March 22, 2012

Matthew Lyon (1749 - 1822), Part 4: Duel with Griswold on House Floor

Part 1: Obituary of Matthew Lyon
Part 2: Spitting in Roger Griswold's Face
Part 3: History of the Wooden Sword
Part 4: Duel with Griswold
Part 5: Lyon's Kentucky Duel

From the book Matthew Lyon, the Hampden of Congress: A Biography by James Fairfax McLaughlin, published in 1900 (available online), comes this early political cartoon of the Lyon-Griswold duel:




There are quite a few contemporary newspaper accounts of the second altercation between Lyon and Griswold, and I read through dozens before choosing which to post.  This one is by far the most entertaining that I found. From Porcupine's Gazette of Pennsylvania, on February 16, 1798:


A Burning Shame.

The affair which took place in Congress yesterday was but imperfectly related in my Gazette of last night; I shall therefore now endeavor to give it more in detail.

After the House had decided that nothing should be done to Lyon for spitting in Mr. Griswold's face, it seems that the former had the prudence to avoid the fight of the latter, til yesterday, when he came and took his seat.  He was sitting alone, involved in deep contemplation, when Mr. Griswold first spied him.  No sooner did this happen than he catched up a thick hickory stick, made towards the man of spittle, and in the twinkling of an eye, without giving him time either to eject his saliva or say "my a--fe," began to belabour him.  Poor Lyon got out of his seat, made at his assailant, and endeavoured to grapple with him, but the supple New Englander, who is as active as he is strong, beat him from him with his left hand, while he thrashed him with the right, and thus did the member, from Vermont, receive a shower of blows, such as never fell on the devoted hide of Don Quixote or his incontinent steed Rosinante.  You must needs think the man was not very much at his ease in this situation.  He ran to the fireplace and catched up a pair of tongs just like a lady, and attempted to use them; but his antagonist presently disarmed him, and continued to beat away as regular a stroke as did the drummers of General Gates, on a former occasion.  At last Lyon made shift to close in with him, when Mr. Griswold immediately kicked him up, and made him measure his length on the floor.  Here several gentlemen came and took off the enraged New Englander, or, it is reasonable to suppose, that he would have continued to pummel away for some time longer.

The poor man of saliva was most dreadfully cut and bruized, and had not nature (foreseeing perhaps this re counter[?]) taken particular care to fortify his head, it must have been smashed to pieces.--It is said, that several connoisseurs, from the West Indies and from the Southward, have declared that never [a] negro suffered such a drubbing.

Lyon stopped an hour or two to wash and bathe, and then retired from the House, accompanied by his friend and countryman Blair McClenachan[?].  They walked down towards Fourth-street, followed by a crowd of boys; and, would you believe it, the naughty little rascals, hollowed and shouted, "there goes the Lion and Blair!" -- Whatever may be said, or thought, of the ribroasting, I am persuaded that every one will agree with me, that it is highly disgraceful to the police of Philadelphia, that these little blackguards be allowed thus to follow and mock a member of Congress, like so many small-birds at an owl that happens to change her roost by day-light.







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