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When American Politics Turns Physical

On Wednesday night — the night before election day — Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly body-slammed a Guardian journalist named Ben Jacobs.

It may be the first time a candidate for higher office has assaulted a reporter on the eve of an election, but it is not the first time American politics has turned physical.

In 1968 CBS journalist Dan Rather was assaulted at the Democratic National Convention after he noticed a Georgia delegate who was being forcibly removed by DNC security guards. When Rather tried to interview the man, one of the guards punched him in the stomach.

“He lifted me right off the floor and put me away,” Rather said of the incident. “I was down, the breath knocked out of me, as the whole group blew on by me … In the CBS control room, they had switched the camera onto me just as I was slugged.”

One of America’s most famous examples of politics getting physical was in 1856, when Rep. Preston Brooks (D-S.C.) assaulted Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.) on the Senate floor.

Sumner had pointedly attacked Brooks’ cousin, former Sen. Andrew Butler (D-S.C.), during an anti-slavery speech. Brooks originally planned to challenge Sumner to duel, before fellow Rep. Laurence M. Keitt (D-S.C.) suggested dueling was for honorable gentlemen of equal social standing and therefore unbefitting of Sumner.

Brooks confronted Sumner in the senate. “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine,” he stated, before proceeding to thoroughly beat Sumner with his cane.

The incident is only outdone for fame by the duel between former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and then-Vice President Aaron Burr. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel after Hamilton allegedly insulted him following his defeat in the New York gubernatorial campaign, in which Hamilton played a large role.

The two met on July 11, 1804, at dawn in Weehawken, New Jersey. Historians aren’t certain who fired first, but Hamilton missed and Burr did not. Hamilton died the following day.

  1. Brooks
  2. Burr
  3. Gianforte
  4. Greg Gianforte
  5. hamilton
  6. physical
  7. Rather
  8. Sumner

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