Tensions ran high during Pennsylvania’s brief “Buckshot War”, but no one involved came to blows or was even injured.
The episode stemmed from disputed gubernatorial and legislative elections in 1838. The elections took place against the backdrop of economic recession spawned by the Panic of 1837 and lingering suspicions about the role of secret societies in Pennsylvania.
During the 1830s, a party known as the Anti-Masons for their opposition to Masonic lodges gained prominence in Pennsylvania and elected Joseph Ritner governor in 1835. But economic problems were on the voters’ minds by the time Ritner ran for reelection in 1838.
Democrat David R. Porter edged out Ritner by 5,000 votes in the gubernatorial election. But charges of fraud were traded in races for eight state Assembly seats in Philadelphia and two delegations came to Harrisburg to be seated.
The outcome would decide which party controlled the Legislature and would therefore certify the results in the close gubernatorial race.
Partisans of Ritner and Porter descended on the state Capitol when it came time for the House to meet after the election. Several state officials left the Capitol by a window to avoid rioting protestors and two rump assemblies convened in session.
The state militia commander ordered “thirteen rounds of buckshot cartridges” distributed to his soldiers. Cooler heads prevailed as the militia imposed order
to protect lives and property.
The Senate broke the deadlock over which assembly to recognize and Porter was certified as winner of the election.
Pennsylvania and Vermont were the only two states to elect Anti-Mason governors. Ritner’s administration was the high-water mark for the party’s influence and it quickly faded from the scene.
Harrisburg Bureau Chief for Times-Shamrock Newspapers