If you think the U.S. Congress is an embarrassment today — and let’s face it, most everybody thinks that at some point — get a load of what happened with one of North Carolina’s elected representatives, from Randolph County, nearly a century ago.
The year was 1924, and our local congressman was Rep. William Cicero Hammer, born and raised in Randolph County. The 59-year-old Democrat was a successful lawyer who also happened to own and edit Asheboro’s daily newspaper, The Courier-Tribune.
Oh, and did we mention Hammer weighed 325 pounds?
Don’t be fooled by his girth, though. The Charlotte Observer described him this way: “Lithe, supple and ready, he can whip his weight in wildcats.”
Which makes the events of May 8, 1924, all the more compelling. During an otherwise routine committee meeting, Hammer and Texas Democrat Thomas L. Blanton — who was 51 and tipped the scales at 175 pounds, scarcely half of Hammer’s heftiness — got into a good old-fashioned donnybrook when some heated name-calling escalated into violence.
According to newspaper accounts, there was already bad blood between the two congressmen, dating back to a previous committee squabble in which Hammer told the tiny Texan, “You’re not knee-high to a junebug!”
“You are just an old woman!” Blanton countered.
“And the only thing you remind me of,” Hammer replied, “is a lightning bug on the end of a stick!”
At that point, Blanton dared Hammer to take it outside and fight, a suggestion somewhat akin to a Chihuahua challenging a Great Dane. The much larger North Carolinian merely chuckled.
This time, the trouble started when Blanton wanted to reschedule the meeting, claiming he had not been properly notified in advance. Hammer objected, accusing Blanton of stall tactics and calling him a liar.
“You’re a damned liar!” Blanton countered.
“You’re an infamous liar!” Hammer yelled.
Infuriated, Blanton upped his name-calling game: “You are a garrulous old grandmother!”
No offense intended to garrulous old grandmothers, we assure you, but apparently that was the insult that caused Hammer to boil over. He took a swing at Blanton and missed wildly. Blanton punched back and came up just as empty.
As Blanton cocked his arm to try again, Hammer went for the knockout punch, clobbering the Texan with a metal folding chair. What is this, the WWE SmackDown?!
Then Hammer threw a bound copy of some files, thick and heavy, at Blanton.
Finally, a few peacemakers — the congressmen who weren’t cowering for cover — pried the two enemies apart.
“Let me at him!” Blanton shouted, but his colleagues held him back.
As cooler heads prevailed, the committee agreed to reconvene that evening, and Blanton vowed he would return to fight for his rights.
Hammer couldn’t resist taking another jab: “When you talk fight, it’s merely bluff! You are a coward! You’ve been beaten like a dog, and I’ll beat you again!”
“That’s a lie!” Blanton shouted back, leaning across a table and daring Hammer to take a swing. So Hammer did — with another bound copy of files — but missed.
“What are you trying to do, brain me?” Blanton screamed. “Only a coward throws books and chairs! Fight me with your fists, like a man!”
Ouch. Point, Blanton.
When the smoke cleared — again — Hammer had inadvertently kicked a hole in the wall and broken a mahogany table with all of his demonstrative flailing. The metal folding chair didn’t survive, either.
The two men actually shook hands and apologized before leaving, but newspaper accounts from all over the country seemed to agree that Hammer had gotten the best of his smaller, younger opponent.
And the lesson to be learned was clear: Don’t mess with Texas? Nah, don’t mess with North Carolina.