Secession Era Editorials Project

No Title.

Louisville, Kentucky, Journal [American]

(5 June 1856)

[pointing finger] The Sumner and Brooks affair is greatly to be regretted by conservative men in all parts of the country. It has aroused a feeling of bitter sectional animosity which surpasses in violence anything that has ever been known or conceived. We are pained to observe that the press, with some few exceptions, in both sections of the country has taken sides in this matter, and, regardless of the outrages that have been committed and the disgraceful conduct of all the parties immediately connected with this affair, are sedulously endeavoring to make heroes of these men and to fan the flame of sectional discord already blazing with destructive and threatening violence. The greater portion of the Northern press seems inclined to overlook entirely the grossly insulting and disgraceful conduct of Sumner in making his speech in the Senate chamber the vehicle for the most violent denunciation and personal abuse. They speak of Sumner as a martyr to the Freesoil sentiment of the North. The course of a portion of the Southern press is no less reprehensible in applauding the brutal and deadly assault of Brooks upon the person of a United States Senator upon the floor of the Senate chamber. These violent articles are copied in both sections and tend to stifle what little of charitable feeling yet remained among the people of the North and South for each other and to lash into fury that wild fanaticism which has already brought our glorious and beloved Union to the very verge of dissolution.

We cannot believe that any very considerable portion of Northern men will, after calm reflection, attempt to justify or excuse the conduct of Sumner in transgressing every rule of propriety or decency and disgracing the character of a Senator by dragging into a Senatorial debate violent personal abuse of his fellow Senators and dealing out, instead of arguments, the most insulting invectives and denunciations. The classic language in which his calumnies were clothed is no excuse for their utterance in a debate upon the floor of the Senate. He richly deserves the severest censure. But, however enormous the offense of Sumner, the assault upon him by Brooks was even more unjustifiable. It was an ebullition of brutal passion more consistent with the character of a hired bravo than with that of a high-souled, chivalric Southern gentleman. The speech of Sumner was made in his capacity of Senator, upon the floor of the Senate chamber, in the presence of Senators from Southern States and others whom he abused with but little if any less vehemence than he employed in speaking of the Senator from South Carolina. This speech transcended the rules of propriety and Senatorial, not to say gentlemanly, decorum, but it was scarcely more violent and abusive than many others which have been spoken there during this debate by Senators from the South as well as from the North. His violent invectives, his abusive personalities, met with almost universal reprehension, but he was not even called to order during their utterance. It was the Senate and the people of the country who were aggrieved more than any individual, and there are many ways by which condign punishment, equal to his offense, might have been visited upon him, without sacrificing the dignity of the Federal Senate and House of Representatives or tarnishing the name of Southern chivalry. Had he been let alone this punishment would have been surely meted out to him and he would have gone forth branded with disgrace and scouted and scorned by honorable men. The ill-advised violence of Mr. Brooks has remitted this well merited consequence of Sumner's unjustifiable conduct and has raised him in the estimation of the great mass of the Northern people from the degradation of an offender to the dignity of a martyr.

We cannot conceive that Southern men, however much they may entertain distrust or even hatred of the North, will, after mature deliberation, approve the deadly assault by a member of the House of Representatives upon a Senator, in his place in the Senate chamber, for words spoken in debate. We do not think that Southern gentlemen can, in their hearts, applaud an attack with a heavy cane upon an unarmed man, pinioned to his seat, and unsuspecting and unprepared for the deadly assault that was made upon him. High-toned chivalry and true courage are inseparable; these qualities are indispensable to a gentleman and should be so to every Senator and Representative. They are nowhere more sedulously cherished than at the South, and there are few Southern men, who, upon a calm consideration of the circumstances, will not agree with us that this assault by Brooks was entirely devoid of either courage or chivalry.

There is another point of view in which this Sumner and Brooks affair is still more to be regretted. It has aroused the passion and blinded the sober reason of men in both sections of the country. If the course of Sumner is sustained at the North and that of Brooks is approved in the South, the sectional estrangement, by which the Union has already been so greatly endangered, must be increased, and consequences more serious and alarming than have yet been predicted will ensue.

At this time, more than ever for a long period of years, there is a necessity for a cessation of further agitation of the great sectional issue and for mutual conciliation and fraternal feeling among the States of the Union. More important questions of domestic governmental policy and constitutional power are pressing upon us for consideration and for settlement. Our foreign relations are in a critical condition, and the least indiscretion on the part of the bunglers at present in charge of our National affairs, may, in a few weeks, plunge us into a war with the most powerful Governments of Europe. The new phase of the foreign enlistment difficulty and the delicate situation of the Central American question require the most skillful statesmanship, and should warn the people of the United States to prepare themselves, if need be, to repulse as one people a formidable foreign foe. Chinese idolatry on the shores of the Pacific and Mormon bigamy in the plains of New Mexico will soon force themselves upon the attention of our National Legislature, and will present new questions, in the consideration of which the constitutional powers of our Federal Government and our States and Territories may be canvassed and settled without the intervention of sectional prejudices and long-embittered feelings. In the mean time foreign influence, with its ally, political Popery, is gathering strength and power in our midst, creeping into the inmost sanctuary and sapping the very foundations of our temple of Republican liberty.

When our very existence as a nation of independent American freemen is thus threatened from without and within, it is not a time for mutual recriminations, abusive epithets, bullying threats, and actual violence in our National Legislature or among our people. The public mind has been already too much excited, and conservative men in both sections cannot fail to appreciate the necessity of rebuking those who are seeking to produce still greater agitation, which is not only unnecessary but increases the difficulty of a peaceable and permanent adjustment of pending issues. Appeals to men's passions in regard to this Sumner and Brooks affair and to the Kansas disturbances are at any time injudicious, but just now they are treasonable. It is no time for the exercise of passions and prejudices. Plain truths, calm deliberation, wise counsels, and a reciprocal spirit of forbearance and conciliation will alone suffice to bear us safely through the difficulties and dangers by which we are surrounded.


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