Boutwell’s resolve to free Terry wavers

It is unknown whether Commander Boutwell received David Terry’s letter before he wrote his own to the Committee of Vigilance or if he received it and after reading it changed his mind about the wisdom of acting too fast thus allowing himself to be used to bring about a conflict. But no matter what happened, when he wrote to Governor Johnson the next day he assumed a different attitude, saying he was sorry to inform him that because of the unanimity with which the people of San Francisco condemned any interference from the federal government into their affairs, they would, in his opinion, do much harm, endanger the life of David Terry and delay the settlement of the controversy.

Painting of a Brig off Sandy Hook

Brig off Sandy Hook

Because Hopkins’ injury was improving and in several days might be so far recovered as to be out of danger and no longer afford the vigilantes any excuse for keeping him in custody, his interference to free Terry without the blessing of the committee might bring about a civil war. The guns of his ship, the John Adams, could destroy San Francisco but in the ruin of the city both friends and enemies would suffer. He would be happy to persuade the vigilantes to free Terry if possible, but if he demanded Terry’s release and was refused he would either have to batter the town down or look ridiculous in the eyes of the world and so incur the displeasure of his government, neither of which agreed with his present feelings. However, if Hopkins should die and Terry was then condemned to die by the vigilantes, he would make an effort to save his life in a manner not considered offensive to his fellow citizens.

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