While Benicia was the California state capital for only two legislative sessions, it was the scene of a titillating bribery case in 1854.
This was the era when state legislatures elected senators, and the case involved David C. Broderick's intense ambition to become one of California's senators in Washington, D.C.
Broderick didn't seem to care whether the capital was moved to Sacramento or not, but some of his moneyed supporters did. Rumor had it that unless Broderick got assurances that his ambition would be fulfilled, the move to Sacramento would be blocked.
On Jan. 19, 1854, Elisha T. Peck, from Butte County, rocked the state Senate when he charged that the prominent San Francisco banker Joseph C. Palmer had offered him a bribe of $5,000 while the two were taking a steamboat from San Francisco to Benicia on Jan. 9.
Peck said he was told that all he had to do was convince his roommate William B. May, senator from Trinity County, to support Broderick.
Peck said he told Palmer his vote was not for sale.
The state Senate voted to investigate in hearings set for Jan. 24 that would be closed to the press and the public. The testimony of witnesses would not be released until the hearings were completed.
The press protested. Throughout the hearings, newspaper articles speculated who was saying what behind closed doors.
Palmer's testimony was made public in the 1854 State Journal. His story was quite
Palmer testified Peck said he would like to vote for Broderick but he'd had "right bad luck." Peck said he had medical bills.
He quoted Peck saying, "I have paid $1,500 in doctor bills, and $3,000 would not make me whole in this electioneering campaign. I think it no more than right that I should get whole at any rate. ... If I could get $5,000 I could pledge one vote that is Col. May's. We room together. We vote together."
Palmer said the conversation then ended. He said Peck later came to his bank in San Francisco, but Palmer refused to see him.
The hearing started Jan. 24 and ended Feb. 4, when the state Senate met in secret session and voted 20-6 to acquit Palmer. No action was taken in regards to Peck.
The Legislature then got down to the business of whether to move the state capital from Benicia. The Broderick forces got on board. On Feb. 25, 1854, Gov. John Bigler signed the bill to move the capital to Sacramento.
On that same day the Legislature loaded up the Wilson G. Hunt steamboat with its archives and furniture and made the trip up the river to Sacramento, where they arrived the next day.
Cannon shots and a crowd of people greeted the senators and assembly. One of the benefits of moving to Sacramento was a longer workweek for the legislators. The members stopped taking four-day weekends in San Francisco. Sacramento offered plenty of entertainment for the legislators on Saturdays and Sundays.
Broderick was not elected U.S. senator at the 1854 session, but in 1857 he finally got the job.
Days Gone By appears Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at firstname.lastname@example.org.