Duel Me In? Violent Score Settling Between Lawmakers Banned Since 1838

Rep. Blake Farenhold (R-Texas) may not have realized it, but he was in danger of violating a long-standing prohibition when he suggested he would challenge to a duel the female Republicans who successfully opposed passage of an Affordable Care Act repeal bill last month.

Farenhold said after a failed healthcare vote that he might be willing to take on Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) if they were men from his home state of Texas. But such fights to settle scores between members have been prohibited since 1838 – after another lawmaker from Maine actually was killed in a duel.


 Dueling Pistols

  The prohibition on the giving or accepting of such challenges in the District of Columbia was adopted after Rep. Jonathan Cilley, a Democrat, was killed by rifle fire in the course of a duel with Rep. William Graves, a Whig, in the 25th Congress.

But that prohibition isn’t the only one adopted in the aftermath of violence involving members of Congress.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the 91st Congress also made it an offense to assassinate, kidnap, or assault a member of Congress or member-elect or try or conspire to commit such offenses. The law was adopted after the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.) in 1968.

In addition, the delivery of letters containing anthrax spores to Senate offices in the fall of 2001 led to changes that required congressional mail screening, the CRS said. The letters were sent to the offices of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

The CRS highlighted those responses in a recent overview of violence against members of Congress. There have been at least 22 attacks involving a total of at least 41 members since 1789, according to the CRS. In 11 of those cases, the attacks were thwarted or resulted in no serious harm to members. However, it said another four resulted in the wounding of eight members. Another seven resulted in the deaths of seven lawmakers, it said.