Brawling Zachariah Chandler!

Zachariah Chandler as a young man from the Public Life of Zachariah Chandler

Zachariah Chandler as a young man from the Public Life of Zachariah Chandler

A fight had broke out! It started with words and got physical. First there was a blow with the hand. There there was a strike on the head with a pitcher. Immediately after that a chair was used against the body. It was ugly! Common street thugs?  No, U.S. Senators! In public they scrapped with one another-in a hotel dining room, no less.  Man, those Civil War era politicians could get brutal.  So, there were Senators Hannegan, Voorhees, and Chandler battling it out. What happened? How did it come to blows? Wilmer C. Harris tells the story in his book Public Life of Zachariah Chandler (1917):


“Mr. Chandler’s hostility towards rebels was only exceeded by his hatred of the Copperheads of the Northwest. On one occasion, while dining with friends at the National Hotel in Washington, Mr. Chandler denounced in very strong terms Copperheads in general and especially those of the West. According to the newspaper account of the affair, “Voorhees, of Indiana, who was sitting at another table in company with Hannegan, also of Indiana, arose from his seat, approached Chandler in an excited manner demanding whether he referred to him, to which Chandler replied, ‘Who are you, Sir, I don’t know you,’ at the same time rising from his chair. Voorhees replied, ‘I am Voorhees, of Indiana,’ and suiting his action to the word, struck Chandler on the side of the face. The two then closed, and the Senator was rapidly getting the better of Voorhees, when Hannegan came to the latter’s assistance with a heavy milk pitcher, snatched from the table, which he broke on Chandler’s head. The contents of the pitcher splashed over the whole company. Chandler was stunned by the blow, and had not fully recovered himself when Hannegan dealt him a second blow with a chair. At this juncture parties present interfered, and the belligerents were separated. Chandler’s head was slightly cut by the pitcher, and his shoulder and arm considerably bruised by the chair. Though not able to close his hand, he has been out today attending to his usual duties.”  Mr. Chandler as well as Mr. Sumner had to suffer for expressing their opinions too freely.”


Well, there it was-Senators acting badly. Apparently, Mr. Chandler didn’t strike the first blow (to his credit). But how is it that Mr. Chandler’s conversation with friends at a dining table was overheard by others at another table? Can one say: “Mr. Chandler, keep your voice down!” Or, was he intentionally speaking loudly to get the others riled up? At any rate, they all knew better!

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