Secession Era Editorials Project

The Sumner Assault.

Boston, Massachusetts, Courier [Whig]

(26 May 1856)

The Atlas of Friday had the following remarks, by its editor, upon the Brooks assault upon Senator Sumner:--

Hon. Charles Sumner, one of the Senators of Massachusetts, was yesterday brutally assaulted by a ruffian named Brooks, who represents South Carolina in the lower House. Those who know Mr. Sumner will readily believe that nothing in his conduct or conversation could have provoked the outrage, and that it must be attributed to the bold and vigorous demonstration of the Kansas inequity, which he has just uttered in the Senate. The reign of terror, then, is to be transferred to Washington, and the mouths of the representatives of the North are to be closed by the use of bowie-knives, bludgeons, and revolvers. Very well; the sooner we understand this the better. If violence must come, we shall know how to defend ourselves. We hope, for the credit of the State, that every man in it will feel this outrage upon Mr. Sumner as a personal indignity, no less than an insult to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and that there will be such a general and spontaneous expression of opinion, as will fully manifest our deep disinclination to submit to any repetition of the contumely.

We had something to say on the same matter, and expressed an opinion with regard to the attack, in the following terms:--

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.

These are the comments of the Atlas and the Courier upon the Washington outrage, which appeared simultaneously in each paper on the morning after the occurrence. The Courier spoke also of the personal and indecorous line of remark which Mr. Sumner had allowed himself to indulge in in his speech, which, however, had no influence upon its opinion with regard to the gravity and atrocity of the offence which was committed by the South Carolina Representative, and we will leave readers to judge if its language is not as plain and straightforward as that of the Atlas, so far as an expression of opinion upon the subject is concerned. Our neighbor is gifted with a most brilliant and erratic imagination, in common with the great majority of the party to which he has attached himself, and daggers, pistols and bowie-knives dance before his distempered and bewildered vision with all the romance of a melodrama, and all the unrealized horrors with disturb the brain of a lunatic. Abolitionism carries with itself a monomania which turns the heads of all who unreservedly connect themselves with it, and this is the only answer which it is necessary to make to the Atlas diatribe of Saturday. The object of the Atlas is to obtain personal and political capital from the occurrence at Washington, and as a party paper, it is only performing legitimate business in endeavoring to turn the tide of indignation into its own mill-stream.

Mr. Wendell Phillips, a politician of the ultra Garrison school, has also come forward with the stamp of his wrath upon the Courier, and with this, the full and hearty endorsement of himself and those who act with him, of the speech of Senator Sumner. He sees nothing harsh, unfeeling or insulting in the language of Mr. Sumner, as applied to Senator Butler, which is a matter of course because it is conveyed in precisely the same sort of words which he and his peculiar friends have been using all their lifetime. He made one of his brilliant, one-sided and Pharisaical harangues at the Temple on Friday night, and with the blind malice which belongs to his particular sect, attacked the Courier at random, evidently without having ever read the article upon which he made his comments, and displaying at once both ignorance and malignity. Mr. Phillips supposed, as we understand by the reports of his remarks, that the Courier had found fault with the revolting and disagreeable comparison which Mr. Sumner made between Mr. Douglas and a loathsome quadruped, but he can find that the Courier made not the least attempt at justifying Mr. Brooks. It is not proper for us to expect fair play of the Abolitionists at all, but Wendell Phillips should know better than to make foolish blunders or to utter direct falsehoods before a public meeting in the city of Boston.

The Telegraph of Saturday evening also pays its respect to the Courier, but that journal is animated by the same motives which actuate the Atlas, and it is not necessary that we should heed its abuse when in pouring it out it says of Judge Butler that "he is notorious for having intemperate habits, and that it is a common saying that he has not been perfectly sober for thirty years." We shall be able to survive anything which is placed upon us by the Telegraph when it accompanies the animadversions with such a phrase as is here quoted.

We may say further to these champions of the three phases of Abolitionism, -- to Mr. Phillips in particular -- who talks of the loss of a subscriber to the Courier of fifteen years' standing, that it is not our habit, when exciting questions like the one now in agitation are before the public, to inquire which side of the ledger is to be affected by an expression of opinion, or trim our sails so as to escape the vengeance of the "stop my paper" class of the community. The loss of one or two subscribers is not an uncommon occurrence in the affairs of any newspaper establishment, and the Courier has had to encounter its share of the punishment which is dispensed by those who think that the editor of a journal should walk out into the street and enquire of the quid-nunces, -- of the retailers of gossip, and the Mrs. Grandys of the exchange, -- whether he can hazard a common sense remark without horrifying all Buncombe. The Courier has passed through the fifteen-gallons law excitement, the Scott nomination trouble, and other cases, where "I want to stop my paper" is the argument of the dissatisfied; but it has survived them all. The article in Friday's paper has met with the approval of many persons, who have gone out of their way to express it, and for whom we have great respect, though some of them affiliate with the "Republican" party. An expression of the Troy (N. Y.) Whig conveys in brief but general terms the opinion which we have almost unanimously received with regard to the article of Friday. The Whig copies the remark upon Mr. Sumner's speech with this introduction: -- "The Boston Courier, while it condemns in proper terms the brutality of Brooks, improves the occasion to make some strictures which we are sure all right minded men will agree are just and specially pertinent." This is the language of our friends generally, and with it we drop a rather disagreeable subject.


This document was produced as part of a document analysis project by Lloyd Benson, Department of History, Furman University. (Proofing info: Entered and reverse-order proofed by Lloyd Benson.) This electronic version may not be copied, or linked to, or otherwise used for commercial purposes, (including textbook or publication-related websites) without prior written permission. The views expressed in this document are for educational, historical, and scholarly use only, and are not intended to represent the views of the project contributors or Furman University.