On May 15, 1856, James P. Casey shot and fatally wounded James King, editor of the San Francisco Bulletin, on Montgomery Street, San Francisco. History records indicate that the shot was a sad mistake on the part of the ringleaders of the lawless element in the City. The prompt action on the part of the police in jailing Casey and then calling for the assistance of the Militia in holding back a mob of indignant citizens was all that spared Casey's life at that time.
Meanwhile the Vigilance Committee had organized, and citizens by the hundreds were joining their ranks. Many of the Militia companies realizing they would be called upon to take sides against the Vigilance Committee which was composed of many of the prominent and good citizens, refused to continue to support the Sheriff. The action of the Militia combined with the increasing activities of the Vigilance Committee created what Governor J. Neely Johnson declared to be an "insurrection", therefore, he issued the following proclamation:
"WHEREAS, satisfactory information has been received by me that combinations to resist the execution of legal process by force, exist in the County of San Francisco, State of California, and that an unlawful organization, styling themselves the 'Vigilance Committee' have resisted by force the execution of criminal process, and that the power of said County has been exerted and has not been sufficient to enable the Sheriff of said County to execute such process; now, therefore, I, it J. Neely Johnson, Governor of the State of California, by virtue of the power vested in me by the Constitution and Laws thereof, do hereby declare said County of San Francisco in a state of Insurrection; and I hereby order and direct all of the Volunteer Military Companies of the County of San Francisco; also, all persons subject to Military Duty within said County, to report themselves for duty immediately to Major General William T. Sherman, commanding Second Division, California Militia, to serve in the performance of military duty under the command of said Sherman until disbanded from such service by his orders. Also, that all Volunteer Military Companies now organized, or which may be organized within the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Military Divisions of this state, also all persons subject to Military duty in said Military Divisions, do hold themselves in readiness to respond to and obey the orders of the Governor of this State, or said Sherman for the performance of Military Duty in such manner and at such time and place as may be directed by the Governor of this State. I furthermore order and direct that all associations, combinations or organizations whatsoever, existing in the said County of San Francisco or elsewhere in this State in opposition to or in violation of the laws thereof, more particularly the association known as the 'Vigilance Committee' of San Francisco, do disband, and each and every individual thereof yield obedience to the Constitution and Laws of this State, the writs and processes of the Courts, and all orders of the officers of this State, and of the County of San Francisco.
- J. Neely Johnson
In answer to the Proclamation of Governor Johnson, the Constitutional Guard was organized on June 11, 1856, and mustered into the service of the State. The company chose for their commanding officers: Richard P. Ashe, Captain and James H. Wade as First Lieutenant.
The company was in the service of the State for three months, their principle task being to prevent the seizure of State arms and supplies and protect the armories. While the Militia was not called out to subdue the Vigilantes, undoubtedly their presence prevented unwarranted acts of violence and kept the Vigilance Committee within reasonable bounds.
After serving three months in the service of the State the Constitution Guard was mustered out on September 11, 1856, having honorably obeyed all orders issued by their superiors.