"THE RIVALS: William Gwin, David Broderick, and the Birth of California" by Arthur Quinn

"THE RIVALS: William Gwin, David Broderick, and the Birth of California"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Quinn, fresh from his exploration of early America in A New World (p. 535), takes on the early days of gold-rush California through the story of two men whose political and personal rivalry was to end in tragedy. William Gwin was a suave Southerner with a handsome fortune who headed a clique of California Southerners known as the ""Chivalry."" Quinn amusingly shows how Gwin -- determined to get his version of a state constitution through the first state assembly at Monterey and himself elected to the US Senate -- had to adapt to the rough democratic manners of California politics. He ceded first place for a while to the coonskinned frontiersman ""Dr."" Semple, but nevertheless controlled the assembly from a back seat. David Broderick, on the other hand, could not have been more different: a tough street fighter from the slums of New York determined to lead ""the ignorant and the timid"" against their masters in 1849 San Francisco. While Gwin carefully cultivated his image in political circles, even going so far as to agree to the ban on slavery (while still owning slaves himself back home), rival Broderick joined the firemen of the nascent city and quickly conceived a virulent hatred for the patrician Gwin. For Broderick, as Quinn quips, it was simple: ""Let the Chivalry oppose the Shovelry at its peril."" The end result was a duel between the two resulting in Broderick's death. Quinn paints an absorbing picture of this strange, hurly-burly society, at once primitive and sophisticated, impoverished and unimaginably wealthy. We see the tent city of San Francisco with its ruthless merchants, Australian street gangs, and its harbor teeming with mastless boats whose crews had run off to join the gold rush. We see the beginnings of modern California -- a melting pot of American problems and aspirations. Quinn performs his task in a richly straightforward way, depicting his colorful cast with a keen sense of the delicate meshing of the personal and the historical.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1994
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Crown