Secession Era Editorials Project

"Sermons in Brooks."

Portland, Maine, Advertiser [Republican]

(3 June 1856)

When the outrage on Senator Sumner was first announced one of the Virginia papers, giving vent to its joy in a most deplorable spirit of jocularity, declared that Mr. Sumner had probably found that "his Brooks, unlike Shakespeare's, had no sermons to utter." The allusion is not correctly made -- but there is a much greater mistake than that. Even the ruffian with his murderous cane is made to sound in the ears of this nation a sermon more solemn, instructive and warning, than that which any other man or even had for years been privileged to speak. Its vehemence is seen in the effect. From every part of the country comes up the earnest response, showing that there is hardly a man who has not had his attention arrested and his feelings aroused. And if from one quarter we have testimonials of joy while from every other there is a thunder tone of indignation, it only proves the power of the voice that can awake so many and such different echoes.

And why is it that a personal occurrence like this should produce consequences so extended and profound? In the just language of the resolutions adopted at the meeting of our citizens last Saturday evening, "If it could be regarded as the act of one cowardly ruffian only, it might deserve no other attention than what ordinarily follows the commission of a crime." But as has been said, it is a "representative act." It is the outgrowth and deed of a system, and Brooks himself is as much the instrument of slavery as his cane is his own instrument. Given the slave plantation and all its appliances, and a Herbert, a Rusk and a Brooks are the natural results. If there were any doubt of this, the instinctive heartiness with which such men are shielded and approved by the South, shows how close is the relationship of their deeds to the spirit of that system which the South only supports. The defenders of slavery had the power to disown Brooks and cast him off the moment his villainy was discovered - but instead of that, the gray-headed Butler commends his gallant relative, Mr. Toombs approves the deed, Mr. Douglas stands aloof "for fear his motives might be misconstrued," sixty-eight members of the House resist investigation, South Carolina hurries on her testimonials of gratitude and joy, and the great body of the Southern press welcomes the event with exulting and derisive epithets. Thus Slavery shows its paternity of the deed by its thorough ratification.

And so the North cannot help regarding it. - There are many of our citizens to whom such an exhibition brings no great surprise. They have watched for years the domineering spirit of Slavery and its desperation at the growth of free sentiment. They have seen that intrigue and intimidation are the two methods only which can be opposed to free labor and free speech, and they know that when one fails, the other will be employed. A system founded on violence will defend itself by violence. But there are many others among us whom this ruffianly deed has startled into a new train of thought. They either could not see the aggressions of Slavery, or they looked upon them as the natural efforts of a system to extend itself, and that in the domain of politics where all successes are fair. Besides, there was an impersonality in the process, which "played round the head but came not near the heart." The fatal institution was extended -- but away from, and out of sight of us. Free labor was oppressed -- but it was not ours. The whip was wielded -- but on distant plantations and among another race. All the evils were thought of, probably deplored -- but they were not felt. But when free speech, in the person of one of our representatives, is punished with cowardly and murderous blows, in our Senate Chamber which, of all places on earth ought to be the most sacred to every attribute of freedom, we cannot but feel ourselves assailed and aggrieved. The blows showered upon bleeding Sumner, are blows directed at us, for using rights that we have enjoyed every day of our lives. The blows are dealt because these rights are hostile to Slavery, and must ultimately give way to, or conquer, it. We feel the straightness of the alternative -- and we shall calmly and resolutely prepare ourselves for it; not with weapons of violence, but with earnest and kindly discussion, with dissemination of facts and with that freeman's weapon, the BALLOT-BOX. Thus shall we make an improvement of the sermons in Brooks.


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