There’s going to be a big fight in Washington over the appointment of the next Supreme Court Justice. It’s easy to think Congress is falling apart with all the partisan politics but things have been worse. In 1856 a representative from South Carolina attacked the Senator from Massachusetts as he sat at his desk on the Senate floor. For decades afterward it was common for Senators to carry walking sticks and even revolvers into congress. Can you imagine how nervous the lawmakers would be today if the chambers of congress and visitor galleries were allowed to bristle with Second Amendment weaponry? I don’t think they’d even let Jeb Bush’s personalized gun in even though it is super keen.
Even without open carry on the floor of the Senate they could still have fistfights. During a debate in 1902 Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina accused Senator John McLaurin, also of South Carolina, of “treachery” for siding with the Republicans and punches were exchanged leaving both men with bloody noses. The political polarity was reversed back then so Pitchfork Ben had essentially accused his fellow Democrat of being a RINO. Them’s still fighting words for two conservatives out to out conservative each other.
“Pitchfork” Ben Tillman was a racist, terrorist and a murderer. At some point during the five years following the Civil war the pre-war elite realized it would not be possible to outvote the opposition. “Rifle Clubs” started to pop up all over the South. Their purpose was thinly disguised. Ex Confederate generals Martin Gary and Matthew Butler called it the “Straightout Plan”
In case you’re a FOX News viewer the “Rifle Clubs” were not about picnics and Turkey Shoots. They were straight up clandestine paramilitary organizations that used force and intimidation to return the status-quo elite back to power. They assaulted black voters, assassinated black politicians and had outright battles with the state militia which was a Republican bastion at the time. Again for the FOX news people that means they were black.
In 1874 moderate Republicans were starting to win over some Democrats. The Rifle Clubs upped their activity to combat this. In the town of Hamburg, a mostly black town, two white farmers rode their buggy through a black militia parade. What should have been a local incident erupted when Rifle Clubs all over the South sent armed members to Hamburg in support of the white farmers. Does any of this sound familiar? Throw a Bundy family member in there and it might as well be a repeat of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Rifle clubs, outside agitators, status-quo elites pulling the strings to retain power; it all sounds so terribly like history is repeating itself. I’m betting there’s some politician looking at the Malheur siege and thinking the same things Pitchfork Ben was after he wiped the blood off his hands at the party following the Hamburg Massacre.
He wasn’t very successful when he first started politicking. He’d been an early member of the Sweetwater Sabre Club which had responded to the call for armed response to the situation in Hamburg. He created an Agricultural Society which was another thinly veiled whites only club but it died from lack of membership. Then he discovered being more fanatically conservative than his parties conservatives was a winning formula. He fed on the anxious white middle class that was struggling financially because of the war. Again does any of this sound familiar?
Tillman constantly baffled his enemies. Every move he made seemed sure to be counterproductive; yet his popularity only grew … he abused his followers, calling them ignorant, imbecilic, backward, apathetic, and foolish. He assailed his enemies with a tongue so outrageous that many believed only the demise of the code duello kept him alive … Despite all this, his movement grew and multiplied, thriving best when the issues appeared contrived, contradictory or without foundation
Pitchfork Ben was elected Governor of South Carolina in 1890. He then became a Senator in 1894. At political events if opponents tried to bring up little details like the candidate having actually murdered Republicans the comments were shouted down by Tillman partisans. The incumbent Senator Matthew Butler sounded a lot like the Clinton campaign does now when Pitchfork Ben steamrolled his attempt to rationally appeal to the electorate.
Benjamin Tillman could have been president but his brand of politics didn’t play well at the National Convention. Tammany Hall owned New York City and the Irish still remembered the sting of discrimination. He also managed to alienate a large portion of the delegates who’d come upset at President Grover Cleveland’s currency policy. Historians credit Tillman with a large portion of the blame for the subsequent image of the Democrats as dysfunctional and chaotic. They lost the election and the party began to shift to what eventually would become FDR and the New Deal.
Maybe history will repeat itself. The Republicans are looking pretty much like the Democrats did when Pitchfork Ben was out stumping for votes. The Question is; are the Democrats organized enough to look like a decent alternative like the Republicans were in 1896? This all could end up with Donald Trump having a fistfight with Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate long after their particular brand of bullshit has become irrelevant.
As a side note did you know when the supporters of Her Majesty’s Government engage in debate with Her Majesty’s Opposition they do not step beyond the “sword lines” marked on the floor between the two front benches in Parliament. The painted lines are two sword lengths apart so the ministers can’t kill each other when things get heated. The British know how to do civilized debate