The California gubernatorial election, 1861 took place on September 4, 1861. Incumbent Governor John G. Downey was not a candidate for renomination, as his Democratic Party had violently ruptured over the issue of slavery and secession. Downey was a Lecompton Democrat, those who favored slavery in the Kansas Territory and who were running as now as the Breckenridge or "Chivalry" Democrats. These Chivalry Democrats supported Attorney GeneralJohn McConnell. Anti-slavery or anti-secession Democrats were the "Unionist" Democrats who favored John Conness.
With the dire split in the Democratic Party, even more bitter then in 1859, former Republican nominee Leland Stanford won a plurality of the popular vote and won the governorship. Stanford polled less then a tenth of the vote last election and became the first Republican Governor of California. As an interesting piece of trivia, both Stanford and Conness would go on to serve in the United States Senate.