Society & Culture & Entertainment History

Five Unlikely Members of Congress

Some unusual characters served in Congress during the 19th century. Here are five men with diverse backgrounds who had unlikely Congressional careers:

Davy Crockett of Tennessee

The famed frontiersman Davy Crockett served a total of six years in Congress. He first arrived on Capitol Hill, in March 1827 and was elected to a second term which began in 1829.

In 1830 he ran afoul of popular sentiment when he opposed the Jackson administration’s plans for Indian removal.

He lost his seat, but returned to Congress two years later, representing another district. In 1836 he traveled to Texas, and he was killed at the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

William M. Tweed of New York

The man who would become known as Boss Tweed, the outrageously corrupt political boss of New York City, spent a single two-year term on Capitol Hill in the 1850s. Tweed, who had served his political apprenticeship by being active with a volunteer fire company, seemed to find life in Washington fairly boring.

He chose not to run for another term in Congress. Back in New York City, he happily returned to what looked like low-level patronage jobs in the Tammany Hall political machine. He preferred to operate behind the scenes, and and he would never hold high office after his brief time in the nation’s capital.

John Morrissey of New York

A brawler and bare knuckles boxer known as “Old Smoke,” John Morrissey was known for giving, and sometimes taking, savage beatings. He was also known for operating rough saloons and gambling dens in lower Manhattan.

His affiliation with political operations in New York City provided a chance to run for office, and he was elected to Congress following the Civil War. He served two terms on Capitol Hill, where he was something of a curiosity. Visitors to the House of Representatives wanted to shake his hand, and he became known as a quiet by friendly fellow, despite his earlier fearsome reputation.

Morrissey became bored with life in Congress and returned to New York. He eventually became a New York State Senator, a post he held when he died in 1878.

John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts

A number of future presidents have served in Congress, but John Quincy Adams is unique: he was the only former president to serve in the House of Representatives. Adams did not enjoy his four difficult years in the White House, but when he returned to Washington to represent a Massachusetts district he felt like he had found his true calling.

While in Congress he gave battle to pro-slavery politicians from the South. And he championed intellectual issues, such as the founding of the Smithsonian Institution.

Adams died in the U.S. Capitol. He suffered a seizure at his desk, and was carried into a room adjacent to the old House chamber, where he died.

Abraham Lincoln of Illinois

It’s not unusual for a future president to be a member of Congress. But Abraham Lincoln, who served one term in the House in the late 1840s, was remarkable not not liking the job very much. He was out of step with official Washington for most of his time in the city. And living in a boardinghouse with his wife and sons seemed to have been a miserable experience.

After his unhappy time in the House, Lincoln seemed content to return to Illinois. And he also seemed to have given up on politics for a while. It wasn’t until he felt personally outraged by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854 that he took up politics again. And it would lead him to return to the nation’s capital, as the newly elected chief executive, in early 1861.

Leave a reply