11 Historic Fights Worse Than the Sequester

Jeffrey Engel, director of SMU's Center for Presidential History, talks about 11 historic examples of Washington infighting.

By Deborah Caldwell

Sure, we're tired of hearing about the sequester and its brutal budget cuts. We're even more tired of watching Congress bicker like a bunch of spoiled children.

But it also happens to be standard operating procedure in American politics, historians say.

"This is endemic to the system, this rancor," said Jeffrey Engel, director of presidential history projects at Southern Methodist University.

Congress has always been a wild and woolly place. There was that pro-slavery senator who pulled a pistol on an anti-slavery senator. Then there was the fistfight on the House floor during an all-night debate. Oh, and don't forget that Southern congressman who nearly clubbed a northern senator to death on the Senate floor.

"In fact, I would argue that we're jaded by the fact that the previous 45 years were a remarkable period of bipartisanship—and that's the anomaly. The Cold War fostered a remarkable consensus over budget priorities," Engel said.

As alarming as the Washington budget impasse is, Engel said we'd do well to trust it will all turn out fine. "Fighting in Washington is not only part of the process, but ultimately can also lead to a lot of good," he said.

We asked Engel and Paul Croce, a historian at Stetson University, for examples of extreme partisanship in American history. Take a look through these alarming and sometimes violent fights. We're pretty sure you'll feel better about the current Washington dysfunction.