Laurence Massillon Keitt (October 4, 1824 – June 4, 1864) was a South Carolina politician who served as a United States Congressman. He is included in several lists of Fire-Eaters—men who adamantly urged the secession of southern states from the United States, and who resisted measures of compromise and reconciliation, leading to the American Civil War.
Keitt was born in Orangeburg County, South Carolina. A member of the Democratic Party, he was representative to the South Carolina state house, 1848, and then U.S. Representative from South Carolina's 3rd District, 1853–55, 1855–56 and 1856-60. Keitt was censured by the House in 1856 for aiding Rep. Preston S. Brooks in his caning attack on Sen. Charles Sumner. After Brooks began beating the defenseless Sumner with his steel-tipped cane, Keitt quickly drew a pistol from his belt, jumped into the aisle and leveled it at the horror-struck Congressmen who were approaching to try and assist Sumner, loudly announcing "Let them be!". He resigned in protest over his censure, but was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat by his South Carolina constituency within a month.
Perhaps Keitt's most famous quotation best summarized his political views and dominant agenda. In 1860, Congressman Keitt said, "The anti-slavery party contends that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States." On February 5, 1858, Keitt started a massive brawl on the House floor during a tense late-night fillibuster. Keitt, offended by Pennsylvania Congressman (and later Speaker of the House) Galusha A. Grow having stepped over to his side of the House chamber, dismissively demanded that Grow sit down, calling him a "black Republican puppy". Grow responded by telling Keitt that “No negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Keitt became enraged and went for Grow's throat, shouting that he would "choke him for that". A large brawl involving two dozen representatives erupted on the House floor, ending only when a missed punch from Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of Illinois upended the hairpiece of Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi. The embarrassed Barksdale accidentally replaced the wig backwards, causing both sides to erupt in spontaneous laughter.
Keitt served as a delegate from South Carolina to the Provisional Confederate Congress, 1861–62, and a colonel in the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, commanding the 20th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment and later Kershaw's Brigade (Kershaw having advanced to division command). Mortally wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864, Keitt died the next day near Richmond, Virginia.
- Lawrence Keitt, Congressman from South Carolina, in a speech to the House on January 25, 1860: Taken from a photocopy of the Congressional Globe supplied by Steve Miller.
- Allan L. Damon (December 1975). "Filibuster". American Heritage Magazine 27 (1). http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1975/1/1975_1_11.shtml.
- Congressional Globe. 35th Cong., 1st sess. 8 Feb. 1858. 603.
- Laurence M. Keitt at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-10-18
Template:Start box |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States House of Representatives Template:USRepSuccessionBox Template:USRepSuccessionBox |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | Confederate States House of Representatives |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
(none) |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Representative to the Provisional Confederate Congress from South Carolina
1861 – 1862 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
(none) |- |- | colspan="3" style="background:#bebebe; color:#000000;" | Notes and references |- | colspan="3" style="text-align:left;"| 1. Keitt lost his seat due to aiding in the beating of Senator Charles Sumner, but was later elected back.
2. Due to South Carolina's secession, the House seat was empty for almost eight years before Corley succeeded Keitt. |}
de:Laurence Massillon Keitt