Thursday, March 17, 2011

Guns, blood, and Congress

Here's a fascinating article in The New York Times "Disunion" series of the events in America 150 years ago:
Representative Charles H. Van Wyck of Orange County, N.Y. had been returning late to his lodgings in the National Hotel on the fateful – and nearly fatal – night of Feb. 22. As he walked past the north wing of the Capitol, shadowed beneath a row of trees, he was suddenly set upon from ambush. Before he knew what was happening, a strong arm had seized him from behind and the blade of a bowie knife was flashing straight toward his heart. ...

Wheeling around, Van Wyck – whose mild exterior apparently belied an almost ninja-like fighting prowess – punched the man hard in the jaw, sending him staggering. Almost instantly, a second attacker was upon him, striking with his bowie knife. The congressman deflected the blade with his left hand, knocked this man down as well, and in almost the same instant drew his gun and fired at the first attacker. The villain dropped to the ground. ...

No sign of the attackers was ever found. Nor did Van Wyck or the police discover any hint of a motive. But many people were convinced that the legislator had been marked for death because of the words he had spoken on the House floor almost exactly a year earlier, on March 7, 1860.

On that occasion, Van Wyck had delivered one of the most blistering denunciations of slavery ever uttered in the Capitol.

It's exciting stuff. And you have to wonder, as our nation seems nearly as divided now as it was back then. We've seen increasing hysteria on the right, since the election of our first black president. How bad will it get?

Well, I'm not going to claim that we're heading for a new Civil War, despite loony "by ballot or bullet" Tea Party signs. I have to admit that these Disunion articles make me think about such things, but mostly, they're just really, really interesting.

1 comment:

Jim Harris said...

Wow, they knew what "ninja" meant back in 1861?