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California Gold Rush Terms

Californios, Californio

Mexican citizens, inhabitants of the Mexican province of Alta California.


Within republican ideology, a competency was a holding of land—typically a farmstead—that allowed a man to sustain his family without needing to work for wages in the market economy.

Manifest Destiny

The concept, popular in the nineteenth century, that the United States was ordained by God to conquer the entire North American continent.

This phrase was first coined in 1845 by those who advocated the annexation of Texas. Thereafter it became the calling card for western expansion and, ultimately, a rallying cry for those who sought to justify American imperialism.

First used by those who supported the annexation of Texas in 1845, the term later justified American settlement of the Great Plains and the West (and then the broadening of the American empire).

The idea, popular in the mid-nineteenth century, that the United States was ordained by God to spread across the entire North American continent.


A Forty-Niner term for the torrents of muck sent downstream by hydraulic mining, which used the spray from high-pressure hoses to artificially erode ore-bearing hillsides to reveal the gold buried within.


A drug made from the bark of the chinchona tree and used as a prophylactic against malaria. The discovery of quinine's anti-malarial effects was one of the most important achievements of nineteenth-century medicine. In 1848, San Francisco merchant Samuel Brannan filled an empty quinine bottle with gold dust to prove that rumors of a gold strike in the Sierra foothills were true.

American Dream

The ideal of freedom and opportunity that allows all Americans to aspire to a higher standard of living than that achieved by their parents.


Rural, agricultural.

Characteristic of a society based on agriculture and farming.

Wage Labor

Work performed for an employer, for pay.

Yeoman Farmer, Yeomen, Yeoman

An independent farmer, working his own land to support his own family. In the early years of the American republic, Thomas Jefferson idealized yeoman farmers as the backbone of a free and democratic society. In the nineteenth century, Americans frequently contrasted independent yeoman farmers with wage laborers, whose dependence upon their employers for survival was said to make them less reliable democratic citizens.


The status of being a citizen of the United States. Citizenship can be attained either through birthright (for those born in the United States) or through naturalization (for those who immigrate to the United States from foreign countries).


The state of being dependent or subordinate to another person for survival. In the early nineteenth century, adherents of republican ideology believed that all wage laborers were too dependent upon their employers to make good democratic citizens.


Idealistic, impractical, and unrealistic. The word is derived from Cervantes' great Spanish novel Don Quixote, which satirically chronicles the dubious exploits of the hopelessly romantic title character.

A romantic and/or impossible goal or quest

Second Great Awakening

A great religious revival that swept through much of the eastern United States in the 1830s, during which hundreds of thousands of people joined evangelical churches such as the Baptists and Methodists, as well as newer sects such as the Shakers and Mormons.

Sectional Question, Sectionalism

The long debate between North and South over slavery in the United States. The sectional question was only finally answered through the Civil War, which ended slavery in the United States.

Placer Gold, Placer Mining

Surface-level deposits of gold found in streams and rivers that can be retrieved through simple methods such as panning.

Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurs

A person who takes the risk to organize a new and speculative business venture.


To analyze a deposit of ore to determine the content of valuable minerals within it.

Kinship News Networks

In a time before mass media, most people got news of far-off events via word of mouth, typically through family-based communication networks.



Can speak multiple languages

Market Revolution

In the early part of the nineteenth century, Americans experienced a profound set of economic, social, and cultural changes that historians today call the Market Revolution. Major improvements in technology and transportation made it feasible for individuals to trade across longer distances, encouraging farmers to grow crops for sale rather than for subsistence. New financial institutions allowed many ordinary people to take part, for the first time, in an economy based on money. And manufacturing became a much more sophisticated industry. The result of the Market Revolution was the rise of American capitalism.

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