Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February 27: Daniel Sickles - Temporary Insanity

On this date in History ..... 1859:

Congressman Daniel Sickles, a Medal of Honor recipient, shot and killed Washington DC District Attorney, Phillip Key (son of “Star Bangle Banner” author Francis Scott Key), for having an affair with Sickles’s wife.  Sickles became the first defendant to plead temporary insanity as a defense. His attorney claimed Sickles had been driven insane by the affair and therefore could not be held responsible for his actions. The trial was the talk of Washington DC for months when Sickles was acquitted of murder, walking out of the courtroom as a free man.

Sickles wife was about half his age when they married.  He was 33 and she was 15 or 16. Both families were against the marriage. Although very young, his wife was very well educated and could speak five languages.  

Sickles himself was no angel and his career was full of scandals.  One is the story of bringing a well-known prostitute into his chambers and it is rumored that he also took her to England with him, presenting her to Queen Victoria under an alias name.

While in jail awaiting trial, more stories of preferential treatment added to his scandalous resume.  He had so many visitors (Congressmen, Washington society, and even President Buchanan sent him a personal note) that he was allowed to use the jailkeepers apartment to receive them.  He was also allowed to “retain his personal weapon, unusual even for the time.”

By the time Sickles lawyer was done, all of the papers were labeling Sickles a hero for “saving all the ladies of Washington from this rogue named Key.”  Sickles had extracted a confession from his wife of the horrid details of the affair and while ruled inadmissible in court, Sickles himself leaked it to the press who printed it in full, painting his young wife as an adulteress.

Ironically, the public was more outraged over the fact that Sickles forgave and reunited with his “harlot and adulterous” wife than they were over the murder itself.

Sources for this article include , .


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