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Civility in Politics?
Posted on December 7, 2011 by Eric Beck

In an era where people claim we have lost all civility in politics, we look back at an era where civility in politics had a whole different meaning.  Specifically, we can look at three specific elections in Virginia in 1817 and 1818.

In the first one, the congressional race for the 8th district in 1817 (back then, Virginia held their Congressional elections in odd years), we see a close defeat of Armistead T. Mason.  This, in and of itself, doesn’t mean much without context.

Then, in 1818, we have two different elections.  In the first, we have the election for the House of Delegates in Loudoun County.  In this election, John M. McCarty is elected to the House of Delegates.  But, in December of that same year, we have a special election to replace McCarty in the House of Delegates.  What was it that lead to McCarty being unseated in the House of Delegates?  It turns out, from looking at the Genius of Liberty from December 22, 1818 as listed in the notes of Philip Lampi, the lead researcher on the New Nation Votes project, McCarty refused to sign the oath against dueling that was required at the time.  He was unseated and a new election was held to replace McCarty, the aforementioned special election.

So how does this relate to the congressional election from the year before?  Well, as is documented at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, McCarty and Mason were brothers-in-law.  And that refusal to sign the oath against dueling?  Well, just two months later, on February 6, 1819, McCarty killed Mason in a duel that arose from the bitterness over Mason’s failed congressional run.

So, the next time you watch the candidates yelling at each other, just be glad they’re not shooting at each other.

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