Saturday, January 9, 2010

So sayeth one observer: "Far surpasses a cockfight!"

The 18th century is often remembered as a time of propriety and manners, but one should not apply that to 18th century legislative branches. Though the British Parlement was probably the worst when it came to political debates that degenerated into vicious personal attacks (cane fights from the 1776 Continental Congress aside) but the French National Assembly had some doozies.

During one particular debate over the influence of Paris in the National Assembly, Robespierre, a representative of Paris, attempted to take the tribune and defend his constitutants. The Girodins, who were very tired of the undue influence of one city on the governing body of an entire country, drowned out his speech with cries of "Censure him! Lynch him!" At this point, the Jacobins and the other representatives of Paris leapt to their feet and the debate dissolved into factional squabbling, personal remarks, the president ringing the bell for order until the bell literally broke in his hand, and, best of all, Marat outdoing himself with what the offical minutes euphamistically refer to as, "unacademic phrases."


  1. "cane fights from the 1776 Continental Congress?"
    Could you elaborate please.

  2. Charles Thompson, the secretary to the Continental Congress, often came under fire for "incorrectly recording" the minutes of the sessions. It is unclear whether he did or not. What is clear however, is that James Searle, a delegate, took offense and the two men had a cane fight that resulted in facial injuries on both sides.

    This apparently was not an uncommon occurrence.