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 LecomptonDemocrat, 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 than a tenth of the vote last election and became the first Republican Governor of California. Both Stanford and Conness later served in the United States Senate.