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Posted on Jan 27, 2009 in Strange Congress

Strange Congress: 1838, Graves kills Cilley

Jonathan Cilley

Jonathan Cilley

On February 24, 1838, Congressman William Jordan Graves, a Whig from the state of Kentucky, fatally shot Maine Congressman Jonathan Cilley in a duel. Cilley was challenged to the duel by Graves because he claimed that a Virginian was responsible for a newspaper article that charged another Congressman with immortality.

While many demanded that action be taken against Graves, the only punishment he received was by being censured (for more on censuring, see below).

After much heated debate, a bill was passed in the United States Senate by a vote of 34-1 that would ban duels from occurring within the District of Columbia. While this bill failed in the House shortly thereafter, the next year (February 20, 1839), a bill was finally passed through both bodies and became law.

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Note on censuring: While being censured is generally considered a serious action in both the House and Senate, it is contained nowhere in their rules, and isn’t found in the United States Constitution. In reality, from a legal standpoint, being censured is nothing more than a condemnation that goes on the record (a more formal slap on the wrist, if you will).

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