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David C. Broderick

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Title: David C. Broderick  
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Subject: Daly City, California, William M. Gwin, United States congressional delegations from California, Burials at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, David S. Terry
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David C. Broderick

David Colbreth Broderick
United States Senator
from California
In office
March 4, 1857 – September 16, 1859
Preceded by John B. Weller
Succeeded by Henry P. Haun
2nd Lieutenant Governor of California
In office
January 9, 1851 – January 8, 1852
Governor John McDougall
Preceded by John McDougall
Succeeded by Samuel Purdy
Personal details
Born (1820-02-04)February 4, 1820
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Died September 16, 1859(1859-09-16) (aged 39)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Political party Democrat, Free Soil
Profession Politician, stonecutter, smelter, assayer

David Colbreth Broderick (February 4, 1820 – September 16, 1859) was a Democratic U.S. Senator from California. He was a first cousin of Andrew Kennedy and Case Broderick.


  • Early years 1
  • Political career 2
  • Mining career 3
  • State senator career 4
  • Later life and death 5
  • Legacy 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early years

Broderick was born in Washington, D.C., the son of an Irish stonecutter who had immigrated to the United States in order to work on the United States Capitol. Broderick moved with his parents to New York City in 1823, where he attended public schools, and was apprenticed to a stonecutter.

Political career

Broderick became active in politics as a young man. In 1846, he was the Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative from the 5th District of New York, but lost the election with 38% to 42% for the winning Whig candidate. [1]

Mining career

In 1849, Broderick joined the California Gold Rush. He moved to San Francisco, where he engaged in smelting and assaying gold. Broderick minted gold coins that contained less gold than their face value. His $10 coins, for example, contained $8 in gold. He used the profits to finance his political aspirations.

State senator career

Broderick was a member of the California State Senate from 1850 to 1852, serving as its president from 1851 to 1852. Broderick was acting Lieutenant Governor from January 9, 1851 to January 8, 1852, following incumbent John McDougall's succession to the governorship. From then on, he was effectively in absolute control of San Francisco, which under his "utterly vicious"[2] rule soon became notorious for municipal corruption.[3] In the words of his biographer Jeremiah Lynch:[4]

In San Francisco he became the dictator of the municipality. His political lessons and observations in New York were priceless. He introduced a modification of the same organization in San Francisco with which Tammany has controlled New York for lo! these many years. It was briefly this. At a forthcoming election a number of offices were to be filled; those of sheriff, district attorney, alderman, and places in the legislature. Several of these positions were very lucrative, notably that of the sheriff, tax-collector, and assessor. The incumbents received no specified salaries, but were entitled to all or a certain proportion of the fees. These fees occasionally exceeded $50,000 per annum. Broderick would say to the most popular or the most desirable aspirant: 'This office is worth $50,000 a year. Keep half and give me the other half, which I require to keep up our organization in the state. Without intelligent, systematic discipline, neither you nor I can win, and our opponents will conquer, unless I have money enough to pay the men whom I may find necessary. If you agree to that arrangement, I will have you nominated when the convention assembles, and then we will all pull together until after the election.’ Possibly this candidate dissented, but then someone else consented, and as the town was hugely Democratic, his selections were usually victorious.

Broderick became rich from this system,[5] and in 1856 Broderick's wealth and influence enabled him to win the California legislature's election for a seat in the United States Senate. He began his term on March 4, 1857.

Later life and death

At that time, just prior to the start of the American Civil War, the Democratic Party of California was divided between pro-slavery and "Free Soil" factions. Broderick led the Free Soilers. One of his closest friends was David S. Terry, formerly the Chief Justice of the California State Supreme Court, an advocate of the extension of slavery into California. Terry lost his re-election bid because of his pro-slavery platform, and he blamed Broderick for the loss.

Terry, considered even by his friends as caustic and aggressive,[6] made some inflammatory remarks at a party convention in Sacramento, which Broderick read. He took offense, and sent his former friend, Terry, an equally vitriolic reply which proclaimed:

'Terry to be a "damned miserable wretch" who was as corrupt as President James Buchanan and William Gwin, California's other senator. "I have hitherto spoken of him as an honest man--as the only honest man on the bench of a miserable, corrupt Supreme Court--but now I find I was mistaken. I take it all back. He is just as bad as the others."'[7]

Passions escalated; and, on September 13, 1859, Terry and Broderick, both expert marksmen, met outside of San Francisco city limits at Lake Merced for a duel.

The pistols chosen for the duel had hair triggers, and Broderick's discharged prior to the final "1-2-3" count, firing prematurely into the ground. Thus disarmed, he was forced to stand as Terry shot him in the right lung. Terry at first believed the shot to be only a flesh wound, but it proved to be mortal. Broderick died three days later, and was buried under a monument erected by the state in Lone Mountain Cemetery in San Francisco. In 1942 he was reinterred at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma.


Edward Dickinson Baker, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, spoke at Broderick's funeral and expressed the widely held belief that Broderick was killed because of his anti-slavery stance:

"His death was a political necessity, poorly veiled beneath the guise of a private quarrel. . .What was his public crime? The answer is in his own words; 'I die because I was opposed to a corrupt administration and the extension of slavery.'" [8]

Some maintain that his death made him a martyr, and the episode represents another small contribution to the spiral towards civil war.

About 30 years later, Terry himself was shot to death by Deputy United States Marshal David Neagle while threatening Supreme Court Justice Stephen Johnson Field, a friend of Broderick.

Broderick County, Kansas Territory was named for the senator.[9] The town of Broderick, California, and Broderick Street in San Francisco are named in his honor.


  1. ^ Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U. S. Elections. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc. 1985. p. 739.  
  2. ^ Young, John P. San Francisco, a History of the Pacific Coast Metropolis Volume 1, page 214.
  3. ^ Asbury, Herbert. The Barbary Coast. New York, 1933. Chapter 4. "From the middle of 1851 to his death, in 1859, Broderick was, for all practical purposes, in absolute control of San Francisco’s political machinery. ... And not even his most adoring worshippers have been able entirely to conceal the plain fact that in the final analysis he must, more than any one man, shoulder responsibility for the municipal corruption which was the basic cause of the second uprising of a tormented and enraged citizenry."
  4. ^ Lynch, Jeremiah. A Senator of the Fifties: David C. Broderick of California pages 68-69.
  5. ^ Asbury, Herbert. The Barbary Coast. New York, 1933. Chapter 4. "Broderick’s political income from these and other sources was probably several hundred thousand dollars a year, and with such sums at his disposal he not only maintained his hold upon the city but furthered his ambition to be United States Senator, despite the slashing onslaughts of several of the newspapers."
  6. ^ Richards, Leondard. The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War, Prologue pg. 2, 2008
  7. ^ Richards, Leonard. The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War, Prologue pg. 3, 2008
  8. ^ Richards, Leonard. The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War Prologue, pg. 4, 2008
  9. ^ Blackmar, Frank Wilson (1912). Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Embracing Events, Institutions, Industries, Counties, Cities, Towns, Prominent Persons, Etc. Standard Publishing Company. p. 235. 

Further reading

  • David C. Broderick at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-01-14
  • Arthur Quinn, The Rivals: William Gwin, David Broderick, and the Birth of California, (Crown Publishers, Inc.: The Library of the American West, New York, 1994), ISBN 0-517-59537-0 (1997 reprint: ISBN 0-8032-8851-4)

External links

  • David C. Broderick at Find a Grave
  • Obituary for Broderick in California Police Gazette
Political offices
Preceded by
John McDougall
Lieutenant Governor
Acting Lieutenant Governor of California
Succeeded by
Samuel Purdy
Lieutenant Governor
United States Senate
Preceded by
John B. Weller
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from California
March 4, 1857 – September 16, 1859
Served alongside: William M. Gwin
Succeeded by
Henry P. Haun
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