The Potter and Pryor Quarrel
(From the April 21, 1860, New York Weekly Tribune)
THE POTTER AND PRYOR QUARREL
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In the last WEEKLY TRIBUNE we gave the particulars of an impending duel
at Washington, between Mr. Pryor of Virginia, and Mr. Potter of Wisconsin,
growing out of a debate which arose between them at the time of Mr. Lovejoy's
speech. The proceedings in the house which led to this difficulty are
reported as occurring on Wednesday of last week, as follows:
Mr. PRYOR (Dem., Va.) rising to a question of privilege, read from The Globe report concerning the difficulty of Thursday, and quoted the following:
"Mr. PRYOR (advancing from the Democratic side of the House toward
the area, where Mr. Lovejoy stood)-The gentleman from Illinois [Lovejoy]
shall not approach this side of the House, shaking his fists and talking
in the way he has talked. It is bad enough to be compelled to sit here
and hear him his treasonable and insulting language; but he shall not,
Sir, come upon this side of the House, shaking his fists in our faces.
"Mr. POTTER-We listened to gentlemen upon the other side for eight
weeks, when they denounced the members upon this side with violent and
offensive language. We listened to them quietly, and heard them through;
and now, Sir, this side shall be heard, let the consequences be what they
"Mr. PRYOR-This is the point I make: Let the gentleman speak from
his seat, and say all under the rules he is entitled to say; but, Sir,
he shall not come upon this side shaking his fist in our faces, and talking
in the style he has talked. He shall not come here gesticulating in a
menacing and ruffianly manner.
"Mr. POTTER-You are doing the same thing."
Mr. PRYOR, after this reading, said it was due to himself to say, on
that occasion he did not recognize the honorable Member, or hear any word
from his lips; nor was he singular in this oblivion of his presence. The
newspapers in giving separate accounts of the proceedings, made no reference
to his presence, but, finding him reported in The Globe, he would admit
the Member was here. He discovered that the Member had interpolated the
record in a manner touching personal relations in a most material regard.
The Member had interpolated the words, "Let the consequences be what
they may," and "you are doing the same thing." Then again,
after the words as taken down by the reporters, "I do not think that
side of "the house has a right to say where a gentleman "shall
speak," the gentleman adds, "and he shall "not."
Mr. POTTER was very much surprised to hear the gentleman say he did not
see him on the occasion alluded to, but he had no right to say the gentleman
did see him. He stood within a few feet of the gentleman, and after Mr.
Pryor had made the remark as to Mr. Lovejoy shaking his fist, he )Potter)
said, "You are doing the same thing." He had a right to do what
he did, and gentlemen did the same thing. It was perfectly natural, when
there were so many talking, that the reporters should not distinctly have
heard all the remarks.
Mr. PRYOR replied that the member night have been here, but he (Pryor)
did not see him. He did in two instances substitute one word for another,
in no respect changing the sense of his meaning, and not putting himself
in a more heroic attitude. He understood the gentleman then to say that
on that occasion he (Pryor), in a ruffianly and violent manner, approached
and gesticulated toward the member from Illinois (Lovejoy). Was he to
understand further that the member intended by that any menace or offense?
Mr. PRYOR-The gentleman wants to know by what authority I erased matter
he interpolated. I erased no word the reporters had written, but I felt
authorized to erase the unwarrantable and impertinent interjection made
in the notes of the reporters. The gentleman stands by the language. I
understood him to give me the liberty of construing his remarks as I choose.
Whether or no he will stand by it, the sequel will prove. [Laughter on
the Republican side.]
Mr. DAVIS (Rep., Mass.) said that he heard Mr. Potter make the remarks.
It was understood the next morning that, in consequence of this debate, a challenge had been given by Mr. Pryor and accepted by Mr. Potter, and for a day or two Washington was excited by all sorts of rumors in regard to it, only thus much positively known, that the challenge had been accepted, and bowie knives named by Mr. Potter as the weapons; that Mr. Pryor's second, Mr. Chisman, had declined, for his principal, to fight with such weapons, and that Mr. Potter's second, Mr. Lander, had thereupon offered to take Mr. Potter's place, and fight either Mr. Pryor or Mr. Chisman on their own terms, which generous offer was also declined. On Saturday, Mr. Potter was arrested and bound over to keep the peace, in the sum of $5,000, and the same quite unnecessary course was pursued with Mr. Pryor, probably as a matter of form merely, on Monday. In the mean time the correspondence was made public, which we give below in full:
CARD FROM MESSRS. CHISMAN AND MILES.
The subjoined correspondence took place in consequence of certain words
uttered in the House of Representatives, between Messrs. Pryor and Potter.
Mr. Hindman, as appears from memorandum (marked A), being compelled to
return home, Mr. Keitt received from Mr. Lander Mr. Potter's first note,
with the understanding that he was to hand it to Mr. Miles, who delivered
it to Mr. Pryor. As Mr. Lander distinctly said to Mr. Keitt that Mr. Potter
"would not leave" the District, it was deemed proper, for obvious
reasons, and to guard against interruption in the affair, that some one
other than a Member of Congress should bear the challenge to a hostile
meeting "in the District" to Mr. Potter. Mr. Chisman, a non-resident
of Washington, then assumed the place of acting friend for Mr. Pryor.
Mr. Miles advised with him throughout, entirely concerned with him in
every step up to the termination of the correspondence on their part,
and has desired to make this public statement of his position.
[A.] MR. PRYOR'S CHALLENGE.
MR POTTER TO MR. PRYOR.
MR. PRYOR TO MR. POTTER.
MR. POTTER TO MR. PRYOR.
MR. PRYOR TO MR. POTTER.
COL. LANDER TO MR. CHISMAN.
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space of time-say for a few hours. I am, most respectfully &c.,
MR POTTER TO MR. PRYOR.
COL. LANDER TO MR. CHISMAN.
MR. CHISMAN TO COL. LANDER.
COL. LANDER TO MR. CHISMAN.
MR. CHISMAN TO COL. LANDER.
COL. LANDER TO MR. CHISMAN.
A CARD FROM MR. CHISMAN.
"VIRGINIA, 12 o'clock, April 12, 1860.
"Before concluding, I must assure you that in the use of every weapon
save one, the pistol, you have at least as much expertness and experience
as myself. To this note I require a reply in your own name.
Mr. Pryor, being unable to find a friend who would carry the above note, handed me the following, which I agreed to deliver to Mr. Potter.
"APRIL 14, 1860
To give our readers a perfect understanding of the affair, and the progress of events, we give also the letters of our correspondents in Washington, written as the incidents transpired:
THE PRYOR AND POTTER DIFFICULTY.
Mr. Lovejoy made a speech the other day. He was interrupted. Mr. Pryor said he should not shake his fist on one side of a certain imaginary 36.30 line on the floor of the House. Mr. Potter of Wisconsin retorted that Mr. Lovejoy should be allowed to make his speech, let the consequences be what they might. Mr. Potter went round to the printing-office to see how the report of the colloquy stood. He found that Mr. Potter had interlined the manuscript of the reporter, to correspond with what he had said. Pryor, without authority, erased Potter's remarks. Potter discovered the fact, and replaced them. The Globe appeared to-day with the last correction. Pryor rose formally in his seat, and read the words referred to, and said he did not hear them, and asked Potter
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if he altered them, and when Potter narrated the circumstances of the
case and avowed the language, he wanted to know if he (Potter) intended
to use language of menace or insult to him (Pryor). Potter said he stood
by his words. Thereupon Pryor closed with the very superfluous remark,
that whether he did or not would be shown in the sequel; as if a man could
not be allowed to know whether he did stand by his statements without
inquiring of Mr. Pryor. The object of Mr. Pryor seemed to be to intimate
in an offensive manner that he would forthwith challenge Mr. Potter to
deadly combat for the language in question. And, as he was well informed
that Northern men do not fight duels, he must have known that it was an
exceedingly cheap method of avouching his own bravery.
This is the whole story of what occurred in the House to-day. It seems
utterly like child's play. The thing might do for a middy, whose mother
did not know he was out, or a freshman of some one-horse Southern college.
But as an exhibition of a grown man, and that man a member of Congress,
it was too grossly out of place to view with patience.
The sneers and derisive laughter with which Pryor's remarks were received
by the Republicans caused his face to flush very red, and the perspiration
to flow copiously.
And now I have just one more thing to say. This business of challenging
men who are known not to be dueling men, and of threatening and attacking
Northern men, has gone about as far as it safely can go. Judging from
the temper of Republicans, and from remarks that are freely made, it is
fair to conclude that the point of determined resistance has been reached,
and that when occasion shall call it will be offered in a most effective
manner. Flesh and blood cannot stand everything.
Mr. Potter's bearing and behavior on the floor on the floor was perfectly
cool and becoming. I have no doubt it will continue to be so. Without
knowing anything about the facts, I take it for granted that he will pay
no attention to any request of Mr. Pryor, to leave the district, or to
fight a duel. This would be to become a participant in the burlesque proceeding,
which I presume he has no purpose of becoming. There being nothing in
the world to fight about, and no provocation for killing, or excuse for
being killed, it would be the hight [sic] of absurdity of any man of sense
to allow himself to be drawn into complications, voluntarily, that would
involve either result.
The speech of Mr. Parrott, the delegate from Kansas, on its admission as a State, has won golden opinions from all sides. It was marked by unusual ability, good taste, and finish. If our conflicts in the Territories are to bring forth such men as Mr. Parrott, we think our Southern brethren will be shy of provoking them. Few men have made a more decided or better impression than Mr. Parrott since the assembling of Congress. J.S.P.
From Another Correspondent.
APPEARANCE OF THE HOUSE WHEN POTTER ENTERED IT ON HIS RETURN FROM THE
WARS-DEBATE ON HIS RESOLUTION FOR A CLERK OF HIS COMMITTEE.
It was whispered from lip to lip in the galleries, "That is Potter!"
and soon the spectators from above were bending over to catch a better
view of the scene transpiring below.
For an hour or more before Mr. Potter came in, the termination of his
affair with Pryor was the subject of anxious comment upon the Democratic
side of the Hall. Heads in clusters of threes and fours were in earnest
but subdued cogitation; and though their was an occasional waive [sic]
of the hand or other impatient gesture, indicating indifference or contempt
even, yet the general aspect was ludicrously grave and deprecatory. Usually,
by 2 o'clock p. m., the mass of the Democracy gets to be hilarious, not
to say jolly. The writer hereof has often been present when solemn and
touching prayers were put up by gifted chaplains for the souls of honorable
gentlemen; and occasionally, when impressive funeral rites were performed
over the remains of some favorite member; but he has never witnessed upon
the Democratic side of the House, and especially among the Chivalry, such
a general and extreme elongation of countenance as was exhibited to-day.
We doubt whether the observant eye of Lavater himself ever saw seventy
men whose combined faces displayed so many feet, lineal measure, as theirs.
Nor did the glow of satisfaction, which mantled every Republican cheek
when Potter, standing erect, as is his wont his head firmly poised, his
iron features and keen gray eye indicating self-possession and calm courage,
was literally crowded into the cloak-room by the greetings and congratulations
which his friends pressed upon him-nor did this unpremeditated and spontaneous
tribute to the man who had "demonstrated" that he stood by his
words, while his vaunting foe had been compelled to eat his, tend to lighten
up the visages and cheer the hearts of his drooping sympathizers in the
other wing of the Chamber.
Potter was in his place. But where was he of the flowing black locks,
protuberant nsal appendage, and vast expanse of shirt collar? No one in
the House certainly knew, though men of ardent imaginations fancied that
at that precise juncture he might be snugly ensconced in a rear room of
a dingy hotel in the ancient town of Alexandria, toying with an unpalatable
dinner, and ruminating over the dietetic problem whether worms preferred
to have their meat served up whole, or cut into slices.
When Potter entered the House, the Committees were being called for reports.
Not long after he came in, the Committee of Revolutionary Pensions, of
which he is Chairman, was called. At its last meeting the Committee had
resolved to ask the House to vote them a clerk. And now, when the Chair
announced that reports from this Committee were in order, Potter rose.
Instantly the House, which had been in unusual confusion all day, sank
into the most profound silence. The Chivalry, especially, strained their
eyes to catch the lineaments of the man who had crushed their champion
under his heel, and now wanted a clerk for his Committee. Quite a debate
sprang up on his motion. Potter, in tones and manner which indicated not
the slightest embarrassment on account of the novelty of his position,
explained the reasons why his Committee needed a clerk. Barksdale, the
vociferous, and Burnett, the dogged, opposed the motion, but were careful
to use the most respectful language toward Potter. He very seldom addresses
the House; but ever since his encounter with Keitt and his backers, two
years ago, whenever it has been necessary to allude to him, the Chivalry
have called him "the member from Wisconsin." Pryor invariably
used this term in the colloquy with him on Wednesday.
Though the House had just denied Clerks to two or three Committees, it was evident that Potter's motion would prevail. Burnett politely suggested an amendment. Potter rose and blandly accepted it. Barksdale desired to propound a question to "the honorable Chairman of the Committee," and the Chairman inclined his honorable ear toward the fiery Mississipian [sic] and imparted to him the desired information. The manner in which the House went off into the usual buzz and turmoil while Burnett and the others who were speaking, and sank into the deepest silence whenever Potter replied, was ludicrously interesting. Tom. Florence finally intimated that the House was ready for the vote, and the House agreed with Tom. Florence. The previous question was sustained, and on a call of the Yeas and Nays the motion was adopted by about two to one.
Correspondence of the N. Y. Tribune.
Congress has become little better than a den of semi-savages. It is here that our conflicting systems of civilization impinge. This is the point of contact, and of course of friction, or irritation, and of conflict. The representative of all that is hideous in our gigantic barbarism of slavery comes to the surface here in its most offensive and insulting aspects. The circumstances are the more aggravated because the politics of the country are now in a transition state. The contest being to see whether Slavery is to possess the whole country, or to be limited to the area it now occupies, the question is one that rouses all the brutal forces and instincts of its supporters. This barbarism thus sways its battle-ax in the halls of legislation, and essays to win by intimidation, violence, and bloodshed. The question is thus forced upon the representatives of the civilization of the country, "In what manner shall such demonstrations be met?" Each man must answer for himself. Of course the answers are as various as the individuals themselves. Nobody proposes to succumb; but upon the mode of resistance there is a natural lack of unanimity. While one man, or set of men, believes the barbarians should be met with their own weapons, others insist upon holding to civilized and Christian methods. The necessities of the case must be left to shape their own results. It is difficult to anticipate them. One thing at least is sure. There is a point which all men recognize as one where forbearance ceases to be a virtue. Under the extraordinary circumstances of the present condition of things in Congress, every man should be allowed to be his own judge what that point is in his own case. It would be harsh and outrageous in any Northern constituency to condemn its representative for being to intrepid at such a time.
In this particular instance of Mr. Potter, it is well understood that
there are wretched hounds upon his track from his own State, how here,
who egg on the Southern bullies to press him to the point of resistance,
first, in the hope he may be killed out of their way, and next, that if
he escape, they can attack him at home for repelling his assailants in
the only way he considers left open to him. These devilish purposes have
thus far been baffled, though not ended, so far as his life is concerned.
If he should survive their machinations, the other ordeal is still to
be met, and in undergoing that, if he should be allowed to live to do
it, he will deserve the sympathies and support of every generous heart.
His position, and that of every other Northern man who holds or may hold
a similar one, is trying in the extreme. Beset by bullies and assassins
on the one hand who seek his life for opposing their designs, circumventing
their schemes, and humbling their pretensions, he is pursued on the other
by hypocritical and malicious doughfaces, who will aim to make his very
merits criminal, that they may rise upon his ruin. It is time the Northern
people were fully awake to these things. J. S. P.
The original copy of the Tribune from which this text is taken was provided by Kevin Dier-Zimmel.