Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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BUCKSHOT WAR, The (IN U. S. HISTORY). In 1838 the control of the Pennsylvania house of representatives, on which depended the choice of a United States senator, turned upon the election in Philadelphia, Oct 9. Here the democratic candidates for senators and representatives were elected by average majorities of about 350; but the democratic candidate for congress was defeated. Ascribing his defeat to whig frauds in the Northern Liberties district, he induced the ten democratic return judges to cast out the entire 5,000 votes of that polling place, and thus obtained a certificate of election. Hereupon the seven whig judges met separately and gave certificates not only to their party candidate for congress, but also to the whig candidates for the state legislature, through these had no claim to a majority with or without the Northern Liberties vote. The whig certificates, sent by rail, came first to the secretary of state, who was also chairman of the whig state committee. He at once accepted them as the true ones and issued an address to his party, calling on them, until investigation could be made, "to treat the election as if they had not been defeated, and abide the result." This was a signal for both parties to muster strong bodies of armed partisans at Harrisburg before the meeting of the legislature, "to see fair play."


—The legislature met Dec. 4, 1838, in the presence of riotous crowds. In both houses the secretary of state banded in the whig returns from Philadelphia, ignoring those of their opponents. The whig senate was organized without great difficulty, but adjourned because of the mob. In the house two organizations were formed in the same room, one (whig) recognizing the secretary's returns, the other (democratic) recognizing the election judges' returns. As speaker the former chose Thomas S. Cunningham, and the latter William Hopkins. The Hopkins house remained in session after the adjournment of the Cunningham house, and, having thus got possession of the hall, guarded it securely and compelled their opponents to meet elsewhere.


—The whig governor, Ritner, issued a proclamation during the day, declaring the capital to be in the hands of a lawless mob. and calling on the militia throughout the state to prepare for action. Dec. 5, he called on the commandant at Carlisle barracks, Capt Sumner, for United States dragoons, but was refused. He then, Dec. 7, called on president Van Buren for troops to protect the state from domestic violence. (See INSURRECTION, II.) This request was also refused, Dec. 11, on the ground that the trouble arose from no opposition to the laws, but from a political contest for the organization of the house; and that it was indelicate and improper for the federal government to interfere for the support of either party. (See KANSAS) In the meantime about 1,000 militia had been brought to Harrisburg, but, after a two weeks' stay, departed, as the mob violence had ceased, and the senate and the dual house were holding regular and quiet sessions.


—The senate stood 22 whigs to 11 democrats; but, when the excitement fell, it was found that many whigs disapproved the secretary's assumption of power to decide disputed returns. The feeling spread, and Dec. 17 three Cunningham members took seats in the Hopkins house, thus giving that body a majority of all the representatives. On motion of a whig senator, Dec. 23, the senate recognized the Hopkins house, and this ended the "Buckshot War." The other Cunningham members, during the next three weeks, took seats in the Hopkins house, with the single exception of their leader, Thaddeus Stevens, who absented himself during the rest of the session. May 7, 1839, at an extra session, he presented himself to take the oath, but the democratic majority, to punish him for his part in the struggle and for his strong and repeated expressions of contempt for the Hopkins house, declared his seat vacant. At the consequent special election he was again chosen, and took his seat in June. The popular name for the whole conflict was given from a reported threat of a whig member that the mob "should feel ball and buckshot before the day was over." The "Buckshot War" is interesting as throwing light upon the meaning of the term "domestic violence," and upon the power of the United States to protect the state governments therefrom. (See DORR REBELLION; INSURRECTION, II.)


—See Armor's Lives of the Governors of Pennsylvania (under Ritner); Harris' History of Lancaster County, and Political conflict in America; and authorities under PENNSYLVANIA.


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