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Encyclopedia > San Francisco Vigilance Movement
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Charles Cora and James Casey are lynched by the Committee of Vigilance, San Francisco, 1856.
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Charles Cora and James Casey are lynched by the Committee of Vigilance, San Francisco, 1856.

The Vigilance Movements of 1851 and 1856 were popular militia movements that arose in San Francisco during the California gold rush in response to crime and government corruption, but also had a strong element of anti-immigrant violence, and arguably created more lawlessness than they eliminated. Image File history File links lynching of Charles Cora and James Casey, San Francisco, 1856 File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ... Image File history File links lynching of Charles Cora and James Casey, San Francisco, 1856 File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ... This page is a candidate for speedy deletion. ... Gold rush handbill The California Gold Rush was a period in American history marked by mass hysteria concerning a gold discovery in Northern California. ...


A Committee of Vigilance was formed in 1851, and again in 1856. These militias lynched 12 people, kidnapped hundreds of Irishmen and government militia members, and forced several elected officials to resign. Each Committee of Vigilance formally relinquished power after it decided the city had been "cleaned up," but the anti-immigrant aspects of its mob activity continued, later focusing on Chinese immigrants and leading to many race riots in the period leading up to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Postcard depicting the lynching of Lige Daniels, Center, Texas, USA, August 3, 1920. ... The Chinese Exclusion Act may be: Another name for the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 in Canada, coined by the Chinese-Canadian community. ...


A great deal of historical controversy exists about the vigilance movements. The 1856 lynchings of Charles Cora and James Casey, for example, are open to interpretation. Both were lynched by the Committee of Vigilance as murderers, after killing men in duels. Cora had shot a U.S. marshall, who had insulted Cora's mistress while drunk; Casey, a newspaper editor, had been involved in a duel as the result of an accusation of libel. Cora's first trial had ended in a hung jury, and there were rumors that the jury had been bribed. Casey's friends sneaked him into the jail precisely because they were afraid that he would be lynched. This lynching could be seen as a response by frustrated citizens to ineffectual law enforcement, or as their unwillingness to accept the possibility that due process would result in acquittals.


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