Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The Lion And The Pig
Very interesting reading about Matthew Lyon. Some highlights:
- First member of Congress to be charged with an ethics violation
- First person prosecuted under the Alien and Sedition Acts
- Only person ever elected to Congress while in jail
Pretty fitting for a Green Mountain Boy.
Now, there was an English-born pamphleteer, William Cobbett, who hated Lyon's and the Democrats' guts something fierce. He wrote a poem in his newspaper, the Porcupine's Gazette:
To Mr. Pinchbeck, Proprietor of the Learned Pig now in Boston.
“Corpora magnanimo satis est prostrasse LEONI.”Ovid.
[Translation according to Google: "Bodies enough to have overthrown the magnanimous man with a lion..."]
Tell us no more of your learned little pig,
In size a mere runt, though in science very big.
Tell us no more of your little pig of knowledge,
Who can cipher and spell like a sophomore at college.
Can the grunting little thing, which you set so very high on,
Be compared to our beast, the GREAT AND MIGHTY LION?
You boast your little pig can spell the hardest word;
But did your little pig ever wear a wooden sword?
Your bonny pig may dance jigs, round-abouts, and reels;
But did he ever prance with rogue’s march at his heels?
I’ll allow your bristled beau can count and tell his letters;
But can he name and shew, his gammons to his betters?
Spades, diamonds, clubs, and hearts, your piggy well can handle;
But did his hinder parts ever hold a lighted candle?
Though your piggy screws his snout in such learned grimaces,
I defy the squeaking lout to spit in Christians’ faces,
And if the thing could be, is such the hoggish fashion,
That one third of the fly would applaud him for the action?
Then tell us no more of your little grunting creature,
But confess that the LION is the GREATEST BEAST in nature.
The lion, of course, was Lyon. A wooden sword? Part of a smear story that Federalists spread about Lyon's alleged cowardice and being forced to wear a wooden sword by General Gates as punishment whilst being marched out of camp at Ticonderoga. And he spit tobacco juice at Representative Griswald, as I posted yesterday, which caused a brawl.
These and other themes appeared later in the same issue when Cobbett published an "advertisement" for Gimcrack's Museum, including this:
The Pennsylvania Porcupine; remarkable for the number and acuteness of its quills. Spectators are requested to be cautious in approaching this animal, as he lately shot a Frenchman, a democrat, a printer, and an ex-ambassador, to the heart.— N. B. But two or three persons can be permitted to fee the Porcupine at once, as he has a mortal aversion to a mob.
An apparent self-reference to Cobbett (whose nym was Peter Porcupine). I think that's all about his attacks on Albert Gallatin, but I'm not 100% sure. Man, wasn't the invective colorful back then?
Anyway, back to the spitting:
Griswold made taunting allusion to an old "campaign story" of Matthew Lyon's having been sentenced to wear a wooden sword for cowardice in the field. Lyon, in a fury, spit in Griswold's face. Instantly the House was in an uproar; and although the impetuous Lyon apologized to the House, he only escaped expulsion, after eleven days' debate, through the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds vote.
This affair called forth a caricature in which the Irish member was depicted as a lion standing on his hind-legs wearing a wooden sword, while Griswold, handkerchief in hand, exclaims, " What a beastly action!"
The vote for expulsion — 52 to 44—did not satisfy Mr. Griswold. Four days after the vote occurred the outrageous scene rudely delineated in the picture already mentioned. Griswold, armed with what the Republican editor called " a stout hickory club," and the Federalist editor a "hickory stick," assaulted Lyon while he was sitting at his desk, striking him on the head and shoulders several times before he could extricate himself.
But at last Lyon got upon his feet, and, seizing the tongs, rushed upon the enemy. This is the moment selected by the artist. They soon after closed and fell to the floor, where they enjoyed a good "rough-and-tumble" fight, until members pulled them apart.
A few minutes after they chanced to meet again at the "water table," near one of the doors. Lyon was now provided with a stick, but Griswold had none. "Their eyes no sooner met,''' says the Federalist reporter, "than Mr. Lyon sprang to attack Mr. Griswold." A member handed Griswold a stick, and there was a fair prospect of another fight, when the Speaker interfered with so much energy that the antagonists were again torn apart. The battle was not renewed on the floor of Congress.
Can you imagine Alan Grayson and Peter King going at it like this? When people decry incivility in Congress, they really need to get some perspective.
Then there was the Election of 1800. Wikipedia asserts that Congressman Lyon was the decisive vote in the 36th ballot during the contingent election for president in February, 1801. I was skeptical at first, but when you look at the vote breakdown, it pretty much bears out the claim.
What's key is that Vermont had two Representatives back then, and apparently thanks to the "mountain rule", one was a Jeffersonian Democrat (Lyon) and one a Hamiltonian Federalist (Lewis R Morris). It was widely assumed during the election that the House would ultimately be charged with selecting either Thomas Jefferson or Aaron Burr, whom Alexander Hamilton hated with the passion of 10,000 suns. He wrote to Gouverneur Morris in January:
I hasten to give you some information which may be useful. I know as a fact that overtures have been made by leading individuals of the federal party to Mr. Burr, who declines to give any assurances respecting his future intentions and conduct, saying that to do it might injure him with his friends, and prevent their co-operation; that all ought to be inferred from the necessity of his future situation, as it regarded the disappointment and animosity of the Anti-federalists; that the Federalists, relying upon this, might proceed in the certainty that, upon a second ballot, New York and Tennessee would join him. It is likewise ascertained that he perfectly understands himself with Edward Livingston, who will be his agent at the seat of government.
Thus you see that Mr. Burr is resolved to preserve himself in a situation to adhere to his former friends, engagements, and projects, and to use the Federalists as tools of his aggrandizement.
The hope that by his election he will be separated from the Anti-federalists, is a perfect farce.
He will satisfy them that he has kept himself free to continue his relations with them, and as many of them are secretly attached to him, they will all be speedily induced to rally under his standard, to which he will add the unprincipled of our party, and he will laugh at the rest.
It is a fact that Mr. Burr is now in frequent and close conference with a Frenchman, who is suspected of being an agent of the French Government, and it is not to be doubted that he will be the firm ally of Buonaparte.
Depend upon it, men never played a more foolish game than will do the Federalists if they support Burr.
Nothing worse than being a tool of the French to Federalists like Hamilton and Cobbett! Anyway, Morris replied a few weeks before the electoral votes were to be counted:
[T]he idea that two States will, on a second ballot, come over, forms already a reason with the federal members in the House of Representatives for supporting Mr. Burr. They now seriously and generally, after much advisement, prefer that gentleman to Mr. Jefferson.
They consider the candidates as equal in worth, or (if you like the other mode of expression best) as equally void of it; with this difference, that Burr’s defects do not arise from want of energy and vigor. They believe that to courage he joins generosity, and cannot be branded with the charge of ingratitude; but they consider Mr. Jefferson as infected with all the cold-blooded vices, and as particularly dangerous from the false principles of government which he has imbibed.
They look, moreover, with abhorrence at a Chief Magistrate of America who shall be the slave of Virginia. They consider it as indisputable that immediately upon Mr. Burr’s election he will be abandoned by many of the Southern demagogues; and, however they may be mistaken in other points, in this I believe they are right.
On counting over the Senate, after March next it appears that, out of thirty-two, there will be fifteen of each party, with two feeble members on whom no dependence can be placed. Under these circumstances it is conceived that Mr. Burr will be able to decide, as Vice-President, all questions in that body, and, of course, that the appointment to all offices will be completely in the hands of Messrs. Jefferson and Burr.
You know my opinions, but I believe, unless something new turns up, Mr. Jefferson will not be chosen. I hear both parties, and cannot help being amazed by the certainty of success which is declared by each. If Burr be chosen President of the United States, and Clinton Governor of New York, without opposition, the anti-federal party with us must fall to pieces, and we may take up such of the fragments as we like best.
The situtation in February:
A great deal hung on the health of Joseph H. Nicholson of Maryland. Only thirty years old, Nicholson was very ill and was carried through the snow every day to the Capitol so that he could write “Jefferson” on his ballot at each roll call. Had he taken a turn for the worse, or had the snow fallen too heavily to allow transportation, Maryland, which had four Republican and four Federalist representatives, would have gone Federalist. Such an event would have created a perfect tie between the Federalist and Republican states. However, the other divided state, Vermont. would have gone Federalist only if Republican Matthew Lyon, fresh from serving time in jail for violating the Sedition Act, had been murdered.
Since Lyon's vote was canceled by the other member of our delegation, Vermont submitted a blank ballot 35 times. Then the stalemate was broken:
The testimony of Bayard is full and explicit, that Jefferson was required to give the assurance of his "support of the public credit, the maintenance of the naval system, and that subordinate public officers employed only in the execution of details, established by law, should not be removed from office on the ground of their political character, nor without complaint against their conduct; that he, Jefferson, "the points mentioned" having been "stated to him," authorized the assurance to be given, that these views " corresponded with his views and intentions," and that they "might confide in him accordingly ;" that "the opposition of Vermont, Maryland and Delaware was immediately withdrawn, and Jefferson was made President."
Gouverneur Morris was supposed to enjoy the confidence of his relative [Lewis Morris], the member from Vermont, who finally withdrew. A letter from him to Pickering, shows, that he also previous to the election, required and obtained from Jefferson, assurances as to his policy.
So our Federalist Congressman, having been convinced by his relative and presumably Hamilton by proxy, submitted a blank ballot, making Vermont's net vote in favor of Jefferson and giving him the presidency. That must have been sweet revenge for Lyon, who was jailed thanks to the president-elect's political opponent, John Adams. The Beast of Vermont defeated His Rotundity in the end, no wooden sword necessary...
March 13, 2013 | Permalink
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William Cobbett was a pretty interesting guy. One of the things he did was exhume Thomas Paine's bones and bring them to England. What happened then is kind of bizarre, including the rumor that after Cobbett's death they were turned into buttons.
Cobbett wrote several interesting books. Especially his History of the Reformation in England and Scotland, Cottage Economy and Advice to Young Men (all available online). He was an early and cogent critic of Malthus. And, as you document, he was pretty sharp tongued. I will read the book.
Posted by: Anthony McCarthy | Mar 13, 2013 7:13:20 PM