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Incidents of the Fight by Night, from Ben Perley Poore’s Reminiscences, 1886

Representative Covode (PA) wields a spittoon while Representative Washburn (WI) pulls off Representative Barksdale’s(MS) wig.

Reproduced from Perley’s Reminiscences of 60 Years in the National Metropolis, by Ben Perley Poore, General Collections, Library of Congress

Incidents of the Fight by Night

Passion and Deadlock, 1858

Fighting broke out over slavery—on the House floor. The violent slavery disputes among settlers in “Bloody Kansas” provoked passions in Congress. During a late-night House session in 1858, South Carolina’s Laurence Keitt called Pennsylvania’s Galusha Grow a “black Republican puppy.” Grow responded by knocking down Keitt. Suddenly, dozens of members were pushing, punching, and wrestling on the House floor.

The Speaker and the Sergeant at Arms, wielding the clublike Mace, tried to restore order. They failed. The brawl finally ended when one member dramatically snatched his opponent’s wig. Peals of laughter calmed tempers; everyone shook hands and resumed debate. But the incident seemed an ominous sign of troubled times. Representative Alexander Stephens of Georgia concluded, “The Union cannot or will not last long.”