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Congress a mess – 150 years ago

While I agree with much in Phyllis Kardos’ Aug. 19 letter, I must take issue with her last comment that the present Congress is the “most dysfunctional and partisan … in our history.” It is without question disgustingly dysfunctional and partisan.

But let’s look back at the period from 1840-1860. Congress was bitterly divided between North and South on the issue of slavery and its extension into the new territories, so much so that in 1856 it took 133 ballots to elect a speaker of the House. That same year South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks nearly caned Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner to death on the Senate floor.

Two years earlier, a fistfight on the House floor between two members rapidly evolved into a general riot described by a New York Tribune reporter as “some fifty middle-aged and elderly gentlemen pitching into each other like so many Tipperary savages.” Things got so bad that legislators almost to a man were carrying guns. Radical groups in the parties effectively bottled up any legislation. Irish immigration over this period created strong Nativist and closed-border feeling in Congress.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, has anything really changed in politics?

Keith Gehr