we now take for granted. For us a constitution is not enough. And so our idea operations have to be based on something else. What is the character of our time? What is it that we are challenged to do? How do we articulate and manifest the ideals and vision that they saw in a constitution in terms that are in harmony with our time?

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