It's Time to Revisit these 20 Political Scandals that Rocked the United States

“Congressional pugilists”, a political cartoon depicting a fight on the floor of Congress between Vermont Representative Matthew Lyon and Roger Griswold of Connecticut (c. February 15, 1798). Wikimedia Commons.

19. An unrepentant maverick and the first member of Congress to be investigated for a violation of House rules, Matthew Lyon was later imprisoned for violating the Alien and Sedition Acts in protest of Free Speech restrictions

An Irish-born American soldier and politician, Matthew Lyon served as a United States Representative from Vermont, between 1797 and 1801, and later from Kentucky between 1803 and 1811. Attempting to win election to the Second, Third, and Fourth Congresses, Lyon eventually succeeded in entering the Fifth as a Democratic-Republican. The first member of Congress investigated for an alleged violation of House rules, in 1798 Lyon was accused of “gross indecency” after spitting in the face of Connecticut’s Roger Griswold. Stemming from a rude outburst by Griswold on January 30, in which he maligned Lyon’s service in the Revolutionary War, Lyon responded by spewing tobacco juice over Griswold.

Apologizing before Congress, both orally and in writing, Griswold rejected Lyon’s overtures and instead attacked him on the floor of the House on February 15, 1798, beating his fellow politician with a wooden cane. Lyon responded by pulling tongs from a fire pit to defend himself, with the fight broken up before either could seriously maim the other. Resolved after promises of good behavior, Lyon was later imprisoned after being found guilty in October 1798 of violating the Alien and Sedition Acts. Prohibiting criticism of the President, Lyon published scathing editorials of the authoritarian John Adams. Garnering popular support, Lyon won re-election whilst imprisoned with a vastly increased majority.