Of the Coarsest Scurrility

From America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union (2012) by Fergus M. Bordewich, and submitted before you as an example of excellent writing:

Even on good days, [Senator Henry S.] Foote’s natural posture was one of rhetorical apoplexy. And he absolutely hated [Senator Thomas Hart] Benton: he hated his politics, he hated his vacillation on slavery, and he probably hated his towering, bullying bulk. Now he accused Benton of stealing his bill, and then of carrying out a sort of sneak attack on slavery. During an almost unbelievably vicious ad hominem harangue, he as good as called Benton a coward, a liar, an abolitionist, a fraud, and a boor given to language “of the coarsest scurrility and most envenomed abuse.” He even accused Benton, a slaveowner himself, of using such inflammatory Free Soil rhetoric that it inspired scores of Missouri slaves to drop their hoes and run away to Illinois. Benton, a practiced duelist, usually did not take this sort of thing lying down. (In 1813, he had almost killed Andrew Jackson in a barroom fracas.) On this day, however, he got up from his seat and, with uncharacteristic restraint, stalked silently out of the chamber. Foote was left holding the field, for the moment.

IMAGES: Senator Thomas Hart Benton, of Missouri (Mathew Brady, ca. 1844–1858); Senator Henry S. Foote, of Mississippi (Mathew Brady, 1849)


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