The heckle heard ’round the world has little if any precedent in congressional history
AP National Writer
1:32 PM PDT, September 11, 2009
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Some 150 years ago, a congressman from South Carolina, angered by a speech on slavery, entered the Senate chamber and beat a senator from Massachusetts into unconsciousness with a metal-topped wooden cane.
Years earlier on the House floor, a representative from Vermont attacked a colleague from Connecticut — also with a cane — only to be attacked himself with a pair of fireplace tongs.
And then there was the 1838 pistol duel in which William Graves of Kentucky shot and killed fellow congressman Jonathan Cilley of Maine over words spoken on the House floor. (He wasn’t even expelled.)
Given those breaches of congressional protocol, it would seem that a mere shout of “You lie!” from a 21st-century South Carolina congressman would be small potatoes. Especially when compared with a global tradition of brawls, scuffles, hurled insults (sometimes fruit, too) and other mayhem in legislatures around the world.
Yet there’s little if any historical precedent for a U.S. congressman individually challenging a president during a speech to Congress — let alone accusing him of lying — which is just one reason why some longtime political observers were stunned by Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst.