Massachusetts Senator Charles H. Sumner Attacked

The attack on Charles Sumner by Preston Brooks (1856)

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  Senate – 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.

  U.S. Senator Charles H. Sumner (1811 – 1874) of Massachusetts 

Senate Years of Service: 1851-1874 Party: Free Soil; Opposition; Republican; Liberal Republican

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