The Committee of Vigilance organizes

Vigilance Committee sign

On June 9, 1851 the citizens of San Francisco, fed up with the out of control robberies, muggings, murders and arson related fires, as well as a city government that could not or would not control the situation, finally took matters into their own hands with the formation of the Committee of Vigilance. On June 13th the Alta newspaper printed the following statement, “WHEREAS it has become apparent to the citizens of San Francisco that there is no security for life and property, either under the regulations of society as it at present exists, or under the law as now administered; therefore the citizens, whose names are hereunto attached, do unite themselves into an association for the maintenance of the peace and good order of society, and the preservation of the lives and property of the citizens of San Francisco, and do bind ourselves, each unto the other, to do and perform every lawful act for the maintenance of law and order, and to sustain the laws when faithfully and properly administered; but we are determined that no thief, burglar, incendiary or assassin, shall escape punishment, either by the quibbles of the law, the insecurity of prisons, the carelessness or corruption of the police, or a laxity of those who pretend to administer justice.”

Portsmouth Square 1851

And so a large group of San Francisco men agreed that they would join together to protect the lives and property of the citizens of the city. They set up an office where meetings could be held and agreed that one or more members would always man the room in order to receive reports of violence or crime. When the need for the committee to assemble arose a bell would be rung as a signal. A sergeant at arms was selected to live at the committee room, officers elected, and committees of finance and membership, each with five members, were chosen. Only respectable citizens who met the requirements of the committee would be allowed to join. They boasted an initial membership of over seven hundred.


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