Secession Era Editorials Project

BROOKS AND SUMNER.

Spartanburg, South Carolina, Spartan [Democratic]

(29 May 1856)

On Tuesday of last week Mr. Sumner, of Massachusetts, delivered a speech in the Senate on Kansas matters, characterized by the correspondent of the Charleston News as presenting a scene of debate which for sarcasm, invective, vulgarity, ridicule and abuse exceeded every thing that has ever been acted before in that way in that body.

It also embraced libels upon Judge Butler, who was absent, and South Carolina of the most mendacious character, calling forth rebukes from Senators Evans, Cass, Douglas, and Mason -- Gen. Cass pronouncing it the most un-American and unpatriotic speech he had ever heard on the floor of the Senate, and the latter charitably concluding that its author was non compos mentis.

As Senator Butler was absent from Washington when thus wantonly assailed in twofold degree, Hon. P. S. Brooks, from the Edgefield District, took redress into his hands. On Thursday, therefore, he sought an interview with the infamous libeller and scoundrel, and what took place may be learned by the following from the Washington Star of Friday:

"Yesterday, after he had sought Mr. Sumner elsewhere without finding him, Mr. Brooks went to the Senate Chamber -- the Senate having adjourned; and Mr. S. being there, Mr. Brooks sat near Mr. Sumner until a few ladies, who were on the floor, had retired. He then went up to Mr. S., who was at his desk writing, and said:

I have read your speech carefully, and with as much disposition to do you justice as I could command; and I have deliberately come to the conclusion that you were guilty of a gross libel upon my State, and of a wanton insult to my absent and grey-haired relation, Judge Butler; and I feel myself under obligations to inflict on you a punishment for this libel and insult.

"Mr. Sumner hereupon essayed to rise from his seat, as though to resist what Mr. Brooks had said, when he (Mr. Brooks) struck Mr. S. with rapid and repeated blows about the head with a gutta percha cane, and continued his blows, in spite of Mr. Sumner's efforts to ward them off and seize the cane, until Mr. S. fell. As Mr. Brooks was suspending his blows -- which he did the instant Mr. Sumner fell -- Mr. Crittenden came up and interposed, saying, "Don't kill," &c.. Mr. Brooks thereupon left the spot and remained with his friends in the Senate Chamber until Mr. Sumner's friends, several of whom were present -- Mr. Morgan, of New York, and Mr. Foster, of Connecticut, among them -- lifting him up, bore him into one of the ante-rooms of the Senate."

The same account substantially is repeated in the Baltimore Sun; but with the charge that Col. Brooks continued the blows while Sumner was down, and that the latter called for help without attracting assistance until his assailant had desisted from flagellation.

A second despatch from the Sun says:

"Some eye-witnesses say Mr. Brooks struck Senator Sumner as many as twenty times over his head. Senator Sumner was sitting in an arm chair when the assault was made upon him. He had no opportunity to defend himself. There are various opinions on the subject, and quite contradictory. Many were applauding the act, whilst others were denouncing it as a cowardly attempt to beat down freedom of speech. The affair will, undoubtedly, cause great debate in the Senate to morrow.

"Mr. Brooks was arrested shortly after the affair, a complaint having been made against him on the oath of William Y. Leader, and was brought before Justice Hollingshead, and held to bail in $500 to answer.

"Mr. Sumner has two severe but not dangerous wounds on the head. Brook's cane was shattered in many pieces, demonstrating the violence of the assault.

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, Governor Gorman, together with several officers of the Senate and strangers. The attack was so sudden and unexpected that Mr. Sumner had no opportunity to place himself in a defensive attitude."

"The first blow stunned him, and the stick, which was of gutta percha, was broken into many pieces by the time the assault was terminated. Messrs. Crittenden, Toombs, Murray and others, interfered as soon as they could, and probably prevented further damage. Great excitement exists here to-night in consequence of the affair."

"Sumner sank unconscious to the floor, where he lay till raised by his friends. His head was bathed in blood, and his physicians say he has the severest flesh wounds they ever saw on a man's head, and deny his friends admission to him to-night."

Subsequent dates bring the improbable statement that Col. Brooks had been committed to jail. This must be a mistake. Sumner is improving, and was expected to take his seat in the Senate in a few days. As the offence (none in our quarter) is bailable, we are sure the above account cannot be true. Committees in the Senate and House have been appointed to investigate the question of privilege involved, while indignation meetings have been held in New York and Boston by the friends of Sumner and abolitionism, with a view to making party capital.

We are opposed to bullyism, in or out of Congress -- we are peaceable men; but Congress may thank itself for scenes of violence and bloodshed. Repeal the duelling law that disgraces the Statute Book of the land, and make members of Congress aware that personal accountability will follow ribald license of the tongue, and scenes of brawl will cease. We are no advocate of the duello, and condemn the bloody exactions of the code of honor in ordinary intercourse, where law can right, if not satisfy, private wrongs. But in the Congress of the Union, where, under the shield of the Constitution and laws, the foul tongue of the slanderer and braggart is unhinged to vituperate and defame, we would erect personal accountability into a higher law. Few in South Carolina will withhold applause from Col. Brooks for his castigation of a man who to a foul tongue adds the crime of perjury. He has our sympathy and approval, humble as it is. And of this incident in the politics of the day shall hasten the solution of the great question of Southern rights, we hail it with joyful exultation and welcome the issue it brings.


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