The values of the vigilantes

Deeply embedded in the principles of republican government were the truths that the majority ruled, and when corrupt officials fraudulently seized the reins of authority and purposely prevented the execution of the laws of punishment on the notoriously guilty, then the power they had usurped reverted back to the people from whom it was taken. The Committee of Vigilance, realizing these truths and confidant that they carried the will of the people, had calmly and dispassionately weighed the evidence before them and decreed the death of some, who by their crimes and villainies had stained the fair city of San Francisco. For those who were banished, this relatively moderate punishment was selected not because a death sentence wasn’t deserved but that the error, if any, might be on the side of mercy for the criminal.

1852, Montgomery Street, San Francisco

Montgomery Street, San Francisco

Throughout their difficulties the committee had been and would continue to be guided by the most conscientious convictions of their essential duty. They earnestly hoped that by endeavoring to mete out merciful justice to the guilty their councils might be directed by that power before whom all should one day stand and that in the uncertainty of after life, amid the calm reflections of old age and in a clear view of a dying conscience, there might be nothing found that they would regret or wish to change. With no friends to reward, no enemies to punish and no private ends to accomplish, their single heartfelt aim was the public good and the purging from the community those characters whose action had been continually evil and had finally forced upon the people the efforts the vigilance committee now made. As a body they had no favoritism and nowhere in their acts should there be evidence of either partiality or prejudice against any race, sect or party.


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