Bringing The World Home To You

© 2024 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Two Political Operatives Walk Into A Bar... And One Throws A Punch

This 1856 drawing depicts Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina beating Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in one of the bloodiest political fights in history.
Boston Public Library
Flickr Creative Common
This 1856 drawing depicts Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina beating Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in one of the bloodiest political fights in history.

It was only a matter of time before this presidential campaign literally came to blows.

That's what a top aide to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul alleges happened Thursday night between him and an aide to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

John Yob, Paul's national political director, says he was in a bar on Mackinac Island, Mich., where Republicans are preparing for the state GOP's annual Republican Leadership Conference on the island. Yob says he encountered Rich Beeson, Rubio's deputy campaign manager, who Yob claims punched him in the face.

Here's Yob's Facebook post recounting the incident:

John Yob's Facebook post.
/ Facebook
John Yob's Facebook post.

Conservative Michigan blogger Brandon Hall said he witnessed the event, describing it like this on his blog:

"As I was sitting at the bar talking to someone at Horn's in Mackinac Island Thursday night, I witnessed Beeson suddenly, out of nowhere, approach one of Rand Paul's advisers, John Yob — unprovoked — and try to hit him. Beeson missed a full on shot but still struck Yob in the face with a powerful blow near the jaw."

The Detroit News obtained security footage of the incident.

Local police say the video isn't that bad.

"If anything, it was a shove," Mackinac Island Police Chief Brett Riccinto told The Guardian newspaper. "Literally, it was a shove. This thing has been blown way, way, way out of proportion."

Yob later wrote on his Facebook page: "There wasn't a brawl and the assault shouldn't be over-sensationalized but the video speaks for itself that he hit me in the chin as he walked by me."

A brief history of political violence

While presidential candidates have been throwing rhetorical punches for months, this is the first time this cycle — it appears — to have reached a physical level. But American politics is littered with other instances of violence.

1798 - Tobacco juice, a cane and fireplace tongs

One of the first notable incidents was in 1798 when Connecticut Rep. Roger Griswold, a Federalist, was so upset that the Congress had failed to expel Vermont Republican Rep. Matthew Lyon for spitting tobacco juice at him, Griswold began hitting Lyon with his cane.

Lyon grabbed a pair of tongs from a nearby fireplace to defend himself, according to the House historian's office.

Both men were expelled from Congress. So, Griswold wound up getting his wish, but he got taken down with Lyon.

1804 - Aaron Burr kills Alexander Hamilton in duel

The most famous bloody political encounter came on the former dueling grounds of Weehawkin, N.J., across the Hudson River from Manhattan, at the turn of the 19th Century.

That's when, in a duel, former Republican Vice President Aaron Burr killed Federalist Alexander Hamilton. (He's the guy on the $10 bill. He was also Treasury secretary and is largely credited with being the father of the U.S. economy.)

There was bad blood between Burr and Hamilton for a long time. As PBS's American Experience reported:

"It was the New York governor's race of 1804 ... that pushed the two men to violence. In that election, Burr turned his back on the Republicans and ran as an independent. Burr believed that if he won, he would regain power. The prospect of Burr leading New York mortified Hamilton, who despised and mistrusted Burr completely.

"In early 1804, Hamilton tried to convince New York Federalists not to support Burr. Although Hamilton's campaign was probably not the deciding factor, the Burr campaign failed. Burr was crushed in the general election by Morgan Lewis, the Republican candidate, who was supported by George and DeWitt Clinton, powerful New York Republicans. The battle for New York had been a bruising one, but in the end, a relatively minor slight precipitated the Burr-Hamilton duel."

The triggering event was a particularly "despicable opinion" Hamilton expressed about Burr at a dinner party (that made its way into a newspaper article):

"Hoping that a victory on the dueling ground could revive his flagging political career, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton wanted to avoid the duel, but politics left him no choice. If he admitted to Burr's charge, which was substantially true, he would lose his honor. If he refused to duel, the result would be the same. Either way, his political career would be over."

1856 - The famous Senate caning over slavery

The bloodiest instance in Congress was in 1856 in the usually congenial U.S. Senate. That's when the anti-slavery Massachusetts Republican Sen. Charles Sumner criticized, in very personal terms, two senators who opposed Kansas being admitted into the union as a free state.

When Sumner went after South Carolina Sen. Andrew Butler, Rep. Preston Brooks, a Democrat, took matters into his own hands. Here's how the U.S. Senate Historian's office described the confrontation:

"Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner's head. As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself. After a very long minute, it ended.

"Bleeding profusely, Sumner was carried away. Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions."

1964 - Civil rights, a Senate wrestling match and crying uncle

During the battle over the Civil Rights Act of 1964, South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond opposed President Johnson's nominee to lead the Community Relations Service to mediate racial disputes.

Thurmond placed himself outside Commerce Committee meeting — where Chairman Warren Magnuson knew he had the votes to move the nomination forward, but lacked a quorum — to try and block members from going in.

Texas Sen. Ralph Yarborough, the only Southerner to support the bill, tried lightheartedly to cajole Thurmond into the room with a scuffle.

Here's how the Historian's office described it:

"The Texan laughingly said, 'Come on in, Strom, and help us get a quorum.' In a similarly light-hearted manner, Thurmond responded, "If I can keep you out, you won't go in, and if you can drag me in, I'll stay there." Both men were 61 years old, but Thurmond was 30 pounds lighter and in better physical condition.

"After a few moments of light scuffling, each senator removed his suit jacket. Thurmond then wrestled the increasingly out-of-breath Yarborough to the floor. 'Tell me to release you, Ralph, and I will,' said Thurmond. Yarborough refused. Another senator approached and suggested that both men stop before one of them suffered a heart attack. Finally, Chairman Magnuson appeared and growled, 'Come on, you fellows, let's break this up.'

"Recognizing a great exit line, Yarborough grunted, 'I have to yield to the order of my chairman.' The combatants did their best to compose themselves and entered the committee room."

2007 — 'Raised in the woods of Arkansas'

In more recent history, Alabama Republican state Sen. Charles Bishop punched Democratic state Sen. Lowell Barron after a contentious filibuster. Bishop — who was 70 years old — had allegedly heard Barron call him a name, and Bishop retaliated.

Other senators pulled the two apart. Bishop wound up apologizing, explaining he had been "raised in the woods of Arkansas" and that was his natural tendency.

2011 — California budget near smackdown

A scuffle broke out in the California state legislature during a budget debate. GOP Assemblyman Don Wagner compared a plan to require redevelopment agencies to replenish state coffers to a "shakedown scheme" like on the HBO series, "The Sopranos."

Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino took offense. He said "as a proud Italian American," he was offended and demanded an apology.

Wagner mumbled that he would "apologize to any Italian Americans who are not in the mafia and engaged in insurance scams." The two got in each other's faces, but were broken up by other members before any punches were thrown.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Corrected: September 18, 2015 at 12:00 AM EDT
The caption accompanying the picture initially incorrectly identified Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts as the one doing the beating. He was the one being beaten.
Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
Stories From This Author