VIGILANCE COMMITTEE OF SAN FRANCISCO
June 9th, 1856.
TO THE PEOPLE OF CALIFORNIA.
The Committee of Vigilance, placed in the position they now occupy
by the voice and countenance of the vast majority of their fellow-
Great public emergencies demand prompt and vigorous remedies. The People
For years they have patiently waited and striven, in a peaceable manner, and in accordance with the forms of Law, to reform the abuses which have made our city a by-word, fraud and violence have foiled every effort, and the laws to which the people looked for protection, while destroyed and rendered effete in practice, so as to shield the vile, have been used as a powerful engine to fasten upon us tyranny and misrule.
As Republicans, we looked to the ballot-box as our safe-guard and sure remedy. But so effectually and so long was its voice smothered, the votes deposited in it by freemen so entirely outnumbered by ballots thrust in though fraud at midnight, or nullified by the false counts of judges and inspectors of elections at noon day, that many doubted whether the majority of the people were not utterly corrupt.
Organized gangs of bad men, of all political parties, or who assumed any particular creed from mercenary and corrupt motives, have parcelled out our offices among themselves, or sold them to the highest bidders;
Have provided themselves with convenient tools to obey their nod, as Clerks, Inspectors and Judges of election;
Have employed bullies and professional fighters to destroy tally-lists by force, and prevent peaceable citizens from ascertaining, in a lawful manner, the true number of votes polled at our elections;
And have used cunningly contrived ballot boxes with false sides and bottoms, so prepared that by means of a spring or slide, spurious tickets, concealed there previous to the election, could be mingled with genuine votes.
Of all this we have the most irrefragable proofs. Felons from other
lands and States, and unconvicted criminals equally as bad, have thus controlled
public funds and property, and have often amassed sudden fortunes without
having done an honest days work with head or hands. Thus the fair inheritance
of our city has been embezzled and squandered
The Jury box has been tampered with, and our Jury trials have been
made to shield the hundreds of murderers whose red hands have cemented
this tyranny, and silenced with the Bowie-
To our shame be it said, that the inhabitants of distant lands already know that corrupt men in office, as well as gamblers, shoulder strikers, and other vile tools of unscrupulous leaders, beat, maim, and shoot down with impunity, as well peaceable and unoffending citizens, as those earnest reformers who, at the known hazard of their lives, and with singleness of heart have sought, in a lawful manner to thwart schemes of public plunder or to awake investigation.
Embodies in the principals of republican governments are the truths that the majority should rule, and when corrupt officials, who have fraudulently seized the reins of authority, designedly thwart the execution of the laws and avert punishment from the notoriously guilty, the power they usurp reverts back to the people from whom it was wrested.
Realizing these truths, and confident that they were carrying out the will of the vast majority of the citizens of this county, the Committee of Vigilance, under a solemn sense of the responsibility that rested upon them, have calmly and dispassionately weighed the evidences before them, and decreed the death of some and banishment of others, who by their crimes and villainies, has stained our fair land. With those that were banished this comparatively moderate punishment was chosen, not because ignominious death was not deserved, but that the effort, if any, might surely be upon the side of mercy to the criminal. There are others scarcely less guilty, against whom the same punishment has been decreed, but they have been allowed further time to arrange for their final departure, and with the hope that permission to depart voluntarily might induce repentance, and repentance amendment, they have been suffered to choose within limits their own time and method of going.
Thus far, and throughout their arduous duties, they have been, and will be guided by the most conscientious convictions of imperative duty; and they earnestly hope that in endeavoring to mete out merciful justice to the guilty, their counsels may be so guided by that Power before whose tribunal we shall all stand, that in the vicissitudes of after life, amid the calm reflections of old age and in the clear view of dying conscience, there may be found nothing we would regret or wish to change.
We have no friends to reward, no enemies to punish, no private ends to accomplish.
Our single, heartfelt aim in the public good; the purging, from our community, of those abandoned characters whose actions have been evil continually, and have finally forced upon us the efforts we are now making. We have no favoritism as a body, nor shall there be evinced, in any of our acts, either partially, for or prejudice against any race, sect or party.
While thus far we have not discovered on the part of our constituents
any indications of lack of confidence, and have no reason to doubt that
the great majority of inhabitants of the county endorse our acts, and desire
us to continue the work of weeding out the irreclaimable characters from
the community, we have, with deep regret, seen that some of the State authorities
have felt it their duty to organize a force to resist us. It is not impossible
for us to realize, that no only those who have sought place with a view
to public plunder, but also those gentlemen who, in accepting offices to
which they were honestly elected, have sworn to support the laws of the
State of California, find it difficult to reconcile their supposed duties
with acquiescence in the acts of the Committee of Vigilance, since they
do not reflect that perhaps more than three-fourths of the people of the
entire State sympathize with and endorse our efforts, and as that all law
emanates form the people, so that, when the laws thus enacted are not executed,
the power returns to the people, and is theirs whenever they may chose
to exercise it. These gentlemen would not have hesitated to acknowledge
Now, because the people have not seen fit to resume all the powers they have confided to executive or legislative officers, it certainly does not follow that they cannot, in the exercise of their inherent sovereign power, withdraw from corrupt and unfaithful servants, the authority they have used to thwart the ends of justice.
Those officers whose mistaken sense of duty leads them to array themselves
against the determined action of the people, whose servants they have become,
may be respected, while their errors may be regretted; but none can envy
the future reflections of that man who, whether in the heat of malignant
passion, or with the vain hope of preserving by violence a position obtained
through fraud and bribery, seeks under the color of law to enlist the outcasts
of society as a hireling soldiery in the service of the State, or urges
criminals, by hopes of plunder, to continue at the cost of civil war, the
reign of ballot-
The Committee of Vigilance believe that the people have entrusted to
them the duty of gathering evidence, and, after due trial, expelling from
the community those ruffians and assassins who have so long outraged the
peace and good order of society, violated the
We have spared and shall spare no effort to avoid bloodshed or civil war; but undeterred by threats or opposing organizations, shall continue, peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must, this work of reform, to which we have pledged our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
Our labors have been arduous, our deliberations have been cautious, our determinations firm, our counsels prudent, our motives pure; and while regretting the imperious necessity which called us into action, we are anxious that this necessity should exist no longer; and when our labors shall have been accomplished , when the community shall be freed from the evils it has so long endured; when we have insured to our citizens an honest and vigorous protection of their rights, then the Committee of Vigilance will find great pleasure in resigning their power into the hands of the people, from whom it was received.
Published by order of the Committee.
Published by Hutchings & Co., 201 Clay Street
Printed by Agnew & Deffenbach, 130 Sansome Street.
See the San Francisco History Index for more about the Committee of Vigilance.