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Lot 265: Early 1800s Historic Print "Congressional Pugilists" Philadelphia, 1798
October 29, 2016
Rancho Santa Fe, CA, USALive Auction
Historic Print "Congressional Pugilists" Philadelphia, 1798
c. Early 1800s Federal Period, Copper Political Cartoon Engraving titled, "Congressional Pugilists", Early 19th-century Restrike off the original Plate, Extremely Fine.
This historic Copper Plate Engraved Print is titled, "Congressional Pugilists," Philadelphia, 1798 (being an early 19th-century restrike), measuring 9.25" x 11.75", two light tone spots in the right margin, plate impression outlined within the paper. This extremely famous Political Cartoon depicting one of the most violent political episodes in the early history of the United States, the physical fight between Congressmen Matthew Lyon and Roger Griswold on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.
That violent episode points out the roiling enmity between Jeffersonian Republicans and Federalists in the era of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The immediate cause of the brawl was a personal insult. Shortly after taking a vote on the impeachment of Senator William Blount, Matthew Lyon, a Republican Representative from Vermont, called into question the honor of Connecticut Federalists. Roger Griswold, a Connecticut Federalist, replied by recalling an incident in which Lyon had supposedly been forced to wear a wooden sword as a mark of cowardice while in the Continental Army. Lyon's response was to spit in Griswold's face, after which the Connecticut Federalist left the House chamber. Two weeks later, on Feb. 15, 1798, Griswold attacked Lyon with a hickory walking stick, at which point Lyon grabbed a pair of tongs from the fireplace in Congress Hall and defended himself. It is this scene that is depicted in the print, with Griswold swinging his walking stick and kicking at Lyon, and Lyon swinging back with the tongs while a throng in the chamber looks on excitedly. Three of the onlookers, House Speaker Jonathan Dayton and the Clerk and Chaplain of the House, are all identified by name in the edge of the print.
Fowble notes that two different cartoons of the brawl between Lyon and Griswold were produced, the other entitled CUDGELING AS BY LATE ACT IN CONGRESS. The anonymous artist who created CONGRESSIONAL PUGILISTS so exaggerated the features of the onlookers that they needed to be identified at the edge of the image. Reilly, in his catalogue of American political prints in the Library of Congress, describes three different states of CONGRESSIONAL PUGILISTS. This early reprint conforms to the third state, with the address, "S.E. Cor. 6th & Chestnut St." in the lower right corner and with the number "17" in the upper right. A great American political cartoon of the Federalist Era, showing the deep enmity involved in the nation's politics, even at that early date.