Updated on February 9 at 10:39 a.m. ET
Rule XIX—the suddenly infamous Senate edict that Republicans invoked Tuesday night to silence Elizabeth Warren—began 115 years ago with a fistfight in the Capitol.
In February 1902, the Senate was debating a bill related to the Philippines when Senator Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman condemned his fellow South Carolina Democrat and onetime close friend, John McLaurin, for having switched his position to join Republicans in supporting the treaty that annexed the islands a few years earlier.* McLaurin, Tillman raged, had succumbed to “improper influences”; Republicans had showered him with perks and privileges, Tillman charged, and he had caved in return.
A former South Carolina governor whose statue still stands on the statehouse grounds, Tillman has drawn more recent attention for being a white supremacist who advocated until his death the lynching of black people who tried to vote. Back then, he was known for his outspokenness and his “less than courteous” manner of debating in the Senate. Alerted to Pitchfork Ben’s comments, an incensed McLaurin “dashed into the Senate chamber and denounced Tillman's statement as ‘a willful, malicious, and deliberate lie,’” according to a Senate history of the incident. Tillman responded by physically attacking McLaurin “with a series of stinging blows,” the historians wrote, and efforts to separate the brawling Southerners “resulted in misdirected punches landing on other members.”