The hardy townsfolk of Rough and Ready, circa 1900. California State Library

The California secession defeated by booze

Rebellions have been quashed through bloodshed, blockades, and subterfuge. Rough and Ready fretted over its liquor supply.

Nestled in the foothills northeast of Sacramento, The Great Republic of Rough and Ready was established on this day in 1850 by gold miners fed up with taxation and lawlessness.

The tiny new nation — whose peculiar name was borrowed from a nickname for Zachary Taylor, America’s 12th president — adopted a constitution, chose a president, and formed a cabinet. Its sovereignty would be defended, a manifesto declared, “peacefully if we can, forcibly if we must.”

Historical records, which are scant, suggest Rough and Readyans lost heart pretty much immediately. As July Fourth approached, residents realized they’d miss out on the festivities. More urgently, according to some accounts, saloons in neighboring towns refused to sell drinks to foreigners. So on Independence Day, an emergency meeting was held and Rough and Ready called the whole thing off. Just 12 weeks after its formation, a historian wrote in 1880, “The State of Rough and Ready vanished like the mist.”

The scrappy spirit behind the secession, however, never died. More than a century and a half later, Rough and Ready’s Secession Days festival, celebrated every June, is the town’s biggest event of the year.

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