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It was a political move. (Lincoln was never a Catholic.) By March 18, 1865, the former missions had been privately owned haciendas for three generations. However, like the Indian Nations of Oklahoma, the Spaniard Californios had supported the Confederacy against the rising northeastern establishment during the Civil War. When the war was lost, Lincoln took punitive measures against the Indian Nations and others, including the Spaniard Californios.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed the Californios their properties for perpetuity. However, at the war's end, the states had lost their sovereignty and the federal government could now exercise its newly consolidated power without the checks and balances from the old system of states.

Now before the war broke out, persons from northeastern states had arrived out West and lobbied for new taxes on lands owned by native Californios. After a few years of drought, a great many Californios could not pay the taxes and were forced to sell. Persons from the northeast, such as Edward Beale and Henry Newhall, bought the land at rock-bottom prices. For example, Henry Newhall used his inside knowledge as a real estate auctioneer to buy property as soon as it reached the market and his agents purchased real estate all over the state of California.

Unlike smaller ranchers, Dons of large haciendas were able to withstand the new taxes and droughts. However, the acquisitive practices of some persons from the northeast led to ill feeling among native Californios, and many of them became sympathetic to the South and to Western Chivalry Democrats. The result was that after the war, Lincoln confiscated their haciendas, they lost their remaining properties, and they disappeared from the pages of history.

Most haciendas (that had been missions generations before) were situated away from population centers. And for decades, the Catholic Church had no use for the old, vacant chapels on hacienda lands. Thus, they fell into ruin and remained so well into the twentieth century. To this day, most of the missions have been substantially - but not completely - restored.

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Q: Why did Abraham Lincoln return the California Missions to the Catholic Church?
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