"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," declared the antislavery orator Wendell Phillips in 1856. But the vigilantes of the Western states had something different in mind: not liberty, but keeping order in unruly towns. They enforced the law--or rather, they took the law into their own hands and enforced it as they chose, answering to no higher authority.
The story of the vigilantes begins not in the West but in the South. Vigilance committees were formed there, starting in the 1830s, to keep blacks and abolitionists in their place: that is, silent and obedient to the proslavery majority. In response, northerners founded their own vigilance committees to help fugitive slaves.
A different kind of vigilance was called for in the West of the Gold Rush days. On the waterfront of San Francisco, a "Barbary Coast" of disreputable service industries had sprung up, providing intoxicating beverages, games of chance and skill, houses of ill-repute, and generous opportunities for violence and mayhem. To bring the Barbary Coast under control, respectable citizens formed a Vigilance Committee in 1851. By 1860, members were being called by the Spanish name vigilantes.
淘金热席卷西部时，还有另一种治安维持会。在旧金山沿岸，声名狼藉的“Barbary Coast”服务业兴起，带来了高度酒，依靠运气和技巧的赌博，风化场所和大量的制造暴力和伤害的机会。为了控制"Barbary Coast", 名望尚佳的公民们在1851年成立了治安维护会。截至1860年，其成员按西班牙语成为vigilante。
Groups of vigilantes were organized in other Western cities too. In an 1865 account of a visit to Montana, we are told that "the power is vested in the 'Vigilantes,' a secret tribunal of citizens, organized before civil laws were framed."
Sometimes the motives of vigilantes were honorable, but sometimes they merely dispensed their own version of Lynch Law (1780), also an American invention. Citizen initiative in maintaining order, if not always law, has persisted to the present day, but now it usually takes the milder form of a neighborhood watch (1972).有时，治安维护会员的动机尚属光荣，但有时他们只不过拟定了自己版本的私刑法律(1780)，也属美国的一项发明。公民维护秩序的主动行为，即便总是合法，还是坚持到了现在，但现在经常采取较稳和的邻里监督组织的形式(1972)。
vigilantes (vĭjĭlăn'tēz) , members of a vigilance committee. Such committees were formed in U.S. frontier communities to enforce law and order before a regularly constituted government could be established or have real authority. They were most common in mining communities, but were also known in cow towns and in farming settlements. The extreme penalty inflicted by the vigilantes was lynching. Among the most famous of the vigilante groups were those formed in San Francisco in 1851 and reorganized in 1856 to bring order to the notorious Barbary Coast. Measures taken by vigilance committees were at best extralegal. When such committees were formed in a community with a well-constituted government and a police force, they were strictly illegal and usually were merely the expression of mob violence.