The Brooks-Sumner Affair (1856)

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Whowhatwhenwherewhy?
On May 19th of 1856, one Senator Charles Sumner delivered a fiery abolitionist speech entitled The Crime Against Kansas. Directed at the pro-slavery duo of Illinois' Stephen A. Douglas and South Carolina's Andrew Butler, Sumner described the injustices and wrongdoings happening in the Kansas territory and attacked southern refusal to act against it. He was especially derisive in his assault on Butler in which he poked fun at the man's speech defect. Nephew of Andrew, Congressman Preston Brooks, soon heard of Sumner's speech and in defense for his uncle, soon prepared an assault of his own. Two days after the speech was read, Preston Brooks approached Sumner in a near empty Senate chamber saying, "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." With that, he took up his gold tipped cane and began beating the fifty-five year old man over the head. Several senators tried to jump in as Sumner's defense, but were held at bay by a South Carolinian Congressman's drawn pistol. Senator Sumner would take three years to recover from the trauma wounds he suffered, but would be reelected by the time he returned.

Charles Sumner
Charles Sumner
Stephen Douglas
Stephen Douglas






















Preston Brooks
Preston Brooks

Andrew Butler
Andrew Butler





















Northern Response
Northerners were up in arms about the Brooks-Sumner Affair. However, the distrust and disdain they showed for Brooks and the South was countered by an equal share of reverance and appreciation of Charles Sumner. An early member of the new Republican party, Sumner would soon become the embodiment of anti-slavery forces and would be a major cause of its rise in political influence. Upon his return to the Senate, he would oppose slavery as strongly as ever and would continue to practice his abolitionist ideals.

Southern Response
Brooks would become an overnight celebrity in the South. He had fought out against what Southerners had come to believe as an unfair push against slavery from the North. The congressman was invited as the guest of honor to recount his attack on Sumner. Southern support and conviction was so strong that he would soon be sent a collection of canes from the South's admirers. Brooks was, however, subjected to an expulsion vote in the House of Representatives. It did not pass, but he gave up his seat for the remainder of his term, only to be reelected by the voters of South Carolina soon afterwards.


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Schels' Civil War Ranking Scale
While the Brooks-Sumner Affair obviously raged tempers on both sides of the divide, I don't feel that it was so influencial an act that a reconciliation could not be made. However, had it not happened, the Republican party may not have been put under the lime light as it was. Without the anti-slavery message this sent to the voters who would soon after elect Lincoln, he may not have been as popular or as known of a candidate. In addition to this, the distrust and unrest shown in the Senate and Congress following the attack were sure to drawn from the sectionalism displayed by Sumner's beating. All things considered, I believe this set of events warrants a three on the Schels' Civil War Ranking Scale for the divide it caused between Northerners and Southerners.

Works Cited
Dattilo, Matt. “The Brooks-Sumner Affair, May 22, 1856.” Matt’s Today in History. 21 May 2007. 18 May 2009 <http://mattstodayinhistory.blogspot.com/‌2007/‌05/‌brooks-sumner-affair-may-22-1856.html>.

“Sumner-Brooks Affair.” U-S-History. 18 May 2009 <http://www.u-s-history.com/‌pages/‌h225.html>.