Things got testy in the U. S. Congress in the years before the war. Most of us know about Preston Brooks caning Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber. Maybe less known is when South Carolina Representative Lawrence Keitt called Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania a “Black Republican puppy.” Grow knocked Keitt down, and a free-for-all erupted on the House floor.
Which brings up the subject of political insults. My favorite comes from an account from Burton Hendrick, Statesmen of the Lost Cause (1939), about Judah P. Benjamin.
Once someone in the Senate snarlingly called Benjamin “that Jew from Louisiana.”
I can imagine a shocked Senate falling into silence as Benjamin rose to respond. “It is true that I am a Jew,” he replied. “And when my ancestors were receiving their ten commandments from the immediate hand of Deity, amidst the thunderings and lightnings of Mount Sinai, the ancestors of the distinguished gentleman who is opposed to me were herding swine in the forests of Scandinavia.”
Benjamin was suave and urbane, and this taunt is just what you’d expect from one such as he.
Congressman Roger A. Pryor of Virginia, on the other hand, was not one to hold back.
Pryor resigned his seat the day before Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861. Two weeks later Pryor addressed several hundred citizens in Richmond. Lincoln had been inaugurated. “He thanked God that the Union had been destroyed and that the Southern states had left, never to come back,” writes his biographer Robert S. Holzman.
Then he blistered Lincoln referring to him as–catch this–“a feculent excrescence of Northwestern vulgarity.”
Yes, we’ve got Donald Trump these days. But for my money, when I want a resonating political insult, I’ll go with Roger Pryor every time.