Historical Highlights

Representative Daniel Sickles of New York

October 20, 1819
Representative Daniel Sickles of New York Image courtesy of Library of Congress One of the House’s most colorful characters, Civil War hero Daniel Sickles was famous for being the first person acquitted on the defense of temporary insanity after shooting his wife’s lover in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.
Daniel Sickles, a Representative from New York, was born on this date in New York City. Elected to the 35th and 36th Congresses (1857–1861), Sickles was a partisan Democrat who supported legislation that benefited Southerners in an attempt to strengthen unity between northern and southern Democrats. In February 1859, Congressman Sickles made national headlines when he murdered Philip Barton Key (son of Francis Scott Key) and almost immediately admitted his guilt. Key and Sickles’s wife, Teresa, had an affair and frequently rendezvoused in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., where Sickles gunned down Key in broad daylight. The case made legal history because it was the first successful use of the temporary insanity defense in the United States. On the eve of the Civil War, Representative Sickles opposed Southern secessionists. In a House Floor speech, Sickles asserted that partisan loyalty did not trump national loyalty for his constituents. “In all the partisan issues between the South and the Republican Party, the people of the city of New York are with the South, but…when the flag of the Union is insulted…when the South abandons its Northern friends for English and French alliances, then the loyal and patriotic population of that imperial city are unanimous with the Union.” Sickles did not seek re-election and joined the New York state militia in 1861. He participated in a number of key battles, attained the rank of major general, and lost his right leg to cannon fire at Gettysburg. After the war ended, Sickles was the commander of a military district in the South until his retirement in 1867. He then served as diplomat to both Mexico and Spain. In the 1890s, he returned to the United States and was re-elected to one term in the House for the 53rd Congress (1893–1895).

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