Congressional Pugilists, Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
The early days of Congress involved high spirited and often physical legislative sessions.
On this date, Representative Roger Griswold
of Connecticut attacked Representative Matthew Lyon
of Vermont on the House Floor (then located in Philadelphia’s Congress Hall). Incensed that the House failed to expel Lyon for spitting tobacco juice at him on January 1, 1798, Griswold sought justice against the “gross indecency” by caning Lyon on the House Floor. Lyon defended himself with a pair of fire tongs. Both Members were separated, and a resolution to expel them was defeated handily, 73 to 21. One contemporary cartoon depicted both Members jousting with cane and tongs in what the cartoonist described as “royal sport.” The episode revealed emergent political factionalism in the House at a time when formal parties had yet to fully form. Underlying the Lyon-Griswold incident was Griswold’s support for the John Adams administration’s hard line diplomacy toward France and military preparations in the event of hostilities. Lyon believed that preparations for war would eventually precipitate war.