Secession Era Editorials Project


Boston, Massachusetts, Courier [Whig]

(23 May 1856)

The telegraph gives us an account of an unmanly personal attack by a Representative of South Carolina upon Senator Sumner of Massachusetts, while our Senator was sitting at his desk, after the body to which he was attached had adjourned. We do not know that we have the whole story of the incident, but the fact as mentioned is, that Mr. Sumner was writing at his desk, after the closing of the Senate session, and was brutally assaulted by a South Carolina member of the House. There is no excuse for brutalism -- there is no excuse for the man who assaults another at disadvantage anywhere, and the Senators of the United States will without doubt take care of their privileges and prerogatives.

But we have a word to say about the manner in which this Kansas debate has been carried on in the Senate. Members have shifted the time of the pronouncement of their speeches as it has suited their convenience. The speech of Mr. Sumner was exceedingly insulting towards some gentlemen who sit with him upon the Senate floor. It was not in consonance with the sort of arguments which people expect to hear from U. s. Senators upon a grave question. They do not want flowery adjectives or far-fetched allusions to, or illustrations from Greece and Rome, to give them an opinion as to how they shall act with regard to a practical question which is now before them. When Mr. Sumner compares Senator Butler of South Carolina and Senator Douglas of Illinois to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, assimilating one to the character of a crazy man and the other to that of a fool, he takes a ground which Massachusetts, in her dignity and her ability, never presented before. In the great debate between Webster and Hayne, in which Massachusetts came out best, beyond all comparison, no such allusions were made. The Senator of Massachusetts of that day descended to no low blackguardism. In the strength of his faith and in the force of his ability he presented Massachusetts before the Senate of the United States in such a manner that men bowed down and worshipped her. "There," said he, "is Boston and Concord, and Lexington and Bunker Hill." "I employ no scavengers," said he again, in answer to the taunts of the Senator from South Carolina, who had produced against him the rakings and scrapings of all which political venom could bring out from the cesspool of party politics. Mr. Webster came out of that controversy with South Carolina with the admiration of every man in the country. The time has changed -- a different man takes his place, with only the memory of an insulting speech and a broken head.

We offer no palliation for the brutal assault which was made upon Mr. Sumner by a Representative from South Carolina. It is a well understood axiom and rule of the United States Congress, that no member shall be allowed to be held responsible for words spoken in debate. The member from South Carolina transgressed every rule of honor which should animate or restrain one gentleman in his connections with another, in his ruffian assault upon Mr. Sumner. There is no chivalry in a brute. There is no manliness in a scoundrel. If Mr. Brooks is a nephew to Senator Butler, as it is said that he is, the Senator has only cause to regret that his blood runs through such ignoble veins.

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