Secession Era Editorials Project

Ruffianism at Washington.

Buffalo, New York, Morning Express [Republican]

(24 May 1856)

This Republic has been deeply disgraced, and its Senate Chamber converted into a scene of atrocity. The annals of wrong, outrage and crime, have been swelled by an occurrence which is without parallel in the history of this government. -- Its Capitol is infested with lawless ruffians, who have inaugurated a reign of club law violence. -- What a picture to hold up to a civilized and christian world! What a commentary upon the character of our law makers when we are called to record such a demoniac outrage as that committed upon a Senator while in his seat, at the hands, too, of one of the people's Representatives in the other branch of the American Congress. -- The country is abased and humiliated by the opening of this new chapter of aggression and violence. The act to which we allude, is unparalleled in atrocity; unrelieved in its infamy. It is without provocation or mitigation, so far as we can judge of the case as briefly presented in our Telegraphic report of yesterday morning. It is cowardly and brutal to the last degree. The version of the affair, thus far, is, no doubt, as favorable as possible to the aggressor. It announces that immediately after the adjournment of Congress on Thursday last, Preston S. Brooks, Member of Congress from South Carolina, entered the Senate Chamber, and approaching the seat Mr. Sumner, struck him a powerful blow with a cane, at the same time accusing him of libelling South Carolina and his grey-headed relative, Senator Butler. Eye-witnesses -- and they must be the most craven poltroons known to humanity, to have permitted it -- state that Brooks struck as many as fifty blows on the head of Mr. Sumner. The attack was made while Mr. Sumner was sitting at his arm-chair, with little or no chance for resistance. The first blow, which was probably dealt from behind, after the most approved manner of the cowardly assassin, felled him to the floor, where the beating was continued, without interruption on the part of the spectators. And this outrage, which disgraces humanity, meets with applause at Washington.

We propose to treat this transaction with fairness, and if possible to ascertain the provocation for so gross an outrage. We have looked the report of Mr. Sumner's speech over carefully, and the offensive allusion which stirs up the South Carolinian to such active hostilities, appears to be as follows:

But before entering upon the argument, I must say something of a general character, particularly in response to what has fallen from Senators who have raised themselves to eminence on this floor in championship of human wrongs; I mean the Senator from South Carolina, [Mr. Butler,] and the Senator from Illinois [Mr. Douglas,] who, though unlike as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, yet, like this couple, sally forth together in the same cause. The Senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and outrage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight -- I mean the harlot, Slavery. For her, his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this Senator. The frenzy of Don Quixote, in behalf of his wench Dulcinea del Taboso, is all surpassed. The asserted rights of slavery, which shook equality of all kinds, are cloaked by a fantastic claim of equality. If the slave States cannot enjoy what, in mockery of the great fathers of the Republic, he misnames equality under the Constitution -- in other words, the full power in the National Territories to compel fellow men to toil, to separate husband and wife, and to sell little children at the auction block -- then, sir, the chivalric Senator will conduct the State of South Carolina out of the Union! Heroic knight! Exalted Senator! A Second Moses come for a second exodus!

True, as a piece of oratorical sarcasm this is bitter and cutting, because it is truthful, but it affords no justification for such an exhibition of ruffianism as Brooks has presented to the world. The truth is, that slavery, with its southern chivalry and northern doughfaceism, found more than a match in the oratorical powers of Sumner. They had not the ability to cope with him in debate. He had dashed them down beneath his feet like pigmies, and burning with mortification at their abasement in the eyes of the world, brute force was resorted to, to accomplish by the blows of a club what they could not do by the power of intellect. That Brooks should have performed this cowardly act we are not surprised. It is but the legitimate work of the spirit of slavery, which respects right nowhere. It is Missouri border ruffianism transferred to the Halls of Congress. It is a demoniac spirit which invades Kansas, Washington, here, and everywhere, and which, wherever it dares, depredating upon the rights of man. We [illegible] express our astonishment, that there was no man in the Senate Chamber with spirit enough to punish Brooks on the spot, as he deserved. He should have been beaten like a mad dog, and made to feel that there are northern men who can deal blows when they are richly merited. We do not know which deserves the deepest contempt and reprobation, him who played the assassin, or those who witnessed the assault without interfering, to protect Senator Sumner and chastise the offender. The question is on the tongue of every free man, -- are there no northern men at Washington with sufficient spirit to avenge such an outrage? Have our members of Congress ceased to respect themselves and their rights? Are they all so craven and cowardly that there is not one who will inflict prompt personal punishment upon the blackguard for this act of unparalleled violence? If our Representatives have themselves become slaves, who creep and cringe beneath the blows of the slave drivers, it is time they crawled to their insulted and wronged constituencies, and betook themselves to the deepest condition of private life. They are unworthy any longer to represent freemen if they tamely submit to this place of infamy.

The northern men of the House are called upon by every consideration of self-respect, as well as of duty to their constituents, and the country at large, to thrust this ruffian, Brooks, without the bar. They cannot sit with him in Council without disgrace -- they cannot recognize him as a peer without sharing his infamy -- they cannot permit him to retain his seat without an implied approval of his course. They have the power, the right, and the means of purging the House of such a man and they should do it at once and effectually.


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