Charles Sumner Attacked in the U. S. Senate

MassMoments reminds us that on this day May 22, 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was viciously attacked on the floor of the United States – beaten with a cane by Preston Brooks, a Congressman from South Carolina. The issue – the language used by Sumner in a passionate anti-slavery speech including his trirade against South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler accusing him of having “a mistress . . . 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.” This episode has been described by some as “one of the most dramatic and deeply ominous moments in the Senate’s entire history.” It certain embodied the vast divide between North and South.

…in 1856, Preston Brooks, a congressman from South Carolina, viciously attacked Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the United States Senate. Three days earlier, in a passionate anti-slavery speech, Sumner had used language southerners found deeply offensive. Rather than challenge Sumner to a duel, as he would have a gentleman, Brooks beat him with a cane. It was three-and-a-half years before Charles Sumner was well enough to return to the Senate. Although he never fully recovered from the assault, he served another 15 years. An abolitionist who not only opposed slavery but advocated equal rights for African Americans, Charles Sumner was remembered as a man who marched “ahead of his followers when they were afraid to follow.”

To learn more about Senator Charles Sumner – one of the most influential politicians that Massachusetts ever sent to the U. S. Senate – and the fall-out from that heinous act by Preston Brooks – read the full article here

2 Responses to Charles Sumner Attacked in the U. S. Senate

  1. Marie says:

    I just happened upon a Brian Lamb Q & A interview with author David McCullough tonight. They are on now talking about McCullough’s new book “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris from the 1830s to the 1900s that is scheduled to be released on May 24th, 2011. The book chronicles the outsize influence France, particularly Paris, had on American writers, artists, politicians and scientists in the 19th century. Of interest. is that one part of the book focuses on US Senator from Masssachusetts Charles Sumner who as we see from today’s MassMoments post was nearly beaten to death on May 22, 1857 by a NC Congressman. McCullough speaks very highly of Sumner and his voice as the most outdtanging and powerful voice for abolition. You can catch the interview on-line here at:

  2. DickH says:

    McCullough used to be my favorite historian. I was very excited to see him in person when he came to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium as part of the Middlesex Community College celebrity series back in 2003. During the Q&A at that event, however, he was asked where he thought future historians would rate George W. Bush as a president. McCullough answered that George W Bush would be ranked in the highest echelon of US Presidents. I haven’t watched, listened to, or read anything by McCullough since that night.