Choosing the House Speaker: A Forgotten Fight


U.S. Capitol under construction in 1860

From We’re History by Peter H. Wood:

In the sharp-elbowed world of U.S. politics, the selection of Speaker of the House of Representatives usually comes with a predictable rubber stamp. Now and then, however, the choice provokes an extended rumpus. Recent jostling over who would hold the gavel during the new session of the 116th Congress did not heat up as much as some had predicted. But simmering emotions can boil over, as they did in the even more troubled Congress that opened in December 1859.

The speakership fight that erupted that winter proved the most contentious ever, lasting for two months. Some members carried pistols and bowie knives into the debate—a rehearsal for the bloody Civil War that would commence in 1861. Surprisingly, the rancorous battle on Capitol Hill hinged on a book, and on the troubling statistics it contained. That volume, by Hinton R. Helper, challenged the smug bravado of the South’s Cotton Kingdom. Indeed, it threatened to overturn slavery by striking a chord with restive non-elite white southerners.

Read more at We’re History

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