Chapter LVI

To the thoughtful bystander all this preparation had its significance and its portent, which became the stronger when he contemplated the dispositions of the Law and Order party. The latter had been not less vigorous, and its strength could not be doubted. The same day that marked the organization of the Vigilantes saw the regular police force largely increased. In addition, the sheriff issued thousands of summonses to citizens, calling on them for service on a posse. These were in due form of the law. To refuse them meant to put one's self outside the law. A great many of them were responded to, for this reason only, by men not wholly in sympathy with either side. Once the oath was administered, these new deputies were confronted by the choice between perjury and service. To be sure the issuance of these summonses forced many of the neutral minded into the ranks of the Vigilantes. The refusal to act placed them on the wrong side of the law; and they felt that joining a party pledged to what practically amounted to civil war was only a short step farther. The various military companies were mustered, reminded of their oaths, called upon solemnly to fulfil their sworn duty, and marched to various strategic points about the jail and elsewhere. Parenthetically, their every appearance on the streets was well hissed by the populace. The governor was informally notified of a state of insurrection, and requested to send in the State militia. By evening all the forces of organized society were under arms. The leaders of the Law and Order party were jubilant. Their position appeared to be impregnable. They felt that back of them was all the weight of constituted authority, reaching, if need be, to the Federal Government at Washington. Opposed to them was lawlessness. Lawlessness had occasionally become dignified revolution, to be sure, but only when a race took its stand on a great issue; never when a handful espoused a local quarrel. Civil war it might be; but civil war, the wise politicians argued, must spread to become effective; and how could a civil war based on the shooting of an obscure editor in a three-year-old frontier town spread anywhere? Especially such an editor as James King of William.

For King had made many bitter enemies. In attacking individual members of a class he had often unreasonably antagonized the whole class. Thus he had justly castigated the Times and other venal newspapers; but in so doing had by his too general statements drawn the fire of every other journal in town. He had with entire reason attacked a certain scalawag of a Roman Catholic priest--a man the church itself must soon have taken in hand--but had somehow managed to offend all Roman Catholics in doing so; likewise, there could be no question that his bitter scorn for "the chivalry" was well justified, but the manner of its expression offended also the decent Southerners. And all these people saw the Vigilantes, not as a protest against a condition that had become intolerable, but as the personal champions of King. The enemies of King, many of them worthy citizens, quite out of sympathy with the present methods of administering the law, became the enemies of the Vigilantes.

No wonder the Law and Order party felt no uneasiness. They did not underestimate the determination of their opponents. It was felt that fighting, severe fighting, was perhaps inevitable. The Law and Order party loved fighting. They had chosen as their commander William Tecumseh Sherman, later to gain his fame as a great soldier. His greatness in a military capacity seems to have been exceeded only by his inability to remember facts proved elsewhere by original historical documents. This is the only possible explanation for the hash of misstatements comprising those chapters in his "Memoirs" dealing with this time. In writing them the worthy general evidently forgot that original documents existed, or that statements concerning historical events can often be checked.

And as a final source of satisfaction, the Vigilantes had placed themselves on record. Every man could be apprehended and made to feel the weight of the law. A mob is irresponsible and anonymous. These fools had written down their names in books!