California has recently been blessed with a number of careful and colorful works by authors who do not hesitate at—and perhaps even enjoy—shattering the state’s historic icons in order to present an honest view of the state’s formative events and their causes. Josiah Royce’s California, published in 1886, is the prototype for this approach. In chronicling California’s early history, Royce’s intensely moral nature led him to, among other things, question and eventually debunk the glory attached to John C. Fremont and the Bear Flag Rebellion.
With keen attention to detail, Royce produced a passionate narrative—at times ironic, at times outraged, at times in awe of pioneer courage—that is admired to this day. Preferring fact to myth and optimism to despair, he sought to ground our history in truth and to reveal the moral consequences of the American conquest of Mexican California.