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Extended Audio Sample The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War, by Leonard L. Richards Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (48 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Leonard L. Richards Narrator: Jeff Riggenbac Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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In this revelatory study, award-winning historian Leonard L. Richards outlines the links between the Gold Rush and the Civil War.

Richards explains how Southerners envisioned California as a new market for slaves in the gold fields, schemed to tie California to the South via railroad, and imagined splitting off the state’s southern half for a slave state. We see how the Gold Rush influenced other regional and national squabbles, and we meet renegade New York Democrat David Broderick, who became a force in San Francisco politics in 1849, and his archrival, William Gwin, a major Mississippi slaveholder. Richards recounts the political battles alongside the fiery California feuds, duels, and, perhaps, outright murders as the state came shockingly close to being divided in two.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “An engrossing chronicle of the political intrigues that engulfed California in the 1850s, when pro-Southern legislators there angled to turn the state’s newfound wealth to the benefit of the slave economy.”


  • “Richards meticulously catalogs details of 19th-century American legislation that nonspecialists won’t have thought about since high school: the Missouri Compromise, the Gadsden Purchase, the Kansas-Nebraska Act. But when he places the actors center stage to reveal the motives behind the politics, the narrative approaches the Shakespearean.”


  • “The important back-story of the Gold Rush, according to gifted historian Leonard Richards, is political and racial. Mr. Richards contends in this insightful new book, The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War that for every fortune seeker who viewed California as a place to get rich discovering gold, another believed it a place to get rich exporting, utilizing, or trafficking in human slaves…[A] gripping book.”

    New York Sun

  • “Clear, concise, and engrossing…Takes a look at both the population flood that turned California into a state in 1850 and the battle for slavery that Southern supporters were waging in America in the same era.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “Richards...superbly illuminates gold rush California as a land in contention between national pro- and anti-slavery lobbies in the decade leading up to the Civil War.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Richards offers a broad panorama that moves seamlessly from the goldfields to the halls of Congress. This is an excellent work of popular history that will add to the appreciation of a critical epoch in our national development.”


  • “Brings to life a population of scheming officeholders, xenophobic Californians and frantic slaveholders, all of whom resorted to the ultimate frontier solution: violence.”

    Kirkus Reviews

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Kylia | 5/28/2013

    " The idea behind it was interesting, but I found that a much shorter version would have kept my attention more easily. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Smalls | 4/23/2012

    " Excellent history of a critical linkage of two defining events in U.S. history that I'd never seen paired before. Rich stories and characters, interesting thesis about early origins of 'two Californias'. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Ron | 10/8/2011

    " Fascinating Story...An interesting read after reading team of Rivals....many of the same players. Book is a bit long and bit to detailed for my taste, but the story is really fascinating....particularly the serious talk of seperating California into two States....North and South. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Ari | 3/12/2011

    " A fascinating history of a pivotal time in CA history. Forced me to drastically revise my preconceptions about California and gave me a much better sense of the slavery debate between 1850 and 1861. "

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About the Author

Leonard L. Richards, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, earned degrees at the University of California, Berkeley and Davis. His books have won numerous awards and honors, including the American Historical Association’s Albert J. Beveridge Award in 1970 and the second-place Lincoln Prize in 2001; he was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1987. Richards currently lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.