House of Pain: When Good Congressmen Go Bad

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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That man there on the left is Rep. Jonathan Cilley, a promising young Democrat from the great state of Maine. Or rather, he was a promising young Democrat, until his distinguished colleague, Rep. William Graves of Kentucky, a Whig, shot him in an 1838 duel. Like most duels, it was a little absurd; as the House website notes, “neither man had any known grievance with the other prior to the incident” (normally a deal-breaker). But Cilley had offended Graves’ friend, and so Graves felt that it was only right—gentlemanly, even—to demand satisfaction on his behalf.

Never letting a good crisis go to waste, the House passed stringent anti-dueling legislation one year later in Cilley’s memory, and then, in another timeless congressional tradition, totally ignored it. In 1860, six members convened for an epic 3 v. 3 gunfight in Maryland; that same year, one congressman challenged another to a battle with bowie knives.

And that was just the beginning. I dug up more than a dozen instances of our distinguished representatives in Washington beating the bipartisanship out of each other, police officers, and, occasionally, total strangers. Forget everything you’ve heard about how Washington is more polarized than ever before; armed confrontations are as much a part of the legislative process as backroom deals and motions to recommit. Check it out.

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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