A set up to the murder of James King

May 14, 1856, James King published in the Bulletin that evening an article against the appointment of a man named John W. Bagley to a position in the US Customs House. Bagley had recently been involved in a nasty election fight with James P. Casey, a county supervisor, and Bagley was clearly the aggressor. Here King went on to say that it didn’t matter how bad a man Casey had been before, nor how much public benefit there might be to have him out of the way, one citizen could not be afforded the right to kill him or even beat him, without the proper personal provocation. King then continued, “The fact that Casey has been an inmate of Sing Sing Prison in New York is no offense against the laws of this state; nor is the fact of him having stuffed himself through the ballot box, as elected to the board of supervisors from a district where it is said he was not even a candidate, any justification why Mr. Bagley should shoot Casey, however richly the latter should deserve having his neck stretched for such fraud on the people.”

Sing Sing Prison 1855

James P. Casey

About four o’clock in the afternoon, soon after the paper containing King’s editorial appeared on the streets, Casey, a county supervisor and the editor of a low-life paper called the Sunday Times, showed up at the Bulletin offices on Merchant Street between Montgomery and Sansome. There he asked what King meant by his article. When King played dumb and asked which article Casey replied, “To that which says I was a former inmate of Sing Sing Prison.” King asked, “Is that not true?” To which Casey answered, “That’s not the question. I don’t want my past acts raked up. On that point I am sensitive.” Here King demanded Casey leave and not return. It’s possible that had other men not been present in a back room behind an open door there might have been violence, but instead Casey left with a few more angry words and a veiled threat of retaliation. Little did anyone know then how much like a set up this incident would appear in hindsight.

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