Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Second Try At Justice...!

It always amazes me at how quickly folks could turn into vigilantes in the old days. Some of it was understandable, I guess, but so many so-called "reasonable" folks turned so quickly, it seems crazy.

 Second vigilante committee organizes in San Francisco

Angered by the shooting of a prominent journalist, San Franciscans form their second vigilance committee to combat lawlessness.

The need for vigilance committees in San Francisco was obvious. Only two years after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, San Francisco had grown from a sleepy little village with 900 inhabitants to a booming metropolis with more than 200,000 residents. The sudden influx of people overwhelmed the city. Harried law enforcement officials found it nearly impossible to maintain law and order, and chaos often reigned in the streets, which were lined with saloons and gambling parlors. Attracted by the promise of gold, marauding bands of Australian criminals called “Sydney ducks” robbed and extorted the people of San Francisco with near impunity.

San Franciscans formed their first vigilance committee in 1851. About 200 vigilantes enrolled, most of them from the elite professional and merchant class of the city. They had headquarters along Battery Street, where they could temporarily imprison criminals, and the ringing of the city’s fire bell would summon the vigilantes to action. A handful of men who were found guilty of serious crimes like murder were hanged from a nearby derrick normally used to haul freight into the second story of a warehouse. More commonly, though, the vigilantes simply deported criminals like the “Sydney ducks” back to their homelands.

Whether due to the vigilante actions or because conventional law enforcement became more effective, things eventually quieted down in San Francisco and the first vigilance committee disbanded. In 1856, however, a rigged election put an Irish-Catholic politician named James P. Casey on the city board of supervisors. James King, a crusading editor of the Daily Evening Bulletin, accused Casey of being involved in criminal activity in the city. On May 14, 1856, Casey confronted King in the street and fatally wounded him with a Colt navy revolver.

The next day, angry San Franciscans created the second vigilance committee. This time, however, they could not claim that the city government was not enforcing the law–the sheriff had already arrested Casey and put him in the county jail pending trial. Acting more like a raging mob than an instrument of justice, 500 vigilantes surrounded the county jail and removed Casey from the sheriff’s custody on May 18. After a short but reasonably fair trial, they hanged him.

Some historians have argued that the second vigilance committee was less interested in suppressing crime than in attacking its political enemies. Casey’s election signaled a shift in power to the dominant faction of recently immigrated Irish-Catholic Democrats. The vigilantes, who were largely native-born Protestants, reasserted their control by arresting and exiling their political opponents from the city. As before, they hanged several men.

Regardless of the vigilantes’ true motives, a number of Irish Catholic leaders did leave the city and the Protestant elite managed to regain control of the government. Late in 1856, the vigilance committee formally disbanded and never again became active.

Did you notice the name of the journalist that was killed? He had the same name I have! How about that?

Coffee out on the patio today!


Unknown said...
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linda m said...

Maybe the journalist was a long lost relative. Great story this morning as San Fransisco has always been a favorite city of mine. However, these days I think I would be very disappointed if I went there for a visit. Things just aren't the way they were many years ago. But it still has charm and I do love those Cable Cars.

HermitJim said...

Hey Linda...
Never been to California, but think it would be fun to ride a cable car.
Thanks for stopping by today!

JO said...

I was wondering the same thing as Linda. I have been to CA. a couple time but didn't get to see to much. Went to SD for the beach.

See you on the patio

Mamahen said...

Always interesting to read the tidbits of history, we never learned in school. Today's kids learn even less of our countries true history I fear.

HermitJim said...

Hey Jo...
I don't care for traveling like I used to in my younger days, or I would go.
Thanks, dear, for coming over today!

Hey Mamahen...
Sadly I am afraid you are right about that.
Thanks for the visit this morning!

Dizzy-Dick said...

It is hard for me to believe that anyone that shares your name could have done anything wrong.

HermitJim said...

Hey Dizzy...
You just never know what hides in the family tree, I reckon.
Thanks for the kind words and for coming over today!