Friday, November 07, 2008

"There was not any danger on foot at all"

The cartoon/illustration that prompted this series of posts, A Scene in Uncle Sam’s Senate, shows Henry Clay punning on the incident, “It’s a ridiculous matter, I apprehend there is no danger on foot.” In fact, Henry Clay did not speak the words – another, less well-known senator did.

The Congressional Globe shows where the cartoonist got the idea. As order was being restored shortly after Senator Foote pulled a pistol on Benton, Senator John P. Hale of Vermont demanded an investigation of the incident. Hale, an adamant Free Soiler and opponent of the Omnibus, presumably hoped that an investigation would distract the Senate and tend to make compromise less likely.

In response, freshman Senator Solon Borland, Democrat of Arkansas, then rose. Borland took the position that the incident was “a very ridiculous affair” that warranted no further attention. In the process of his brief speech, Senator Borland, consciously or unconsciously, included in his remarks a pun on Senator Foote’s name, which the cartoonist later transferred, with only minor alteration, to Senator Clay’s lips:
Mr. BORLAND. So far from thinking it so serious a matter that the Senate are called upon to take notice of it, I think it a very ridiculous affair, of which the Senate should rather feel ashamed, and say as little about as possible. I am a young member of the Senate, and one perhaps of the least experience, but to my mind there was not any danger on foot at all.

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