Throwback Thursday: When Your Esteemed Senator Punched His Constituent

Henry Cabot Lodge came to blows with an antiwar visitor.

Henry Cabot Lodge via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Cabot Lodge photo via Wikimedia Commons

You can say a lot about the devolved state of Congress these days, but you can’t quite imagine it becoming physically violent. So hey, let’s throw it back to a time when the halls of the Senate got all WWE Raw. That’s right, let’s revisit the day that Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts punched one of his constituents.

In defense of Lodge, emotions were running high on April 2, 1917—98 years ago today, in fact. President Woodrow Wilson had requested a congressional declaration of war against Germany. (This was back when presidents bothered with such things.) Lodge, by then 67 years old, was a leading figure in the Senate, especially on matters of foreign relations. He would later confront President Wilson over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and keep America from joining the League of Nations. He was an important, respected, somewhat elderly man—not the kind you’d imagine in a fist fight, is what we’re saying. (Also, he’s not to be confused with his grandson Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., who also represented Massachusetts in the Senate.)

That day in 1917, though, a minor-league baseball player from Boston named Alexander Bannwart paid Lodge a visit in his Capitol Office, along with two other antiwar demonstrators. The incident has been chronicled by the office of the U.S. Senate Historian, which admits that details are a bit hazy because recaps of the story tended to vary depending on a newspaper’s opinions of “Lodge, the war, and baseball players.” But anyway, someone called someone else a coward and a liar, and before you know it, Lodge showed these constituents what he thought about pacifism by striking Bannwart in the jaw. Capitol police then quickly arrested the player.

You can imagine the impact such an incident might have in today’s media climate. (There would be GIF recaps.) But it didn’t seem to stick to Lodge. The next day, the Boston Globe published a tongue-in-cheek item in its sports coverage that seemed to reference the incident:

Henry Cabot Lodge could hit in his younger days and apparently he has not forgotten how. When he was a young man, he and his cousin, Edward C. Ellis, and E.N. Fenno, among others, took sparring lessons of Tom Foley of South Boston, a well-known instructor, as was his father before him, and the senior Senator from Massachusetts is credited with having been in the early ’70s a pretty good man with the gloves.

Lodge declined to press charges, saying he was too busy. His, uh, meeting with Bannwart seemed to have a persuasive effect, though. After Lodge and his colleagues voted for war, Bannwart renounced his pacifism and enlisted. Now, there’s the sign of a politician who could sell you anything.