Northern California: Persistence and Property Rights in a Changing Economy 1840 – 1888

property rights

Property rights are the legal and theoretical rights of the ownership of resources and how these rights can be used. These resources can be owned by anyone, including businesses and governments. 

Private property rights are a person’s right to purchase, sell, rent, or keep a hold of their property. When referring to economic property rights, this is when property rights are the foundation of market exchange. In this writing, we will look at the evolution of property rights.

Define Property Rights: Married Women’s Property Law

Before the Married Women’s Property Act was passed in 1848, women were not allowed any rights to property, it would either belong to her father or husband. This act entitled women to own their own property independent of men and keep hold of any profit from rent or sales. 

Section two of the act states: “The real and personal property, and the rents issues and profits thereof of any female now married shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband; but shall be her sole and separate property as if she were a single female except so far as the same may be liable for the debts of her husband heretofore contracted.” 

This was a significant moment in women’s history as it marks the start of their independence and protects their natural rights to property not only in Northern California but everywhere in the U.S. 

Californian Economy 

As California became more populated during the mid-1800s, it meant that its economy soon started to boom. By 1860, California had 307,000, which had tripled since 1847. Once the state became increasingly populated, Californians started to look away from traditional gold mining to earn money and towards other methods, such as farming wheat and cattle. Let’s define property rights in economics.

After using the railway to link California to the rest of the country in the early 1860s, both tourism and property buying helped to contribute to the state’s economy. The Central Pacific Line ran all the way from Sacramento to the east, making it easier for people to visit Northern California. 

The railway allowed many to resettle in California after being lured by the promise of gold mines. Both private property economics and property sales flourished until 1888 when the market crashed after new residents realized the gold rush wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Even though the market saw a crash, the 1890 census showed that populations in Northern California cities such as Los Angeles were still high. 

Land Grants

Soon after Mexico gained independence from Spain, the country took control of California, and with this came land grants. These grants provided protection for all property rights that were owned by the California Mexican elite that was residing in California. They commonly built ranches that were used to farm cattle and sell meat, these were known as ranchos. 

As time went on, California was starting to home more U.S. citizens rather than Mexicans. A historical moment was when the first group of citizens came to Northern California in 1841. The group was led by John Bidwell and John Bartleson, and from here, Bidwell went to work for Johann August Sutter, a notable Mexican immigrant who was originally born in Germany. When Stutter arrived in California, he received a huge land grant from the Mexican government which meant he was able to have his own property rights and contribute to economics by creating orchards, vineyards, and wheat fields on his ranch located in Sacramento. Sutter’s ranch was used to help the group that had come over with Bidwell to get onto their feet. 

Property Rights: The Gold Rush

Not only was Sutter famous for the huge amount of land he owned, but he also played a key part in the Californian Gold Rush, which increased the state’s economy. In 1848, gold was found in Stutter’s mill, and while he tried to keep it a secret, word soon got out. By August 1848, 4000 gold miners had arrived in Northern California, and by 1849, this had rapidly increased to 80,000. 

It’s thought that $2 billion worth of gold was extracted from Californian mines. However, work soon began to run dry and this meant California’s economy soon started to decline. The Gold Rush peaked in 1852, and by 1860 it was over. Mining towns soon became ghost towns once mines had been stripped of gold, which meant those who decided to stay in California had to find new ways to make an income.  

Protecting Property Rights

California changed from the Mexican to the U.S. government in 1846, and with this came uncertainty over the ownership of land grants. At this time, around 750 grants had been made by the Mexican government and consisted of a vast 12 million acres. The U.S. agreed to defend property rights of these landowners. 

A California Land Act was produced, which gave Mexican owners a chance to submit evidence to their claim to the land so that the U.S. government could make a decision over whether they had a valid claim to the land. 

Northern California came across many changes to its economy and property rights from 1840 to 1888. There were positive changes, such as the Married Women’s Property Law, where women were allowed to own property independently from their husbands. The economy also boomed from the Gold Rush, thanks to the increase in population and the $2 billion worth of gold mined. 

Along with positives, there were also negatives. The Gold Rush was short-lived, and it wasn’t long until gold began to run dry, which had a damaged effect on the economy. After California stopped being a part of Mexican rule, the U.S also had to decide what to do with land grants and while they had their rights defined in a California Land Act where they could prove their ownership of the land, this property rights system for granting property took almost 17 years to be given to the land grant owners. Even today, the topic of property rights in California is one of the most debated in a college essay or research paper. That’s what students seek professional writing help with from this or that essay service. And that’s the topic that the next generation is certainly going to keep on writing about. 


“1982 – Grants of Land in California Made by Spanish or Mexican Authorities”. (2018). Overview of California Private Land Claims and the Public Domain. 3. 

Clay,K. (2005, June 22). Anarchy, Property Rights, and Violence: The Case of Post Gold Rush California. Citeseerx.

From Gold Rush to Golden State | Early California History: An Overview | Articles and Essays | California as I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900 | Digital Collections | Library of Congress. (n.d). The Library of Congress. 

Kenton, W. (2022). What Are Property Rights, and Why Do They Matter? Investopedia. 

Married Women’s Property Act of 1848 | (n.d.). 

Mexican California  | Early California History: An Overview  | Articles and

Essays  | California as I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849

1900  | Digital Collections  | Library of Congress. (n.d.). The Library of Congress. 

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Jamie Clark
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Jaime is the professional writer at the Computer Science Department of Since childhood, Jaime has been passionate about computers and all technical appliances. Besides computers, Jaime is curious about history, computer games, especially Dota.