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The 6-foot knife that symbolized Northern sentiments in 1860.

The "Monster Knife" of John Fox Potter

After a series of fistfights and arguments in Congress, on April 12, 1860, Wisconsin congressman John Potter, an outspoken opponent of slavery, was challenged to a duel by a Virginia representative. Potter accepted the challenge but insisted that the duelists wield bowie knives "at a distance of four feet." His challenger, Rep. Roger Pryor of Virginia, beat a hasty retreat, and Potter received gifts of bowie knives from sympathizers all over the country. One month after the Potter-Pryor affair, the Republican Party held its national convention in Chicago and nominated Abraham Lincoln for president. At the convention, delegates from the slave state of Missouri presented John Potter with the 34-pound, 6 -foot-long folding knife shown here. It was a highlight of the convention and earned national press exposure when Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper dubbed it the "monster bowie knife." Six months later the nation would be descending into the bloodiest war in its history.

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Related Topics: Wisconsin in the Civil War Era
Abolition and Other Reforms
Creator: New England Cutlery Company of Wallingford, Connecticut
Pub Data: Original artifact in the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
Citation: The "Monster Knife" of John Fox Potter [museum object]. Original artifact in the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Museum. Online facsimile at:; Visited on: 4/16/2014
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