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Peter Hardeman Burnett

Gov. Peter Hardeman Burnett

  • December 20, 1849 - January 9, 1851
  • Independent Democrat
  • November 15, 1807
  • May 17, 1895
  • Tennessee
  • Married Harriet W. Rogers
  • Resigned


PETER H. BURNETT was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on November 15, 1807. In 1832 he migrated to Liberty, Missouri, where he practiced law and served as prosecuting attorney from 1840 to 1842. Burnett moved to Oregon in 1843 and helped in the organization of a territorial government. He was a justice on the Oregon Supreme Court in 1845, and served as a member of the Oregon Territorial Legislature in 1844 and 1848. Burnett was lured to California during the gold rush, but continued in his career of law and his path in politics. He served as the attorney and general agent to John A. Sutter Jr., and was a judge for the Superior Tribunal of California. On November 13, 1849, he was elected as the first governor of California, and on December 20, 1849, he was sworn into office. During his term, California entered into statehood in September 1850 and San Jose became the state’s first capital. Burnett endorsed the idea of excluding blacks from California. After his first annual address received criticism from the legislature, he abruptly resigned from office on January 9, 1851. Burnett returned to his law practice, served on the bench of the California Supreme Court from 1857 to 1858, and became president of the Pacific Bank in 1863. Burnett also published several books, including one that spoke about his passionate conversion to Catholicism. Governor Peter H. Burnett died on May 17, 1895, in San Francisco, and he is buried at the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery, Santa Clara, California.


Official Records: California State Archives

Personal Papers:

Image source: California State Library: Governors' Gallery

New Advent

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 1, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

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