Today’s partisan bickering, even a Congressman hooting “You lie” at the President, seems mild compared to some of the political feuds of the past. In 1826, Virginia Senator John Randolph, a bitter opponent of President John Quincy Adams’ “creeping nationalism” made a fiery speech on the floor of the Senate denouncing the President’s foreign policy. Randolph insinuated the Secretary of State, Henry Clay, was a scoundrel. For this insinuation, Clay challenged Senator Randolph to a duel.
Duels among prickly partisan rivals were not unusual in the young republic. Andrew Jackson fought over one hundred duels before becoming President. In those days, if you called the President a liar you were likely to have to back up your words with a sword or a dueling pistol.
One of the most egregious cases of politician on politician violence was the severe beating of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in 1856 by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks on the floor of the Senate. It took Sumner years to fully recover from the beating.
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