The Japanese numbered 1781 in 1900 and have very rapidly increased. The question of their admission to the public schools, rivalry in labour and trade, and other racial antagonisms attendant on their rapid increase in numbers, created conflicts that at one time seriously involved the relations of the two countries. Two Chinese papers are published. More than half of the daily papers are foreign language.
History.—A Spanish presidio (military post), and the Franciscan mission of San Francisco de Asis, on the Laguna de los Dolores, were founded near the northern end of the peninsula in 1776. San Francisco was not one of the important settlements. Even the very important fact whether it was ever actually a pueblo—i.e. a legally recognized and organized town—was long a controverted question. Up to 1835 there were two settlements on the peninsula—one about the presidio, the other about the mission; the former lost importance after the practical abandonment of the presidio in 1836, the latter after the secularization of the mission, beginning in 1834. The year 1835-1836 marked the beginning of a third settlement destined to become the present San Francisco. This was Yerba Buena (“good herb,” i.e. wild mint), founded on a little cove of the same name S.E. of Telegraph Hill, extending inland to the present line of Montgomery Street. (The cove was largely filled in as early as 1851.)
The site of the city is very different from that of most American towns, and seemed a most unpromising location. The hills were barren and precipitous, and the inter spaces were largely shifting sand-dunes; but on the E. the land sloped gently to the bay. In 1835-1839 “San Francisco” had an ayuntamiento (town-council), and the different municipal officers seem to have been located at the same or different times at the mission, the presidio, or at Yerba Buena; the name San Francisco being applied indifferently to all three settlements. The ayuntamiento, apparently recognizing the future of Yerba Buena, granted lots there, and as the older settlements decayed Yerba Buena throve. In 1840 there were only a handful of inhabitants; in 1846, when (on the 9th of July) the flag of the United States was raised over the town, its prosperity already marked it as the future commercial “metropolis” of the coast. In this year a Mormon colony joined the settlement, making it for a time a Mormon town. The population in the year before the gold discovery probably doubled, and amounted to perhaps 900 in May 1848.
The first news of the gold discoveries of January 1848 was received with incredulity at San Francisco (to give Yerba Buena the name it formally assumed in 1847), and there was little excitement until April. In May there was an exodus. By the middle of June the hitherto thriving town had been abandoned by a large majority of its inhabitants. Realty at first fell a half in value, labour rose many times in price. Newspapers ceased publication, the town council suspended sessions, churches and business buildings were alike empty. When the truth became known regarding the mines a wonderful “boom” began. The population is said to have been 2000 in February (in which month the first steamer arrived with immigrants from the East over the Isthmus), 6000 in August, and 20,000 by the end of the year. A city of tents and shanties rose on the sand-dunes. Realty values rose ten-fold in 1849. Early in 1850 more than 500 vessels were lying in the bay, most of them deserted by their crews. Many rotted; others were beached, and were converted into stores and lodging houses. Customs revenues rose from $20,000 in the first half of 1848 to $175,000 in the second half and to $4,430,000 in the year ending in June 1852. There was at first no idea of permanent settlement, and naturally no time whatever to improve the city. Great quantities of expensive merchandise glutted the market and were sunk in the liquid mud of the streets as fillage for the construction of sidewalks. Between December 1849 and June 1851 seven “great” fires, destroying in the aggregate property valued at twenty or twenty-five millions of dollars, swept the business district. Half of this was in the fire of the 4th of May 1851, which almost completely destroyed the city. These misfortunes led to a more general employment of brick and stone in the business quarter. It is characteristic of the vagaries of Californian commerce in the early years that dressed granite for some buildings was imported from China.
In these days the society of San Francisco was extraordinary. It was the most extreme of all democracies. Probably never before nor since in America was there a like test of self-development. Unusual courage and self-reliance were necessary for success. Amusements were coarse and unrestrained. Gambling was the fiercest passion. Property was at first, in San Francisco as in the mines, exceptionally secure; then insecure. Crime became alarmingly common, and the city government was too corrupt and inefficient to repress it. It was estimated (Bancroft) that up to 1854 there were 4200 homicides and 1200 suicides; in 1855 the records show 583 deaths by violence. There were almost no legal convictions and executions. Juries would not punish homicide with severity. In 1851 the first Committee of Vigilance was formed and served from June to September, when it disbanded; it was the nucleus of the second and greater committee, active from May to August of 1856. By these committees criminals were summarily tried, convicted and punished; suspicious characters were deported or intimidated. These vigilantes were the good citizens (the committee of 1851 included some 800 and that of 1856 some 6000-8000 citizens of all classes), who organized outside of law, “not secretly, but in debate, in daylight, with sobriety and decorum,” to defend and establish, through defying, its rule. In this they were comparatively successful. Crime was never again so brazen and daring, and 1856 marks also the beginning of political reform. San Francisco's action was widely imitated over the state. In 1877 during the labour troubles a Committee of Safety was again organized, but had a very brief existence.
The United States military authorities in August 1847 authorized a municipal government. Under a municipal ordinance another was chosen in December 1848 to succeed it, but the parent government pronounced the election illegal; nevertheless the new organization continued to act, though another was chosen and recognized as legal. There were for a time at the end of 1848 three (and for a longer time two) civil governments and one military. Neither the military nor municipal organization was competent to give adequate law and peace to the community; and therefore in February 1849 the citizens elected a “Legislative Assembly,” which they empowered to make laws not in “conflict with the Constitution of the United States nor the common laws thereof.” This was proclaimed revolutionary by the military authorities, but such illegalities continued to spread over the state, until in June 1849 the Convention was called that framed the State Constitution, California being admitted in September 1850 to the Union. Provisional civil officers were elected throughout the state, and the Legislative Assembly came to an end. The charters of 1850, 1851 and 1856 have already been referred to.
The first public school was established in 1849. In 1855-1856 a disastrous commercial panic crippled the city; and in 1858, when at the height of the Fraser river gold-mine excitement it seemed as though Victoria, B.C., was to supplant San Francisco as the metropolis of the Pacific, realty values in the latter city dropped for a time fully a half in value. In 1859 foreign coin was first refused by the banks. Up to this time first gold dust, then private coins, and later money of various countries, had circulated in California. In 1860 mail communication was established with the East by a pony express, the charge being $5.00 for a half-ounce.
Some reference must be made to the Mexican land-grant litigation. The high value of land in and about the city caused the fabrication of two of the most famous claims examined and rejected as fraudulent by the United States courts (the Limantour and Santillan claims). They involved 7 sq. leagues of land and many millions of dollars. Another land question already referred to (that Whether San Francisco was entitled as a pueblo to 4 sq. leagues of public land) was settled affirmatively in 1867, but the final land patents were not issued until 1884 by the national government.
When the Civil War came in 1861 the attitude of San Francisco