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Attempted Homicide in the Hall and during the Session of the House of Representatives at Harrisburg

John Bratton attacked in Capitol

Attempted Homicide in the Hall and during the Session of the House of Representatives at Harrisburg

The character of the commonwealth has again been disgraced by another fracas in the Hall of Representatives at Harrisburg. Let the good people of Pennsylvania read the following and reflect for a moment upon the character of the deed. An attempt at murder in the Hall of the People's Representatives, and by a man who is entrusted with the high power of making laws for the punishment of Crime! What are we coming to? Where is the peaceful spirit of William Penn?

With extreme reluctance, says the Harrisburg Telegraph, we record an event without its parallel in the history of Pennsylvania, and one which, while it must attach, in the minds of most men, and under any circumstances, some degree of odium to the lower branch of our Legislature, must and will consign it to immortal infamy, if it does not vindicate its own reputation, and the character of the Commonwealth, by calling for punishment of the author or authors of the indignity.

This morning, the State Capitol Gazette, was issued, with the following article, under its editorial head:

'"YOU SHALL BOTH HAVE OFFICE IN THE CUSTOM-HOUSE IF YOU VOTE FOR THE TYLER CANDIDATE FOR STATE PRINTER", as J. POrter Brawley said to McGowan and Bacon. "Agreed," was the response - and they did vote for him sure enough. In our next we shall hold up to the public gaze every man who has been bribed.'

To understand the above rightly, it will be necessary to state, that on the first day's trial in the Convention to elect a State Printer, Mr. McGowan, who is from Moyanmensing, in the lower end of the county of Philadelphia, and Mr. Bacon, who is from Kensington in the upper section of the same county, both voted for Mr. Bratton, the caucus candidate for State Printer. When the Convention met on Friday, for another trial, Messrs. McGowan and Bacon both, unexpectedly to every one, voted for Dimcock, the Governor's candidate. Charged that they were 'bought up' were then and have since been whispered about. With this explanation, we proceed with our narrative.

Immediately after copies of the paper containing the above article were distributed in the House, Mr. McGowan came up to Mr. Bratton, the publisher of the Gazette, who was standing to the left of the Speaker's chair, near the entrance to the room of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and asked him if he was the author of that article? Mr. Bratton said he was. McGowan it is said, swore at him - calling him 'damned rascal', or some such term, and spit in his face, at the same time throwing the paper at him. Before he had an opportunity to do any thing more, Mr. Bratton caught him by the vest collar, but upon loosing his hold, McGowan raised a chair, and struck him on the temple, inflicting a rather bad wound.

(We wish it be kept in mind by those who read this, that, while this was going on, the House was in regular session for business, having the bill relative to sale of the main line of State Canals and Railroads, under consideration and that it all occurred on the floor of the chamber.)

Mr. B. then seized hold of the chair with both hands and was pressing Mr. McG back, when the latter, relinquishing the chair, drew from an inner pocket, on the left breast of his frock coat,a dirk knife, raising it suddenly and turning it quickly in his hand for a blow. Mr. Bratton at once dropped the chair and fled behind the Speaker's rostrum, and around to the right of the Clerk's desk, where McGowan caught up to him, and there, in the presence of the assembled representatives of the people, drove the lifted knife, in to his back, but the blow alighting fortunately on the left shoulder, the wound inflicted, though an ugly gash, was not serious. No second blow was struck, we believe, for the members rushed in and arrested the further progress of the homicide, The knife was taken from McGowan and proved to have been bent into a curve by meeting with the resistance of the shoulder bone. The force and good will with which the blow was given may be estimated from this fact - though it is possible that the impetus of the motion of running gave unusual force to the blow.

While this scene was going on, and after it had closed, the greatest and most intense excitement prevailed - the whole house was in commotion as the members rushed from their chairs into the area before the Speaker's chair - business was for the time was almost suspended. After the knife was taken from Mr. McGowan he proceed to his seat and Mr. Bratton was taken in the room of the Sergeant-at-Arms and the extent of his injuries examined.

As soon as the order could be restored somewhat, Mr. Deford offered a resolution to appoint a committee of three, to examine and report on the circumstances of the assault, which was agreed to without debate, with an amendment, increasing the committee to five, and giving it power to send for persons and papers. The Speaker appointed the following members as the committee: Messrs. Deford, Elwell, Morris, Hahn and Skiner.

An hour or so after this, a constable came to the door of the House with a magistrate's warrant for Mr. McGowan's arrest, on the charge of 'assault and battery, with intent to kill'. There was no power to execute the warrant on Mr. McGowan while he was in the House, but at the suggestion of some of his friends, he came out and surrendered himself, when he was taken before Justice Snyder and bound over in $2000, for his appearance to answer the charge laid in the warrant.

The above is a plain statement of the facts as they occurred. We have endeavored to give them correctly, with bias or prejudice of any kind, and think we have succeeded.

Owner/SourceCarlisle Herald and Expositor
Date, Wednesday, April 12, 1843
Linked toJohn Beatty BRATTON

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