The specific and distinctive office of biographer is not to give voice to a man’s modest estimate of himself and his accomplishments, but rather to give a perpetual record of his character as established by the consensus of opinion on the part of his fellow men. That great factor, the public, is a discriminating factor, and yet takes cognizance not so much of insinuating exaltation or subjective modesty as the intrinsic essence of character, striking the keynote of individuality and pronouncing judicially and unequivocally upon the true worth of the man, and invariably distinguishing the clear resonance of the true metal from the jarring dissonance of the baser. Thus, in touching upon the life history of the subject of this review, the biographer would aim to give utterance to no fulsome encomium, to indulge in no extravagant praise; yet would he wish to hold for consideration those points which have shown the distinction of a pure, true and useful life, one characterized by indomitable perseverance, broad charity, marked ability, high accomplishments and well earned honors. To do this will be but to reiterate the dictum pronounced by his fellow men.
Anthony Caminetti is a “native son of the golden west,” his birth having occurred in Jackson, Amador County, on the 30th of July, 1854, and here his entire life has been passed. It was on the 1st day of that month that the County was organized, and therefore he has been identified with its progress, development and welfare throughout the entire period of its existence. As his name indicates, he is of Italian descent, his father, Roche Caminetti, having been born in Sicily, in 1821. He went to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1839, and in 1849 came to California with the Argonauts who sailed around Cape Horn from New York in search of the golden fleece. He became the owner of one of the rich placer claims of Ohio Hill, and has been engaged in mining and farming up to the present time. He is now in the seventy-eighth year of his age, one of the highly respected pioneers who has borne his share of hardships of life on the frontier, and has met with losses and successes. He was married in Boston to Miss B. Guisto, a native of that city, and to them was born eleven children, of whom five are still living. The mother also survives, and the worthy couple has many warm friends in Jackson, where they make their home.
Senator Caminetti is the eldest of their children now living. He was educated in the public schools of Jackson and in the grammar school of San Francisco, after which he attended the University of California. His law education was obtained in the office of Quint & Hardy, in San Francisco, and in the office of Senator James T. Farley, of Jackson. He applied himself diligently to his work, and after his admission to the bar made rapid advancement toward a foremost place in the ranks of the legal fraternity of his native county. His marked ability, strong mentality, thorough understanding of political questions and his sympathy for the people as against monopolies and trusts have led to his selection to various offices. In politics he has always been an ardent Democrat.
In 1877 he was elected district attorney, and so capably filled the office that he was re-elected in 1879, discharging the duties of that position with great credit to himself and to the fullest satisfaction of the citizens of the county for five years. He manifested energy, ability and impartiality in the discharge of his duties. In his treatment of citizens who required his service as a law officer of the county and in prosecuting violators of the law he made no distinction politically or otherwise. He met some of the strongest counsel in the state and won many noted forensic triumphs during the years of his incumbency as district attorney. His talent as a criminal lawyer is most marked, and the same power of analysis that characterized his handling of his cases has been a potent element for success in his political career.
In 1882, upon his retirement from the office of district attorney, he was elected to the general assembly and took his seat in that body in January, 1883. He at once became one of the most efficient members, exerting a wide influence in behalf of the people whom he represented. His efforts were instrumental in securing many needed reforms and progressive measures. In the regular session the bill introduced by him on municipal corporations was made the basis of the act which afterward became a law. Many of the reforms introduced in the county government system in that year were offered by him. He also took an active interest in the educational and mining affairs of the state. In 1886 he was elected to the state senate, and while a member of that body did much valuable work, winning distinction in connection with his labors on behalf of education. He was the chairman of the committee on education, and as such secured many amendments to the then existing law, which are today incorporated in the school system of the state. Through his labors he secured changes in the grammar-school course intended to give additional facilities to the interior, and obtained for this purpose a large appropriation. Many schools under this system were established throughout the state, and have since been converted into high schools. The president of the University of California, in his report of 1886 to the governor, speaks in a most commendable manner of what he terms the Caminetti course. While a member of the senate Mr. Caminetti was also the author of the law providing for the erection of the monument to James W. Marshall, the discoverer of gold, and introduced a bill making Admission Day, September 9, a legal holiday in California. He is also the author of the proposition establishing at Ione City a public institution for the training of wayward children, now known as the Preston School, and since its establishment he has been most active in promoting its interests. As a result of his labors the United States Foothill Experiment Station, near Jackson, conducted under the auspices of the University of California, was located there.
In 1890 Mr. Caminetti was nominated and elected to congress. During the campaign the mining and river questions were made prominent issues, and early in his congressional career he proceeded to maintain his pledges thereon. He was the author of what has since been named the “Caminetti mining bill,” which made hydraulic mining again possible on the basis of protection to river interests and by which new life was given to the mining industry of the state and general prosperity thereby enhanced. He was also active in securing the passage of the river improvement measures, which resulted in opening the navigation of the Sacramento River to Red Bluff and to other river points on the Sacramento, and the San Joaquin River to landings where for twenty years vessels had been unable to go. Freight rates to all points reached by navigation were thus greatly reduced.
For this valuable service the state assembly passed resolutions congratulating Mr. Caminetti upon the successful enactment of these laws, and the Democratic state convention of 1892 passed complimentary resolutions stating that the whole commonwealth owed him a debt of gratitude for the salutary and wise legislation introduced by him for the relief of the suffering mining industries and for the preservation of waterways.
In consideration of these eminent services he was re-elected to congress by a large majority, and during the succeeding session assisted in defeating the Pacific Railroad funding bill, and introduced the bill for government operation of the Union and Central Pacific roads from Omaha to the Pacific coast in California. He was again re-nominated for congress, but mainly through the efforts of the railroad interests interested in the funding scheme he was defeated. In 1896 he was again tendered the unanimous nomination for congress, but declined. The same year the Amador County convention of the Democratic and People’s parties, notwithstanding his refusals to run for congress, nominated him for the assembly, and after an exciting campaign he was elected by a large majority. The minority honored him with the complimentary nomination for speaker, thus naming him as their leader, a position for which his talent and legislative experience eminently fitted him. He at once entered upon the work, and with his party associates well organized kept up an able fight on behalf of the people. In 1898 he was again elected to the legislature, and received the complimentary vote of his party for United States Senator. In 1880 he had the honor of being alternate elector on the Hancock ticket, and in 1888 he was a candidate for presidential elector on the Cleveland ticket. In 1896 he was a delegate to the national convention, and assisted in the nomination of William J. Bryan for president of the United States.
On the 29th of May, 1881, Mr. Caminetti was united in marriage to Miss Ella E. Martin a native daughter of California, born in Springfield, Tuolumne County. Her father, Dr. R. E. Martin, was one of the prominent physicians of the state. The union of Mr. and Mrs. Caminetti has been blessed with two sons, Farley Drew and Anthony Boggs, both of whom are attending school. The family has a pleasant home in Jackson, where Mr. Caminetti has spent his entire life. He is an active member of the bar, and engages in the general practice of the law in his home county and elsewhere. He is also deeply interested in mining properties in Amador and Calaveras counties and has valuable farming property. He is the first native son of California ever elected to the United States congress, a distinction that was well deserved and worthily won. His study of political questions has ever been comprehensive, and his opinions were the result of mature deliberation, of earnest thought and of deep interest in his fellow men. He is numbered among the most eminent men of the commonwealth, and as a statesman is widely and favorably known among the most prominent people of the nation. A good parliamentarian, with an extensive acquaintance among prominent men, long experience in public affairs and a thorough knowledge of the needs of the people, he proved most capable in public office. Agricultural, mining and educational interests owe their progress in no small degree to his labors, and the material welfare of the state has been advanced by him in a large measure. He regards public office as a public trust, and has ever placed the welfare of the nation before partisan prejudice and the good of the many before personal aggrandizement.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.