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Thursday, 18 July 2019 15:17

The Buckshot War of 1838

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We recently put some new paintings on display in our Reading Room at HSMC. One of them is a portrait of former Pennsylvania Governor David Rittenhouse Porter. In 1838, Porter ran against incumbent Governor Joseph Ritner and won by roughly 5000 votes. Porter’s victory shocked the Anti-Masonic Whigs, causing Burrowes (Chairman of the Whig Committee) to demand an investigation of what he believed to be a fraudulent election. Burrowes instructed supporters of Governor Ritner to “treat the election held on the 9th of October as if it had never taken place.”[1]

 Gov. Porter 1

Governor David Rittenhouse Porter, HSMC Collection

When the Philadelphia votes were tallied, it was revealed that the legal voting returns from the Northern Liberties District (representing about 5000 voters) were withheld at the request of defeated Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Charles J. Ingersoll. He claimed he lost due to voter fraud since the tally books from the sixth and seventh wards were lost.[2] In response to Ingersoll, six of the seventeen voting return judges submitted their own voting results, which favored the Anti-Masonic Whig candidates. As a result, both parties submitted separate voting results on the State House floor and elected their own Speakers for the State House of Representatives.

Similar problems were found in the State Senate. When Senators were denied their seats due to fraudulent voter returns, a crowd of angry onlookers threatened violence against Anti-Mason Whig leaders Burrows, Stevens, and Penrose. This caused the men to flee the State Senate floor by jumping out a window. The Norristown Herald and Free Press and other papers claimed the mob was led by Philadelphia Loco-Focos. [3]

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Norristown Herald and Free Press, December 12, 1838

The scene became increasingly unstable when the PA State Arsenal was taken by Anti-Mason Whig supporters. Governor Ritner called for the PA militia to be sent to Harrisburg to keep the peace. When General Patterson arrived with his troops in Harrisburg, he was asked if he would support Governor Ritner and the Anti-Mason Whig leaders. Patterson proclaimed that “he had not come for political purposes” and would only act if actual physical violence broke out among the angry crowds.[4] Governor Ritner even appealed to President Van Burren to help put an end to the situation in Harrisburg. The President denied Governor Ritner help, deeming the situation as one that must be settled by the State of Pennsylvania. Without a federal supply of troops or ammunititon, Governor Ritner ordered thirteen rounds of buckshot cartridges to be given to the State troops, giving this event its name. 

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Photograph courtesy of Capital Preservation Committee and John Rudy Photography

Ultimately, a group of Anti-Mason Whig Representatives joined their Democratic counterparts, giving the Democrats the majority in the State House of Representatives.[5] This settled the major disputes in the Legislature and allowed Governor Porter to be inaugurated as the ninth Governor of Pennsylvania. 

Sources:

[1]Egle, William Henry, M.D. “The Buckshot War,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. XXIII 1899 No. 2, p. 143 https://www.jstor.org/stable/20085847?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

[2] Norristown Herald and Free Press, October 17, 1838, page 2.

[3] Norristown Herald and Free Press, December 12, 1838, page 2.

[4] Egle, William Henry, M.D. “The Buckshot War,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. XXIII 1899 No. 2, p. 151 https://www.jstor.org/stable/20085847?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

[5] Malawskey, Nick, “Tight election, voter fraud worries, power grab – no, not now, but 175+ years ago,” December 19, 2016, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2016/12/tight_election_voter_fraud_wor.html


Read 149 times Last modified on Monday, 22 July 2019 13:10