Governor J. Neely Johnson and the Committee of Vigilance

On Friday night Governor Johnson arrived in San Francisco by steamer. A group of those opposed to the Committee of Vigilance, known as the Law and Order Party, were waiting for him on the wharf, but somehow missed him. These were not the men the Governor wished to see. Instead he wanted a meeting with the Committee of Vigilance. And later that evening William Coleman called on him at the International Hotel on Jackson Street between Montgomery and Kearny. Right away the governor asked what the committee wanted. Straight away Coleman told him they wanted peace and would like to have it without a struggle, but if war were necessary to attain that peace then they would fight. Coleman went on to say their goals were the same as the 1851 committee, to see justice done on some prominent criminals that the law would allow to go unpunished, to drive a number of notoriously bad characters out of the state, to purify the atmosphere morally and physically, and then to disband.

J Neely Johnson, California governor

Governor J Neely Johnson

Then Coleman added that the names of the members of the committee were a good guarantee that there was no personal gains or ambitions involved, and so watching out for the public good could be the only reason to organize. As an officer of the law and keen observer of events, the Governor must be aware of the horrendous condition of affairs throughout the state and especially in San Francisco. This situation could no longer be endured and the climax had been reached with the shooting of James King.

William Coleman

William Tell Coleman

“Now Governor,” Coleman continued, “you are called upon by a mayor and a certain class of people here to bring out the militia and try and put down this movement. I assure you it cannot be done, and if you attempt to do so it will give you and us a great deal of trouble. It is not the way to treat the question. Do as McDougal did. See, as he did, that this is a mere local reform intended to correct local abuses. Let us take up this work and get through with it, as he did, without anything more than a formal opposition by the state. Do your duty by issuing your proclamation and manifestos and maintaining the dignity of the law, but leave to us the work and we will get through it in a very short time and quit, and quit gladly.” And according to Coleman Governor Johnson slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Go it, old boy, but get through as quickly as you can. Don’t prolong it, because there is a terrible opposition and terrible pressure.” They talked about this business a while longer and then they parted, and that was it.


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