Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Formation of Orange County

The following is from a writing project I am working on called "The Town I Live In: A History of Fullerton."

The Formation of Orange County

The present-day county of Orange was created in 1889 when two wealthy white landowners from Santa Ana, William H. Spurgeon and James M. McFadden, lobbied (aka bribed) the California state legislature to approve a separation from Los Angeles county, so they could increase their local power and interests.  In a 1976 special section of the Los Angeles Times entitled "A Century of Politics in Orange County," historians Don Smith and Howard Seelye write that the decision of the legislature was "helped by outlays of cash to buy legislators' votes at a cost estimated between $10,000 and $50,000."

Orange County historian Samuel Armor wrote in 1920, "some members of the Legislature were friendly to the idea, some were hostile to Los Angeles, and a few were looking for money."  George Edgar, a Santa Ana business man who worked with Spurgeon and McFadden said, "Hell yes.  We bought this county from the Legislature for $10,000 and I went out and raised the money myself in two hours…on a rainy morning at that."

Los Angeles was not happy about the loss of tax revenue and power.  The Los Angeles Times "thundered that the Legislature's vote had been purchased."  Despite criticism, the bill to create the new county of Orange passed the California Senate on March 8, 1889.

The voters of the new county had to approve the formation, and the measure passed, despite opposition from wealthy white people in other areas, like Anaheim and Fullerton.  Nevertheless, it passed.  An 1889 article from the Los Angeles Express included the farewell sentiment: "Wayward sister, depart in peace."

Not surprisingly, William H. Spurgeon became chairman of the first Board of Supervisors.  The rest were, according to Smith and Seelye, "a motley collection of Southern Democrats and Midwestern Republicans who, when they were not fighting the Civll War, found they did have one thing in common: a built-in brand of political conservatism that would transcend party lines and influence Orange County politics for the next 100 years."

William H. Spurgeon

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