I haven’t really followed California gubernatorial elections since 1859, when Milton S. Latham ran as a pro-slavery Democrat. He was a grandson of my town’s first postmaster, and in this corner of New Hampshire we take a proprietorial interest in his adventures as he pressed west. Californians, as far as I can tell, take zero interest in him, perhaps because he proved to be their shortest-serving governor. Though he was thought to favour making California a slave state, in his inaugural address he was more circumspect about his plans: ‘Entering upon the duties of Chief Magistrate of our young State, it is expected of me, in accordance with precedent, to briefly indicate the line of policy by which I will be governed,’ he began. ‘It would be a better custom, upon the termination of an official career, for an officer to point his constituency to his several completed acts, rather than, in the assumption of office, to promise what may not be consummated.’
Latham knew whereof he spoke. He’d only run for governor because he wanted the Senate seat recently vacated by David Broderick after he’d been killed in a duel with California’s chief justice. Though duelling was illegal in the state, Judge Terry had demanded satisfaction after Senator Broderick called him a ‘miserable wretch’. When the senator’s pistol discharged prematurely, the chief justice coolly shot him through the chest. Latham preferred the job of senator to governor. So, having taken office, he immediately had the legislature appoint him to the Senate and promptly left town. He remains the only governor to keep a journal for every day of his entire term, mainly because his administration lasted just five days. Chief Justice Terry was, in turn, fatally shot by the bodyguard of US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field, after he’d assaulted the federal judge in the restaurant of Lathrop railroad station in San Joaquin County.