PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Democratic Party members vs.
Whig and anti-Masonic party members
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The disputed state
election of 1838; factions vied for subsequent control of
the state legislature.
OUTCOME: Democrats took control of the legislature by
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
In the Pennsylvania state election of 1838, both the Democrats and their Whig and anti-Masonic opposition claimed victory and control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Both factions gathered at the state house and elected speakers, and chaos threatened to interrupt the legislative session. The Whigs and anti-Masonics were led by future Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens (1792–1868), who attempted to purge the Democrats by refusing to seat them. Supporters of the Democrats gathered from Philadelphia and encircled the state house, threatening violence. Stevens, along with other members of the Whigs and anti-Masonics, were forced to flee out a senate chamber window.
Pennsylvania governor Joseph Ritner (1780–1869), wary of bloodshed in his own backyard, requested President Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) to send federal troops. When Jackson refused, Ritner called out the state militia and supplied them with buckshot cartridges for riot control. The display of force, along with three Whigs voting with the Democrats, gave the Democrats the majority they needed to gain control of the house. The rest of the house members were seated, and order was restored without any bloodshed.