Objectives of the vigilantes

The Committee of Vigilance believed the people had entrusted them with the power to expel from the community those ruffians and assassins who had outraged the peace and good order of society, violated the ballot box, over ridden law and thwarted justice. Beyond these duties the committee did not wish to interfere with the details of government. They spared no effort to avoid bloodshed and civil war and, undeterred by threats from opposing organizations they would continue, peacefully if they could but forcefully if they must, their work of reform to which they had pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

Sacramento Street, San Francisco, 1855

Sacramento Street, San Francisco c. 1855

Their labors had been arduous, their deliberations cautious, their determinations firm and their motives pure. While they regretted the necessity that called them into action they were anxious that this necessity should no longer exist. When their work was accomplished, when the community would be freed of the evils it had endured for so long and when they had insured the citizens an honest and vigorous protection of their rights, then the Committee of Vigilance would take great pleasure in reassigning their power back into the hands of the people from whom it had come.



  1. I’m currently reading Oakley Hall’s novel WARLOCK about a vigilance committee whose intentions start out honorable, as you describe, but before long get compromised. The issue being that operating outside the law they are not answerable to anyone but themselves. A recipe for trouble.

    • It is always a problem when men are not responsible for their actions, Ron. I grew up in the South and I know some of the things that happened there that should never happen in America. But the SF Vigilantes appeared to over compensate towards leniency, expelling people from California rather than hanging them. They disbanded after a few months and with a great fanfare from the citizens. A whole new group of honest politicians were elected because of them and, because of that, San Francisco prospered for many years. Must the actions of weaker men always tar those of the good?

Leave a Reply to John Putnam Cancel reply


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.