ifomia, they found a fully developednlegal structure in the European sensen— a heritage of three centuries ofnSpanish exploration, settlement, andndevelopment. This legal system wasnbased on Roman law, not the Englishncommon law, but it had been modifiednto fit the necessities of life in thenNew World, as, for example, in thenmatters of water, mineral, and agriculturalnlaw.nIn 1778 Commandant-GeneralnTeodoro de Croix had issued a decreendemanding that brands should be registerednso that ranchers would knowntheir property and be able to provenlegal title to it. It was the Spaniardsnwho introduced the concept of “priornappropriation” in water law, so differentnfrom the English concept of ripariannright but which obtains today innmost Western states. And it was Spanishnlaw that dictated the rules fornmining claims—their size and theirnregistration.nIn 1850, with the creation of thenstate of California, the first legislaturen(known as the “Legislature of a ThousandnDrinks” because it adjourned sonfrequently for liquid refreshment) enactedna code of laws based on the betternpart of both Spanish and Americannlegal heritages. There was no “lawless”nperiod.nThose who came to California eithernto toil in the gold fields or tonbecome merchants in San Francisconbelieved, as did most Americans of then1850’s, that law and justice were synonymous.nThey thought that the purposenof law was to protect life andnproperty. As these pioneers went aboutntheir self-appointed means of livelihood,ntheir purpose was survival andnacquisition. They thought the variousnrepresentatives of the law—town police,ncounty sheriff, municipal officials,nand judges—existed to protectnsociety from the criminal, that life andnproperty should be safe.nThe vigilance committee in SannFrancisco, that of 1851 and that ofn1856, were the result of a system thatnhad broken down. Law and justicenwere not synonymous when “justice”nwas openly for sale by corrupt officialsnand law enforcement agents. Criminalsnwere parading openly about thencity unapprehended, while those whonwere apprehended often went unindictednor unconvicted. And evennthose who were convicted found waysnto purchase a pardon or an escape.nThe public, as usually is the case,nwas patient and long-suffering. Bynearly 1851 criminals were operatingnalmost unchecked. Bribery and corruptionnwere the fashion among thosensupposed to be enforcing the laws. Atnlast the merchants of the city, somen600 of them, banded together to formna vigilance committee. Their goal wasnto restore some balance between lawnand justice. Five years later the processnhad to be repeated when, owing tonpublic apathy, the city had become anninterlocking directorate of crime andnpolitical corruption. Vigilantes restorednlaw and order.nBooks and articles written about thenvigilance committees of San Francisco,nwhen arranged chronologically,nreflect America’s changing attitudesntoward its past. Those writers nearestnin time—and thus most familiar withnthe events—praise the vigilantes fornmaking person and property secure. Innmore recent times, however, sociologistsnand New Left historians havencondemned vigilantes whose activitiesnwere caused by “spouses, spatial relationships,nand spurious sensationalism.”nStill other writers see the vigilantesnas participants in a class struggle innwhich the merchants exerted theirnmastery over the lower classes.nIn this work, a dissertation at Stanford,nSenkewicz maintains that thenvigilantes of 1851 were merchants whonhad gone west to get rich. Disappointednby hard economic times, they magnifiednthe normal amount of crimeninto a crime wave and set out on anmaddened search for a scapegoat. Itnwas Australian immigrants who werenelected to fill this role. “For no immediatenreason,” writes Senkewicz, a vigilancencommittee was formed fromnamong what a contemporary calledn”the most intelligent, best educated,nand property owning classes of thencity.” It called 91 miscreants before it,nof whom 14 were deported from California,n14 more were strongly advisednto leave, four were hanged, and onenman was publicly flogged. Senkewicznconcludes, “Probably there was somendecrease in crime. …”nOf the vigilance committee of 1856,nSenkewicz is far more critical. Its organization,nhe claims, was also causednby economic hard times. The mem­nnnbers of the committee this time, henargues, were bigoted, Know-NothingnProtestants whose scapegoats werenIrish immigrants, hated because theynwere Catholic, increasing in number,nand starting their own schools. Thenaccomplishments of the committee ofn1856 were similar to those of 1851:nfour criminals were hanged, othersnchose to leave town for reasons ofnhealth, and there was a decrease inncrime.nThere are numerous other examplesnof vigilantism in the American West:nin Montana, Arizona, and elsewhere.nAll reflect a desire common amongnAmericans for safety of life and property.nDistrust of lawyers, the courts, andnthe technicalities of the law were common.nThe history of the AmericannWest shows that when the courts werenrendered supine, when law-enforcementnofficials became helpless, corruptionnrampant and abuse of authoritynwidespread, common citizens bandedntogether to enforce an ad hoc justicenthat restored security of person andnproperty. When the ordinary citizensnof a community felt justice was notnbeing served through normal channels,nthey were quick to rectify “mistakes.”nWhat is noteworthy about the vigilantesnof San Francisco and elsewherenin the American West is not the numbernof men they hanged or ordered tonleave town. What is significant is theirnrestraint: When law and order werenrestored, when life and property becamensecure, the vigilantes disbanded,nreturning the responsibflity for law enforcementnto regularly constituted authorities.nThey were not power-madnpoliticos bent on ruling an area butncommon citizens who believed thatn”justice” and “law” should be synonymous.nMoreover, Americans throughoutntheir history and in all sections of thencountry have shown a strong desire fornsecurity of person and property—asnwell as a distrust of the courts, ofnconniving lawyers, and of technicalitiesnof the law. Ordinary citizens havenbeen quick to turn against any movementnthat used random violence tonattain its ends. For example, the effortsnof labor to organize were severely damagednby the violence of Haymarket andnHomestead in the 1880’s and 1890’s;nthe deaths caused in these two inci-nJUNEm7/29n