We generally take it as a given in the United States that politics is all about pointed words rather than pointed jabs, thunderous speeches rather than thunderous shots to the chin, and vigorous debates rather than vigorous fisticuffs. However, in various countries around the world, including some instances in the United States, political rhetoric has given way to political pugilism. Here are some examples of Lawmakers Gone Wild.
Let's start with a fight that took place in the United States Congress on February 15, 1798. This comes from an essay by Brian T. Neff of Yale University:
On the morning of February 15, 1798, pandemonium broke out on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Without warning, Federalist Representative Roger Griswold of Connecticut strode across the chambers to where his colleague Matthew Lyon was sitting preoccupied with some correspondence. Cursing him as a "scoundrel," Griswold pounded the Vermont Republican's head and shoulders with a thick, hickory walking stick. Federalist Representative George Thacher of Massachusetts witnessed and later recalled the attack:
I was suddenly, and unsuspectedly interrupted by the sound of a violent blow I raised my head, & directly before me stood Mr. Griswald [sic] laying on blows with all his might upon Mr. Lyon, who seemed to be in the act of rising out of his seat Lyon made an attempt to catch his cane, but failed--he pressed towards Griswald & endeavoured to close with him, but Griswald fell back and continued his blows on the head, shoulder, & arms of Lyon[who] protecting his head & face as well as he could then turned & made for the fire place & took up the [fire] tongs. Griswald drop[p]ed his stick & seized the tongs with one hand, & the collar of Lyon by the other, in which pos[i]tion they struggled for an instant when Griswald trip[p]ed Lyon & threw him on the floor & gave him one or two blows in the face.
Moments after the two grappling combatants were separated, Lyon retreated to the House water table; when Griswold re-approached him, Lyon lunged forward with the fire tongs and initiated a second brawl. As Jonathan Mason commented, the central legislative body of the United States of America had been reduced to "an assembly of Gladiators."
Griswold's attack was not a random act of violence--to some it did not even come as much of a surprise. On January 30, Lyon had brazenly insulted the Connecticut Federalist Representative and an offended Roger Griswold had retaliated by publicly calling Lyon a coward. To this character attack Lyon had responded by spitting directly in Griswold's face; when Congress subsequently failed to marshal a two-thirds majority to expel Lyon for indecorum, Griswold thought it necessary to avenge his damaged honor by publicly caning Lyon in the House chambers. This hickory stick attack was the climax of over two weeks of fierce congressional turmoil.
There are other incidents that occurred in the United States Congress, including an attack by Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina upon Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in 1856, as well as an attack by Sen. Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina upon Sen. John L. McLaurin of New York in 1902. The attack on Sumner was particularly cruel, and you can read about it here - it's not something everyone can stomach.
But these fistfights and brawls are not limited to the history books - they still occur today. The inspiration for this diary happened today, in South Korea, as reported by the AP:
Hundreds of competing lawmakers screamed and wrestled in South Korea's parliament Wednesday as a rivalry over contentious media reform bills descended into a brawl that sent at least one to a hospital.
Lawmakers from the ruling Grand National Party occupied the speaker's podium in a bid to quickly pass the bills aimed at easing restrictions on ownership of television networks. Opposition parties responded by stacking up furniture to block ruling party members from entering the main hall of the National Assembly.
The parliament plunged into chaos, as lawmakers scuffled and shouted abuse at each other. Women lawmakers from the rival parties joined in the melee, grabbing each other by the neck and trying to bring opponents to the floor.
YTN television network reported some were injured. One woman lawmaker was seen lying on a blue mattress with nurses checking her blood pressure. The lawmaker was later taken to a hospital, YTN said.
The scenes were not unusual to South Korea's confrontational and melodramatic politics, where rival parties sometimes resort to violence to get their way. Last year, opposition lawmakers used sledgehammers to pound their way into a parliamentary committee room to block the ruling party from introducing a bill to ratify a free trade pact with the United States.
Here's video from the sledgehammer episode:
These incidents occur all over the world today. Here's one from Nigeria:
Here's one from India:
The Czech Republic (though I can't vouch for the translation):
The country of Georgia:
And lastly, from the state of Alabama:
Politics can get heated - and sometimes even lawmakers can get carried away. This has been a brief history of parliamentary brawls and fistfights. If enough people enjoy this diary, I'll make this an ongoing series.