Secession Era Editorials Project

Sumner and Brooks --

Louisville, Kentucky, Journal [American]

(24 May 1856)

We think that the violent assault made by Mr. Brooks, member of the House of Representatives from South Carolina, upon Senator Sumner is much to be regretted. It does not appear from the telegraphic account of it to have been at all chivalrous, and we fear that it will do injury at the North by still further inflaming the already inflamed public sentiment in that section. Indeed it will inevitably produce that effect to a very extraordinary extent. Mr. Sumner, for his incendiary harangues, may really deserve a greater punishment than he has received or is likely to receive in this world, but we think that the House of Representatives, for the sake of its own dignity and the honor and harmony of the Republic, should expel Mr. Brooks for using a bludgeon upon a Senator for words spoken in debate. If such is to be the character of the collisions in the Halls of Congress, the people of the North and the people of the South will soon learn to conform their actions to the condition of things. They will send to the Senate and House of Representatives men capable of breaking skulls and noses rather than men of intellectual distinction. We presume that Massachusetts might find many a bully within her borders who could make as short work with Mr. Brooks as he made with Mr. Sumner -- and that too without taking him at a similar disadvantage. From the fact that Mr. Brooks felled Sumner while the latter was in an armchair, and that Sumner called out for help as long as he could articulate, we rather think that both of them, the fire-eater and the abolitionist, are deficient in the right sort of spirit.

It seems that Brooks attacked Sumner because the latter had in debate abused South Carolina and Mr. Brooks's rather aged relative, Senator Butler. The idea of using a bludgeon upon a Senator for making a speech against a State is monstrous. A score of South Carolina members of Congress within the last few years have used their whole power of abuse and vituperation against Massachusetts, and as many Massachusetts members have exercised themselves upon South Carolina. A pitched battle has long been raging between the champions of those two States, and generally the harshest and most offensive language has come from the South Carolinians, who don't like to be outdone in anything. What Sumner may have said about Senator Butler we know not, but we think that the old Senator, who is quite as fiery-hearted as he is white-headed, would scorn the thought of letting any younger man take a quarrel with an abolitionist off his hands. We happened to be in the Senate Chamber near the close of the last session of Congress during one of the night discussions of all manner of slavery questions. Judge Butler, who is really of gentleman of many fine and generous personal qualities, had become exceedingly elated from frequent visits to the Senatorial Restaurant. Sumner was making a severe speech that evidently had reference to the forcible expulsion of Mr. Hoar, a venerable citizen of Massachusetts, from the limits of South Carolina, but he did not mention South Carolina's name. Mr. Butler interrupted him by asking in a fierce tone, "does he mean South Carolina?" Sumner proceeded without noticing the interruption. "I demand," exclaimed Butler, starting again to his feet, "whether he means South Carolina; for if he does, let him say so, and I will give him something to make him remember me and South Carolina as long as he lives." Sumner still proceeded quite imperturbably, bestowing no attention upon his excited opponent just in front of him. "Does he mean South Carolina?" ejaculated Butler for the third time. "Yes, I do mean South Carolina," thundered Sumner with more spirit than we had thought an abolitionist could possess. He finished his speech without any further interruption, and Butler rose to reply, but the fine old South Carolina gentleman was too far gone to be half equal to the tremendous occasion.

We repeat the expression of the hope, that, however obnoxious Sumner may justly be to the patriotic portion of the people of the United States, the House of Representatives will promptly expel Brooks if the account of his assault upon the Massachusetts Senator shall prove correct. Indeed the House of Representatives, it seems to me, would be guilty of the grossest and most shameful dereliction of duty to the Senate if it were to refuse to punish one of its own members for knocking down a Senator upon the floor of the Senate for words said in Senatorial debate.

Since the preceding was set in type, we learn by later dispatches, that Mr. Sumner did not call for help, being knocked senseless by the first blow. So much the better for Mr. Sumner.

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