During the crisis-laden days of 1861, as the nation moved toward irreconcilable fraternal conflict, one powerful voice, that of The Sacramento Union, kept the young, vigorous California a staunch supporter of the federal union.
The Union’s influence in California can hardly be too strongly stated. “The republic, in an era of slow communication, depended upon the newspapers as the primary source of information, and the Union was unquestionably the giant of the California press,” wrote one historian.
The man who took over the editorial reins of The Union in 1853, two years after the founding of the newspaper, was Lauren Upson, who made The Union into the “Miner’s Bible,” renowned in all the West. His pen was strong in California from 1853 until his retirement in 1864.
Born in 1807 in Oxford, Conn., Upson’s early life in the East and South was devoted to merchandising, law and newspapering.
California’s support for the federal union during the Civil War was in large part due to the power of Upson’s pen.
In his 11 years as editor of The Union, Upson campaigned effectively for public schools, libraries, a state fair, better flood control, a state mint, establishment of Sacramento as a permanent state capital, improved wagon roads over the Sierras and for a railroad that would span a continent.
Upson is credited with calling the first meeting in Sacramento to promote a transcontinental railroad and helped raise the first funds for surveys.
In 1855, Upson proclaimed, “The great necessity of California is population and that composed of families. Protection and good roads would induce tens of thousands to wend their way from the Atlantic to the Pacific.”
Soon thereafter, the Legislature appropriated $100,000 for roads.
The Union, started by four practical printers, previously compositors for the Sacramento Transcript, was a success from its beginning. It early caught the attention and drew praise of the San Francisco Alta California, then the state’s leading newspaper.
Such praiseworthy comments from other newspapers were gratifying to Upson, who more than once, in that era when vituperative writing was the fashion, reiterated his policy: “It has been our object to make the Union a first class, reliable newspaper ... to express our convictions independently, fearlessly and conscientiously; to avoid personality even though personally assailed.”
Upson retired from The Union in 1864 in failing health. He accepted an appointment as U.S. surveyor-general for California and Nevada, a post he held for six years, until a change of Washington administrations forced him to resign.
His health still poor, he retired to his farm near Sacramento in 1870. In 1872 he was elected county clerk of Sacramento. He kept the position until he suffered a stroke that left him almost helpless. He died Nov. 20, 1885.
His obituary in The Union carried the words: “A modest, clear-minded courageous journalist, who served society well, and earned for himself the reputation that lives after men in the esteem and affection of those they leave behind them. A straightforward, conscientious and patient toiler, he was big-hearted, generous, whole-souled and in every way manly. His aim was to be right, and to do right in all things public and private. He was a firm friend of the indissoluble union of these sovereign states in the darkest days of their trials.”
*Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.*