Fighting Words- Brooks and Sumner

Shortly after the violent sacking of Free State Headquarters in Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner stood before the Senate and lambasted the primary authors of the Kansas/Nebraska bill, Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina.

Sumner was especially malevolent to Butler, who he saw as the leader of the pro-slavery block, “The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean the harlot, slavery. For her his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this senator...He touches nothing which he does not disfigure with error, sometimes of principle, sometimes of fact. He cannot open his mouth, but out there flies a blunder.

Preston Brooks, cousin of Butler and member of the House of Representatives, strode into the Senate chamber on May 22, 1856 armed with a walking stick with a gold topper. He confronted Sumner, denouncing him, “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.”

Fellow Congressmen had advised Brooks to attack Sumner, rather than duel him. Sumner was not considered a gentleman by the Southern elite in the Halls of Congress.

Never charged with attempted murder

Brooks beat Sumner with the cane until it shattered. He chased Sumner up the aisle, grasped his lapel, and continued the beating with the top portion of the cane- until Sumner lost consciousness. No one came to the Senator’s aid until Brooks and his gang left the chamber.

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