The Spitting Lyon

Matthew Lyon was one of Vermont’s most controversial public figures. Born in Ireland, he migrated to the Grants, served in the military, married a daughter of Thomas Chittenden, and held a variety of state offices. In 1797 he was elected to the U.S. Congress as a Jeffersonian Republican. The following year he became embroiled in a series of arguments with Federalist Congressman Roger Griswold, leading to spitting and brawling on the floor of the House of Representatives. Both escaped censure, but the affair divided the House along party lines.

The growing tension between the two parties only increased with the passage of the sedition laws requested by Federalist President John Adams. Lyon was one of ten Jeffersonian Republicans in the country who were targeted for breaking the law for slandering the president. Vermonters continued to support Lyon and reelected him from his Vergennes prison cell. Party infighting continually threatened the unity of the country as it inhibited the operations of the national government.

Cartoon of fight between Jeffersonian Republican Matthew Lyon and Federalist 
Roger Griswold in 1798 on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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