A good excuse to get Bob Torricelli into the Inside Edge

Frank Lautenberg has come along way: his 83rd birthday featured a serenade (of sorts) from his colleague, Bob Menendez. His relationship with his junior Senator is significantly better than the one he had with Robert Torricelli, who once threatened to chop off a key piece of Lautenberg’s anatomy. Still, the Lautenberg/Torricelli feud had nothing on the one between Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman and John McLaurin, two Democrats who represented South Carolina in the United States Senate in the early part of the twentieth century. From the U.S. Senate Historical Office:

From its earliest days, the Senate has consistently stressed the importance of decorum in its proceedings. Of the Senate’s first 20 rules, 10 dealt with proper behavior. Vice President Thomas Jefferson included in his now-classic Manual of Parliamentary Practice a telling passage that reads as if it had been taken from a schoolroom wall. “No one is to disturb another in his speech by hissing, coughing, spitting, speaking or whispering to another; nor to stand up or interrupt him; nor to pass between the Speaker and the speaking member; nor to go across the [Senate chamber], or to walk up and down it, or to take books or papers from the [clerk’s] table, or write there.” On February 22, 1902, John McLaurin, South Carolina’s junior senator, raced into the Senate Chamber and pronounced that state’s senior senator, Ben Tillman, guilty of “a willful, malicious, and deliberate lie.” Standing nearby, Tillman spun around and punched McLaurin squarely in the jaw. The chamber exploded in pandemonium as members struggled to separate both members of the South Carolina delegation. In a long moment, it was over, but not without stinging bruises both to bystanders and to the Senate’s sense of decorum. Although Tillman and McLaurin had once been political allies, the relationship had recently cooled. Both were Democrats, but McLaurin had moved closer to the Republicans, who then controlled Congress, the White House, and a lot of South Carolina patronage. When McLaurin changed his position to support Republicans on a controversial treaty, Tillman’s rage erupted. With McLaurin away from the chamber, he had charged that his colleague had succumbed to “improper influences.” On February 28, 1902, the Senate censured both men and added to its rules the provision that survives today as part of Rule XIX: “No senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

A good excuse to get Bob Torricelli into the Inside Edge