Beating on the floor of the Senate in 1856

Discussion in 'Civil War' started by Vercingetorix, Jan 30, 2013.

  1. Vercingetorix

    Vercingetorix Member

    Senator Charles Sumner made an inflammatory speech against slavery, and Preston Brooks from South Carolina took offense. Brooks beat Sumner with a cane so badly that it took him months to recover.

    I think this whole incident shows how emotional and highly-charged the debate surrounding slavery became in the years leading up to the Civil War. Was there ever another case of one senator assaulting another on the floor of the Senate?
  2. vashstampede

    vashstampede Active Member

    I found it be ridiculous that no guards were presence to stop one senator from beating another senator with a stick?

    Even more ridiculous, how can someone carry a gun into the room? Other senators who tried to help Sumner was stopped at gun point...

    Was there no law and order even at senators meeting?
  3. skyblue

    skyblue Active Member

    I found these incidents. Only one of these was about slavery. There may have been more. Yes, emotions run high on many political issues and slavery was one of the most contentious issues.

    Vash: A history buff who is a friend of mine told me he thinks the American tendency to fight physically over issues stems from the influence of the Scotch-Irish tradition of fighting to the death. I'm not sure if that is the practice we know of as "the duel" or not, but I agree that many Americans are willing to physically fight over their ideals or over any public insult, which seems the case in some of the legislative brawling we have seen.

    (from Wikipedia search: Legislative Violence)
    Feb. 15, 1798
    Federalist Congressman from Connecticut Roger Griswold attacked Vermont Rep. Matthew Lyon with a hickory walking stick in the chambers of the United States House of Representatives. Lyon defended himself by grabbing a set of tongs from the fireplace. They were separated but started fighting again. They had a history of insulting each other in public. Ethics charges were brought against them but dropped later on.

    Feb. 5, 1858
    "Massive Brawl" invovling 50 members of the House of Representatives over the issue of slavery.

    Feb. 20, 1902
    Fight between Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina accused Senator John L. McLaurin of South Carolina of "treachery" for siding with the Republicans in support of Philippine Annexation, and alleged that McLaurin had been granted control of government patronage in South Carolina. Upon receiving word of this statement, McLaurin entered the Senate Chamber and denounced Tillman, upon which Tillman attacked him."
  4. skyblue

    skyblue Active Member

    Also, as far as the gun being brandished: guns were not forbidden objects back then. People were armed in public all the time. Life was and is dangerous, it's just that, back then, we not only had an absolute right to defend ourselves, we knew there was no protection coming from any police force. Today, people mistakenly think the police with protect them but in truth, the police are there to investigate crime, after the fact. We were not deluded about that fact, in the past and were a self-reliant bunch, in general.
    CarpeNemo likes this.
  5. Vercingetorix

    Vercingetorix Member

    Wow, thanks for that additional information, skyblue. It seems there have been more of these types of incidents than I had realized. While reading up a little bit more on the "Massive Brawl" of 1858, I discovered the following on wikipedia:

    A large brawl involving approximately 50 representatives erupted on the House floor, ending only when a missed punch from Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of Wisconsin upended the hairpiece of Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi. The embarrassed Barksdale accidentally replaced the wig backwards, causing both sides to erupt in spontaneous laughter.​

    That must be the most hilarious ending of a brawl I've ever heard of.
    CarpeNemo and skyblue like this.
  6. pietastesgood

    pietastesgood Member

    I remember this and found myself pretty baffled by it. Basically, the reason it all happened, according to my AP US History teacher, was that in southern culture, it was accepted and actually applauded to seek revenge if someone committed slander on a family member, some code of honor. That's probably why Sumner got beat up on the Senate floor, with a cane of all things.
  7. Although it's not a concept heard of much today, I had a class on Constitutional Law taught by a former cop. I remember a discussion on "fighting words", and basically what the prof (a former cop) said, if I remember correctly, was that if someone uses "fighting words" against you, you have a right under the law to engage in physical altercation with them in response, because they shouldn't have said what they did. The time and culture have kind of made us more accepting of things, but at one point, calling someone a whore or illegitimate child would have been fighting words.

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