On this day in 1890, Charles Kincaid, a congressional reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times, shot former Rep. William Taulbee (D-Ky.) on a U.S. Capitol staircase. Taulbee, 38, succumbed to his wounds and died on March 11.
Kincaid stood trial for murder in the first fatal shooting of a current or former congressman in the Capitol. The jury, however, accepted Kincaid’s claims of self-defense and acquitted him.
The son of a state senator, Taulbee was an attorney and an ordained Methodist minister. First elected to Congress in 1884, he was a widely respected member of the House, known as the “Mountain Orator” because of his tall, lean build and his ability to sway his listeners.
Kincaid, 32, was also from Kentucky. Trained as a lawyer, he was elected the municipal judge of Lawrenceburg in 1879 and edited a weekly newspaper before going to Washington, D.C. in 1885, initially as Democratic Sen. John Williams’ private secretary.
In December 1887, trouble arose between Kincaid and Taulbee after Kincaid wrote an article exposing Taulbee’s extramarital affair with a young woman who worked at the U.S. Patent Office. The pair, Kincaid wrote, was found “in a compromising way.” They held “sweet communion for half an hour before going to plebeian Monday lunch.” The story said the two “were rather warmer than they were proper.”
The article all but destroyed Taulbee’s personal life and his promising political career. His wife of 17 years left him. He remained in Washington as a lawyer-lobbyist, without seeking a third term.
After that, Taulbee and Kincaid regularly traded insults. Each time there was a confrontation, Taulbee got the better of Kincaid. Taulbee was 6-foot-2, strong, and in good physical shape. By contrast, Kincaid was short, with poor vision and in bad health.
The reporter usually tried to avoid his tormentor. But it was Kincaid’s job to be at the Capitol to interview newsmakers while Taulbee was also frequently there to chat with his old friends. Sometimes, the ex-representative even lay in wait to intercept his hated prey.
On the day of the shooting, Kincaid went to the Capitol for an interview. As the reporter waited in a corridor, Taulbee, who had warned the slight reporter to arm himself, appeared.
“I have no time to talk with you. I don’t want any trouble with you,” the reporter said. But Taulbee grabbed his shoulder and violently pulled his ear. House doorkeepers struggled to separate the two men before the fatal shot was fired.
As one news account at the time put it, “For the first time in memory of man, a gunshot was heard in the National Capitol today, and the marble steps of the staircase leading from the House floor to the restaurant below were stained with human blood.”