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Thread: Congressman Badass

  1. #1
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    Congressman Badass

    fighting off 3 vs 1 odds at an ambush, impressive...

    ----

    Guns, Blood and Congress - NYTimes.com

    Guns, Blood and Congress
    By ADAM GOODHEART

    The congressman was still nursing his wounds. The bloody attack three weeks earlier had been frightening, appalling – not just for him, but for much of the nation. Yet in a broader sense, it had perhaps not been wholly unexpected. Congressional politics in those days could be a dangerous business, especially for those who dared to make enemies.

    Representative Charles H. Van Wyck of Orange County, N.Y. had been returning late to his lodgings in the National Hotel on the fateful – and nearly fatal – night of Feb. 22. As he walked past the north wing of the Capitol, shadowed beneath a row of trees, he was suddenly set upon from ambush. Before he knew what was happening, a strong arm had seized him from behind and the blade of a bowie knife was flashing straight toward his heart.

    The assailant – a “stout-built man,” it was later reported – must have expected to finish off the congressman with one or two blows. Van Wyck was a bespectacled, scholarly-looking fellow, “very quiet and gentlemanly,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Hardly the sort to put up much resistance, even if he survived the knife’s first brutal thrust.

    But the would-be assassin had failed to anticipate three things. The first two were the thick memorandum book and the twice-folded copy of congressional records tucked into the breast pocket of Van Wyck’s frock coat. These deflected the knife’s blade; it barely pierced the skin. The third thing was the loaded revolver in the congressman’s other pocket.

    Wheeling around, Van Wyck – whose mild exterior apparently belied an almost ninja-like fighting prowess – punched the man hard in the jaw, sending him staggering. Almost instantly, a second attacker was upon him, striking with his bowie knife. The congressman deflected the blade with his left hand, knocked this man down as well, and in almost the same instant drew his gun and fired at the first attacker. The villain dropped to the ground.

    Then a third man sprang out of the darkness, dealt the congressman a knockout blow to the head – either with his fist or with a bludgeon of some kind – and Van Wyck finally collapsed to the pavement. But the assailants apparently panicked before they could consummate the murder.

    “The rascals then made off with their probably wounded companion,” the Plain Dealer reported. “After the assassins had retreated Mr. Van Wyck recovered his consciousness, and managed to return to his rooms at the National.” He soon collapsed again, blood streaming from the deep gash in his palm where he had fended off the bowie knife. The following day found him with doctors and policemen at his bedside, “at times quite wandering in his mind.”

    No sign of the attackers was ever found. Nor did Van Wyck or the police discover any hint of a motive. But many people were convinced that the legislator had been marked for death because of the words he had spoken on the House floor almost exactly a year earlier, on March 7, 1860.

    On that occasion, Van Wyck had delivered one of the most blistering denunciations of slavery ever uttered in the Capitol. “I believe slavery to be a crime against the laws of God and nature, violative of the instincts of a common humanity,” he pronounced. Van Wyck admitted sarcastically that each state was “supreme in its own borders [and] at liberty to retain or revive relics of a barbarous, unchristian age, whether they be slavery or polygamy.” Yet he also denounced the “treasonable designs” already evident among his Southern colleagues.

    Most galling of all, he dared condemn lynchings in the slave states. One Southern congressman, he said, had recently baited the North by referring to the long-ago witch-burnings at Salem. “Does he not know that your own people burn slaves at the stake, and it seems to awaken no horror in your minds?”

    At this, Representative Reuben Davis of Mississippi – no relation of the future Confederate president – rose from his seat in white-hot fury, as the annals of Congress record:

    MR. DAVIS, of Mississippi: I pronounce the gentleman a liar and scoundrel. I pronounce the gentleman’s assertion false – utterly false.

    MR. VAN WYCK: My time is short, and I hope not to be interrupted.

    MR. DAVIS, of Mississippi: You have no right to utter such foul and false slanders.

    A few moments later, Davis came within a hairsbreadth of challenging Van Wyck to a duel, suggesting that they meet outside the capital, where affairs of honor were illegal:

    MR. DAVIS, of Mississippi: Will you go outside the District of Columbia and test the question of personal courage with any Southern man?

    MR. VAN WYCK: I travel anywhere, and without fear of any one.

    The New Yorker and the Mississippian did not end up trading gunfire. Toward the end of his speech, in eerily prophetic terms, Van Wyck said: “We [Northerners] threaten not with bayonet, revolver and bowie knife, but with the silent ballot.”

    Van Wyck’s speech was widely reported in the press, and for months afterward, death threats, usually postmarked beneath the Mason-Dixon Line, filled his mail. A year later, in the aftermath of the mysterious attack – not to mention of the North’s recent triumph via “the silent ballot” – many journalists reminded their readers of the ire that he had aroused.

    “The attempt to assassinate Mr. Van Wyck may or may not have been prompted by political considerations,” The New York Times suggested rather cautiously. “It is known that he is extremely odious to the cut-throat gang of Secessionists about the City.”

    The Tribune was less circumspect. It reminded readers that on the same night that Van Wyck was set upon in Washington, President-elect Lincoln had also risked assassination as he passed through Baltimore. “The attempted assassination of Mr. Van Wyck at Washington, and the proposed plan to get rid of Mr. Lincoln … are merely new developments of Southern and slaveholding barbarism, the only way in which innate ruffians can meet the new exigencies of the moment.”

    New developments, perhaps. And yet for years, the political and sectional strife in the nation’s capital had been punctuated by acts and threats of violence. The brutal caning of the abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor in 1856 – an event celebrated throughout much of the South – was just one incident among many. In the wake of the attack, many legislators began carrying weapons into the halls of Congress. (It was fortunate – or not – that this followed closely upon the invention of a new pocket-size pistol by a Philadelphia gunsmith named Henry Deringer.)

    “Every man on the floor of both Houses is armed with a revolver – some with two revolvers and a bowie knife,” reported James Henry Hammond of South Carolina, perhaps exaggerating slightly. Indeed, it was not just Southerners who armed themselves. On one occasion, the Republican Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio placed a sawed-off shotgun prominently on his desk.

    Another time, in 1858, when Representative Laurence Keitt of South Carolina called Representative Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania a “Black Republican puppy,” a full-scale melee broke out on the floor of the House. More than 50 representatives wrestled and punched each other as the speaker called vainly for order, the sergeant-at-arms waved his mace over the struggling throng and amused spectators in the gallery rained spitballs from on high. Peace was restored only after Representative John “Bowie Knife” Potter of Wisconsin grabbed at the hair of Mississippi’s William Barksdale – and the wig came off in his hand. “I’ve scalped him,” Potter exclaimed, and the brawl dissolved amid laughter.

    The Tribune was sadly correct when it prophesied in 1861 that the failed attempts at Lincoln’s and Van Wyck’s lives “will be followed by acts with more certain results.” That forecast would be realized on an evening little more than four years later, when a young actor walked out of the dining room at the National Hotel and over to Ford’s Theatre.

    As for Charles Van Wyck, he recovered from his wounds – and, despite his brush with death, he was hardly intimidated. In April, just two weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter, he sent a letter to the White House begging for a military commission. “Those who had talked should act,” he wrote. “I desire to be called on at any time no matter what the danger or risk.” He was appointed colonel of the 56th New York Infantry, a regiment that he led valiantly until six months after the victory at Appomattox.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."¯- Isaac Asimov

  2. #2
    Military Professional T_igger_cs_30's Avatar
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    astralis - response

    Fantastic read Astralis, can you imagine this;
    Another time, in 1858, when Representative Laurence Keitt of South Carolina called Representative Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania a “Black Republican puppy,” a full-scale melee broke out on the floor of the House. More than 50 representatives wrestled and punched each other as the speaker called vainly for order, the sergeant-at-arms waved his mace over the struggling throng and amused spectators in the gallery rained spitballs from on high. Peace was restored only after Representative John “Bowie Knife” Potter of Wisconsin grabbed at the hair of Mississippi’s William Barksdale – and the wig came off in his hand. “I’ve scalped him,” Potter exclaimed, and the brawl dissolved amid laughter
    happening today .....actually I can ........

    MR. DAVIS, of Mississippi: Will you go outside the District of Columbia and test the question of personal courage with any Southern man?
    Brilliant,

    As for Charles Van Wyck, he recovered from his wounds – and, despite his brush with death, he was hardly intimidated. In April, just two weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter, he sent a letter to the White House begging for a military commission. “Those who had talked should act,” he wrote. “I desire to be called on at any time no matter what the danger or risk.” He was appointed colonel of the 56th New York Infantry, a regiment that he led valiantly until six months after the victory at Appomattox
    A man with the courage of his convictions , it would appear.....many politicians today should reflect on this...............

    Great post, great read Astaralis.
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    Great, article, throughly enjoyed it. I laughed out loud in the middle of class when I read about the "scalping"
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  4. #4
    In Memoriam Military Professional dave lukins's Avatar
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    How much would a video of that fracas be worth today..Priceless Cameron slapping someone across the face with a glove demanding satisfaction. Oh what would I pay to see that happen in Westminster.

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    Ah...the quality and tone of political debate in this nation has degraded so much since those golden years...clearly we are doomed.
    I enjoy being wrong too much to change my mind.

  6. #6
    In Memoriam Military Professional dave lukins's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArmchairGeneral View Post
    Ah...the quality and tone of political debate in this nation has degraded so much since those golden years...clearly we are doomed.
    What is the problem with solving a debate with the odd duel or two?...think how much money would be saved. Pistols at dawn would bring in a paying crowd. The rating would be sky high that's for sure

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