Secession Era Editorials Project


Albany, New York, Evening Journal [Republican]

(24 May 1856)

Murderous Assault upon Senator Sumner ----- The Slave-Driver's Bludgeon in service.

Correspondence of the Tribune.

Washington, Thursday, May 22, 1856.

Mr. Sumner was writing unsuspectingly and busily at his desk when attacked by Brooks. The Senate had adjourned early on the announcement of the death of Mr. Miller. Messrs. Brooks and Keitt approached him, each with a cane. Several persons had been about Mr. Sumner's desk after the adjournment, but at the time chosen for the attack he was alone. Mr. Wilson had just left him, on his way out passing Brooks, who was sitting in a back seat. Brooks walked up front of Mr. Sumner and told him that he had read his speech twice, and that it was a libel on South Carolina, and a relative of his, Judge Butler. Without waiting for any reply or asking for any explanation, he immediately struck Mr. Sumner a violent blow over the head with his cane, while Mr. Sumner sat in his seat unable to extricate himself, cutting by the blow a gash, four inches in length on his head. The cane was of gutta percha, an inch in diameter. Brooks followed this blow immediately with other blows, striking from twelve to twenty in all.

Mr. Sumner had no distinct consciousness after the first blow. He involuntarily strove to rise from his seat, but being fastened by his position, tore up his desk from its fastening in the attempt to extricate himself. He staggered under the blows and fell senseless to the floor, being wholly stunned and blind from the first.

It is stated by a reporter who was present, that Keitt stood by and brandished his cane to keep off others. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Murray of the New York delegation were in the front anteroom, and hearing the noise, came in. Mr. Murray seized hold of Brooks, who had now broken his cane into several pieces, and Mr. Morgan went to the relief of Mr. Sumner, whom he found prostrated and nearly unconscious. The persons present in the Senate were Mr. Sutton, one of the reporters, the Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms, Mr. Simonton, Senators Crittenden, Iverson, Bright, Toombs, Douglas, Pearce, and a few others. No one of the Senators seemed to interfere but Mr. Crittenden, who pronounced it an inexcusable outrage.

Mr. Wilson rushed into the Senate Chamber on hearing of the attack, but found Mr. Sumner had been removed to the Vice-President's rooms, and that a surgeon was in attendance. He then helped to put his colleague into a carriage and went with him to his lodgings. Mr. Sumner is badly injured, having two very severe cuts on the head. His condition is considered critical, and his physician allows no one to see him. His clothes were literally covered with blood when he was removed. Considerable blood was also splattered on the adjoining desks.

Mr. Sumner is very much bruised about the head and elsewhere. He is confined to his bed, and is denied to see company by his physician. Proper resolutions will probably be offered in the House to-morrow, and perhaps in the Senate. The assault creates much sensation, and is depreciated by candid men of all parties. It will greatly inflame the excitement produced by the intelligence from Kansas.

Various opinions on the subject are expressed, many applauding, and some denouncing the assault as a cowardly attempt to beat down freedom of speech.


Mr Brooks has been complained of by Mr. William Y. Leader, on whose oath Justice Hollingshead required Brooks to give bail in the sum of $500, as security for his appearance tomorrow afternoon.

Mr. Sumner has several severe but not dangerous wounds on his head. The cane used by Brooks was shattered to pieces by the blows.

When the attack was made there were probably fifteen or twenty persons present, including Messrs. Crittenden, Foster, Toombs, Fitzpatrick, Murray, Morgan, and other Members of Congress, together with Gov. Gorman, several officers of the Senate, and some strangers. The attack was so sudden and so unexpected that Mr. Sumner had no opportunity whatever to place himself in defensive attitude.

The first blow given him by Mr. Brooks stunned him, and the thick gutta-percha stick which was used by Mr. Brooks was broken into many pieces by the time the assault terminated. -- Messrs. Crittenden, Toombs, Murray and others interfered as soon as they could, and probably prevented further damage. The greatest excitement prevailed Mr. Sumner sank perfectly unconscious to the floor, where he lay, bloody and dreadfully bruised till raised by his friends.

His physicians say his wounds are the most severe flesh ones they ever saw on a man's head, and deny his friends admission to him.

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