Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Before the Civil War, Congress Was a Hotbed of Violence"

I found roughly 70 violent incidents in the 30 years before the Civil War—and very often the incidents featured a Southerner trying to intimidate a Northerner into compliance. It’s all hidden between the lines in the Congressional record; it might say “the conversation became unpleasantly personal.” That meant duel challenges, shoving, pulling guns and knives. In 1858, South Carolina representative Laurence Keitt started trouble with Pennsylvania’s Galusha Grow. It turned into a mass brawl between Southerners and Northerners in the House.

How did voters feel about the violence?

That changes over time, which isn’t surprising. And it wasn’t the same for everyone. There were certain people who were elected to Congress because they played rough. That’s why their constituents sent them there, to play rough, to defend their interests with gusto. And that included sometimes threats and even also sometimes fists or weapons.

People knew who they were electing to Congress, and they did it for a reason. The most striking example of that is, over time, increasingly confrontational Northerners get sent to Congress.