I never saw the episodes of "Cavalcade Of America". The show was on the air from 1954 through 1957, and judging from it's casts had pretty high standards of acting and directing in many episodes. It was a precursor of "The Great Adventure" and "Profiles In Courage", as the episodes were all based on historical incidents in our past.
This episode, "The Paper Sword", is based on a subject I mentioned when reviewing the Edward G. Robinson - Miriam Hopkins - Joel McCrae film "Barbary Coast". That was the story of the San Francisco Vigilante Committees of the 1850s, which twice took over that city to put an end to a high level of violence and crime, and restore order to the city. At least, that is the official view that was given to the Vigilantes up to about 1950. Since the 1960s there has been more revisionism about the Vigilantes, and that they were anti-immigrant (especially Roman Catholic immigrant - Irish, Mexican, Italian). Since some of the victims of the vigilante committees were minority members, there may be some truth in this. But it is also true that the "victims" were not blameless innocents.
The story here is about James King of William (Patrick O'Neal). The odd name was his to prevent confusing him with another relative with the name of James King. King of William was a "nativist" - a member of the "American" or "Know Nothing" Party that attempted to become a replacement for the defunct Whig Party in the middle 1850s. It actually elected several governors and state legislatures. It sought to curtail the large influx of immigrants from Ireland and Germany, especially Roman Catholics. On the other hand, it was also very anti-British, considering Great Britain the original enemy to an independent United States.
King of William had moved to San Francisco and tried his hand at a variety of jobs, before setting up a newspaper. The newspaper was quite direct and honest in it's editorial policy and reporting the news. If it saw anything that it disliked, King of William made the readers realize he disliked it. This included (naturally) politicians and crooks.
Now, I notice in the cast that is listed an actor named Stuart Randall is playing one Charles Cora. Cora was the model for Eddie Robinson's character in "Barbary Coast" - the owner of a gambling establishment. Cora had an outstanding feud with a local celebrity, General Richardson, and finally shot and killed the General in a street encounter. The Vigilantes arrested him as a result. Meanwhile, King of William had been attacking the municipal government of San Francisco for failing to protect citizens like Richardson. He was in particular opposed to the group of politicians controlled by David Broderick, an Irish-American politician from New York State, formerly of Tammany Hall. One of these politicians was a Mr. James Casey, also of New York City - and of Tammany connections. Casey was a San Francisco Alderman.
During his attacks on Casey, King of William learned a secret about Casey - he had been accused of stealing money while in New York, and had left that city under a cloud. Casey had not spent time in prison for it, as there had never been a trial. This did not stop King of William, who continued publishing his attacks against that thief Casey. Casey tried to get King of William to desist, only to be met by the chilliest of responses.
It was too much on the alderman. One day he saw King of William on a San Francisco street, pulled out a gun and fired. King of William fell badly wounded. Casey was arrested by the Vigilantes too, and was soon in the cell next to Cora.
The Vigilantes always insisted (and the record bears this out a little) that they simply reduced the number of procedural tricks that delayed or obfuscated the truth from arising in a trial. They did allow the accused to have legal counsel, but the defense had to accept the streamlining of due process. Cora and Casey were brought in to stand trial for their crimes: Cora for homicide, Casey for attempted homicide. But in the middle of the two trials, Casey heard the church bells in the city tolling suddenly. It was the announcement of the death of King of William. Immediately Casey found his charges upped to include Murder in the First Degree.
Both men, the Italian - American gambler and the Irish-American politician, were found guilty and hanged. Cora met his end with a great dignity, but Casey was frightened and crying for mercy. Within a month of this and then a second double hanging, the crime rate fell considerably, and the Vigilantes Committee voted itself out of existence.
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