The Mexican Congress passed a secularization bill in August 1833 in order to reduce the power of the church and to open the rich mission lands to colonization. Supporters of the law pointed out that the friars had been teaching for more than fifty years, which was enough time to prepare the Indian converts to be self-sufficient.
At each of California’s 21 missions, every adult male Indian received a tract of 28 acres and a share of one half of the domestic animals and tools of the Mission. The departing friars and newly appointed administrators looted the rest of mission property.
The secularization of the missions initiated a wave of Mexican land grants in California under a process that dated back to an 1824 law, the Law of Colonization. The procedure was a simple one: the petitioner asked the governor of Mexico in writing for a specific tract of empty land. This request was frequently accompanied by a map. If the petitioner had performed some service for the government, such as serving in the army, the governor generally granted the claim. Since the aim was to encourage settlement, petitioners of foreign origin could also receive land grants. In return they had to formally adopt the Catholic faith and become Mexican citizens.
Under the original law of 1824, lands owned by a mission were not available. With the 1833 Secularization Act, much of California’s most valuable land was freed to be awarded to colonists. The settlers had to agree to fence the land, build permanent dwellings, and protect the rights of previous inhabitants (that is, the Indians), who became free labor for the rancho owners. From 1834 to 1845, ninety-five percent of the California ranchos were created.
Source: Rancho Life, 1833 – 1846
FoundSF, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0