Secession Era Editorials Project

Mr. Brooks's Letter to the Senate

Charleston, South Carolina, Mercury [Democratic]

(6 June 56)

We copy below the letter of Mr. BROOKS, addressed to the President of the Senate, in reference to the recent report adopted by that body, condemning his assault upon Mr. SUMNER as a breach of the privilege of the Senate. The letter is written in an admirable spirit, and is, in all respects, just what it should have been. He impliedly asserts, what we think undeniable, that there was, at the time of the assault, no more a Senate in the Senate Chamber than in the boarding houses of the several members, and that he, as a citizen and a gentleman, called to account a member of that body, acting at the time in his purely personal capacity, for a gross and wanton outrage upon South Carolina and one of her Senators, published in the newspapers of Washington. The Senate, in the report adopted by that body, have decided that they had no jurisdiction over the matter, so far as the infliction of any punishment upon Mr. BROOKS was concerned.

The Senate assumes that a conflict between one of their members and a member of the other House, both acting in their individual capacity only, while it is a breach of their privileges, gives them no jurisdiction over the case, except to complain to the House whose member was a party to the conflict. And the majority report of the House assumes that that body has full jurisdiction to punish, even to expulsion, a member action only in his individual capacity, for an assault committed on a member of the Senate acting in the same capacity. These extraordinary positions, which show how little there is, we hesitate to say whether of parliamentary law or common sense, we shall subject to a careful examination at another time.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, May 29, 1856. Sir:

-- I have seen in the public journals this morning, the report of the Committee of the Senate, to whom was referred a resolution of the Senate, directing an inquiry into an assault made by me on the 22d instant on a Senator from Massachusetts.

It is with unfeigned regret I find in the report that what I had intended only as a redress of a personal wrong had been construed into or must necessarily be held as a breech of privilege of the Senate.

Whilst making a full and explicit disclaimer of any such design or purpose, I ask leave to say that, for the occasion, considering myself only as a gentleman in society, and under no official restraint as a member of the House of Representatives, I did not advert to or consider there was any alternative or restraint imposed upon me by reason that the offence came from a member of the Senate.

I had read attentively and carefully the speech delivered in the Senate on the 19th and 20th instant by the Senator from Massachusetts, and found therein language which I regarded as unjustly reflecting, not only upon the history and character of South Carolina, but also upon a friend and a relative. To such language, I thought I had the right to take exception under the circumstances, the Senator from South Carolina, who was effected by these remarks, being absent from the Senate and the city.

I had reason to believe that the Senator from Massachusetts did not acknowledge that personal responsibility for wrongs in personal deportment which would have saved me the painful necessity of the collision which I sought, and in my judgment, therefore, I had no alternative, but to act as I did.

That the assault was made in the Senate chamber, was caused only by the fact that, after a careful search, elsewhere on the previous as well as on the same day, the offender could not be found outside the walls of the Senate chamber, and the Senate had adjourned for more than an hour previous to the assault.

I submit the foregoing statement from the high respect I have for the Senate of the United States, and ask that it may be received as a full disclaimer of any design or purpose to infract its privileges or to offend its dignity. I cheerfully add that, should the facts as reported by the committee of the Senate be nevertheless necessarily considered as a conclusion of law, my earnest design is to atone for it, as far as may be, by this unhesitating and unqualified apology.

Asking that you will oblige me by communicating this to the Senate as its presiding officer,

I have the honor to remain, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant, P. S. BROOKS Hon. J. D. BRIGHT, President of the Senate.

This document was produced as part of a document analysis project by Lloyd Benson, Department of History, Furman University. (Proofing info: Entered by Ben Barnhill, Proofed by Ryan Burgess.) 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.