It is a wonderful thing that we live in a country where we have the freedom to criticize our elected officials and make light of their bad behavior. If you think there is partisan bickering in Congress today, you might be surprised to learn about the long list of altercations that have taken place in both houses of Congress. Consider the following incidents:
1798: on January 30, 1798, a battle begins between Congressmen Roger Griswold and Matthew Lyon. Griswold insulted Lyon. Lyon spit in Griswold’s face. Two weeks later Griswold attacked Lyon with a walking stick on the floor of the House, and Lyon fought back using metal tongs. Their physical fight was quite lengthy and is depicted in the attached cartoon. Lyon was the first Congressman to have charges brought against him by the House Ethics Committee.
1832: Congressman William Stanberry accused the Governor of his state, Sam Houston, of corruption on the House floor. Houston later traveled to Washington, began beating Stanberry on Pennsylvania Avenue, and Stanberry was only prevented from killing Houston with a pistol because the gun misfired.
1850: Senator Henry Foote pointed a pistol at Senator Thomas Benton on the Senate floor. He did so because Benton charged toward him after an argument erupted over procedural rules.
1856: Congressman Preston Brooks nearly bludgeoned Senator Charles Sumner with a cane. Those who sought to assist Sumner were blocked by Congressman Laurence Keitt who waved a pistol about the aisle screaming, “Let them be!” It is said that decades later senators continued to carry weapons ranging from walking sticks to revolvers because of that incident. Keitt was censured for his behavior but resoundingly re-elected by his constituents.
1858: Once again, Congressman Keitt began a fight that eventually grew to involve approximately 50 members of Congress. Keitt was reportedly somewhat inebriated when the fight broke out. The fight stopped only when Congressman William Barksdale accidently put his wig on backwards after it had been knocked off during the brawl. Reportedly both sides stopped fighting and started laughing.
1866: Congressman Rousseau repeatedly struck Congressman Grinnell with a cane after Grinnell questioned Rousseau’s military record.
1902: Senators Benjamin Tillman and John McLaurin, both of South Carolina, came to blows during which they managed to punch other members of the Senate. Both were later censured for their behavior.
If you venture down to the state level, you’ll find many more incidents of elected officials behaving badly. I need not detail the seemingly endless examples of present-day elected officials who have engaged in scandalous behavior. I do believe it is worth noting that throughout our nation’s past, politicians have engaged in behavior that warrants at least a “time out,” don’t you think? I am thankful to live in a country where I can point out that behavior rather than turning a blind eye to it.