Secession Era Editorials Project

Assault upon Mr. Sumner.

Concord, New Hamphire, New Hampshire Patriot [Democratic]

(28 May 1856)

On Thursday last, after the adjournment of the Senate, Mr. Brooks, member of the House from South Carolina, made an assault upon Mr. Sumner of Massachusetts, in the Senate chamber, beating him with a cane very severely. Mr. Sumner had delivered a two days' speech upon Kansas affairs, which was, beyond comparison, the most malignantly abusive and personally insulting towards a number of Senators that was ever delivered in the U.S. Senate. In the course of that speech, which was carefully prepared and written out before its delivery, he uttered the following: --

"With regret I come again upon the Senator from South Carolina, [Mr. Butler,] who, omnipresent in this debate, overflowed with rage at the simple suggestion that Kansas had applied for admission as a State, and with incoherent phrases discharged the loose expectoration of his speech, now upon her representative and then upon her people. There was no extravagance of the ancient parliamentary debate which he did not repeat, nor was there any possible deviation from truth which he did not make. But the Senator touches nothing which he does not disfigure with error, sometimes of principle, sometimes of fact. He shows an incapacity of accuracy, whether in stating the constitution, or in stating the law; whether in the details of statistics, or the diversions of scholarship."

But it is against the people of Kansas that the sensibilities of the Senator are particularly aroused. Coming, as he announces, from a State; -- aye, sir! from South Carolina -- he turns with lordly disgust from this newly formed community, which he will not recognize evan as a "body politic." Pray, sir, by what title does he indulge in this egotism? -- Has he read the history of "the State" which he represents? He cannot, surely, have forgotten its shameful imbecility from slavery, confessed throughout the Revolution, followed by its more shameful assumptions for slavery since."

The Senator this violently and ruthlessly assailed was absent, at his home in South Carolina. He is an aged man, and one of the most courteous, accomplished and respected members of the Senate. Mr. Brooks is his nephew, and took upon himself the responsibility of punishing Mr. Sumner for this abuse of his venerable uncle. Failing to meet him elsewhere, Brooks went into the Senate chamber, after the adjournment, where Sumner Senators and others were present. Approaching Mr. Sumner, Brooks said: -- "Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech with care and with as much impartiality as I am capable of, and I feel it my duty to tell you that you have libelled my State and slandered a kinsman who is aged and absent, and I must punish you for it." And before Sumner could get upon his feet, Brooks struck him over the head with a gutta percha cane, which stunned him, and he continued to strike him about the head until the cane broke and Mr. S. was knocked down insensible. It is stated that at least a dozen blows were given, and that severe though not dangerous flesh wounds were inflicted upon Sumner's head. Mr. Crittenden and others interfered , when Brooks said -- "I did not wish to hurt him much, but only whip him." Mr. Sumner was taken to his residence, and we are glad to learn that he will very soon be able to appear in the Senate.

This assault will find no apologists among our people, as it has no justification. It meets, as it merits, the most unqualified reprehension, and deserves the severest punishment. We regard it as utterly disgraceful, a gross outrage, and we regret and condemn it as sincerely as any of the political friends of Mr. S. can do; even the malignant slander of an aged and absent relative, and the most insulting libel upon his State, do not justify the assailant. And as the subject is to be investigated by both Houses of Congress and by the criminal court of the District, we treat the majesty of the law and the dignity of the national Legislature and the honor of the country will be fully and promptly vindicated.

But while we say and feel this, we must also say that Sumner's speech was of such a character as to provoke the result which has followed, and it seems to have been designed for that purpose. It was a most biting, and insulting tirade of personality, filled with the most wanton and malignant vituperation of men of the purest character, abounding in absolute vulgarity of invective and indecency of epithet and accusation against the conduct and motives and character of his opponents, imputing to them again and again the total want of veracity and honor; as well as utter ignorance and imbecility; all carefully prepared, and written out beforehand, thus showing a deliberate malignancy and settled purpose to insult, degrade and irritate his antagonists as much as possible. The natural result followed; and while we cannot too severely denounce the assault, it is proper at the same time to denounce the provocation with equal severity.


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