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Senator Attacks Constituent

April 2, 1917

On rare occasions throughout the Senate's history, frustrated constituents have physically attacked senators. In 1921, a man bearing a grudge about a Nevada land deal entered the Russell Building office of Nevada Senator Charles Henderson. He calmly pulled a pistol, shot the senator in the wrist, and then meekly surrendered. Henderson was not seriously hurt. In 1947, a former Capitol policeman fired a small pistol at his Senate patron, John Bricker, as the Ohio senator boarded a Senate subway car. Neither of the two shots hit Bricker, who had crouched down in the car and ordered the operator to "step on it."

There have also been rare instances of physical violence between senators. In 1902, South Carolina senator Ben Tillman landed a blow to the face of his home-state colleague John McLaurin after the latter senator questioned his motives and integrity. In 1964, South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond engaged in a wrestling match outside a committee meeting room with his Texas colleague Ralph Yarborough

But only once, as far as we know, has a senator attacked a constituent. On April 2, 1917, a minor-league baseball player from Boston named Alexander Bannwart and two other antiwar demonstrators visited Massachusetts senator Henry Cabot Lodge in his Capitol office. They had come to protest President Woodrow Wilson's request for a congressional declaration of war against Germany. They sought out Lodge because he was their senator and an influential member of the committees on Foreign Relations and Naval Affairs.

Four Boston newspapers carried accounts of that confrontation, and the accounts differed according to the respective papers' attitudes about Lodge, the war, and baseball players. They agreed only that there was an angry exchange of the words "coward" and "liar." As tempers flared and shoving began, the 67-year-old senator struck the 36-year-old ball player in the jaw. Capitol police quickly arrested the visitor.

Hours later, the senator announced that he was too busy to press charges against his constituent. Two days later, on April 4, 1917, Lodge joined the majority of his colleagues in a vote of 82 to 6 to enter World War I. Caught up in the surging tide of patriotic spirit, the constituent announced that he had changed his mind about the war and he marched off to enlist.