September 2, 2015

Contemporary Reports of Brooks' Caning of Sumner, 1856


Click here for a list of my other Pulaski/Rockcastle/Laurel County KY articles


Preston Brooks' attack on Charles Sumner was sparked by a speech Sumner gave on Kansas, which can be found here


[May 21, 1856] -

Mr. Sumner closed yesterday one of the most searching and fearless exposures yet made of the Giant Crime which, in its legitimate consequences, has filled Kansas with violence and threatens now to deluge her plains with blood. We are compelled to omit about one-fourth of it, but make room for this masterly effort to the utmost limit of our ability. We shall soon have the complete Speech ready in pamphlet form, and bespeak for it a wide circulation.

The whole menagerie was stirred up by the directness and power of this effort for Free Kansas, and Gen. Cain[?] responded with characteristic feebleness, Mr. Douglas with characteristic blackguardism, and Mr. Mason with characteristic insolence. Mr. Sumner briefly rejoined each, though it would have better befitted his character and the noble speech he had just closed to pass them by in scornful silence. When he had closed, the Senate adjourned.

The House spent the whole day on a Railroad Land bill for Wisconsin. Nothing was concluded. [1]


[1856] -



[May 23, 1856] -

The Assault in the Senate Chamber Yesterday. -- We have taken occasion to procure an account of the affair that occurred from an eye-witness, in whose judgment and in the integrity of whose representation we rely. We present it to our readers, as follows:

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 relative, Judge Butler, and I feel myself under obligations to inflict on you a punishment for this libel and insult."

Mr. Sumner thereupon essayed to rise from his seat, as though to result 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. [3]


[May 26, 1856] -

Messrs. Brooks and Sumner.

From the various and confused accounts of the recent affair in the Senate, we copy the following from the New York Herald, as seemingly the most impartial and distinct:

About half-past one, after the Senate adjourned, Col. Preston S. Brooks, M. C., of South Carolina, approached Senator Sumner, who was sitting in his seat, and said to him:

"Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech against South Carolina, and have read your speech against South Carolina, and have read it carefully, deliberately and dispassionately, in which you have libeled my State and slandered my white haired old relative, Senator Butler, who is absent, and I have come to punish you for it."

Col. Brooks then struck Senator Sumner with his cane some dozen blows over the head. Mr. Sumner at first showed fight, but was overpowered. Senator Crittenden and others interfered and separated them.

Mr. Keitt, of South Carolina, did not interfere, only to keep persons off.

Senator Toombs declared that it was the proper place to have chastised Mr. Sumner.

The affair is regretted by all.

The stuck used was gutta percha, about an inch in diameter, and hollow, which was broken up like a pipe stem.

About a dozen Senators, and many strangers, happened to be in the Chamber at the moment of the fight. Sumner, I learn, is badly whipped. The city is considerably excited, and crowds everywhere are discussing the last item. Sumner cried, "I'm most dead! oh, I'm most dead!" After Sumner fell between two desks, his own having been overturned, he lay bleeding, and cried out, "I am almost dead--almost dead!"

Mr. Brooks waited at the Porter's Lodge about an hour yesterday, and as long this morning, hoping to meet Mr. Sumner, with a view to attack him. Failing in this, he entered the Senate Chamber today, just as that body adjourned, and seeing several ladies present, seated himself on the opposite side to Mr. Sumner. Soon all disappeared but one. He then requested a friend to get her out, when he immediately approached Mr. Sumner, and said in a quiet tone of voice:

"Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech with great care, and with as much impartiality as I am capable of, and I feel it my duty to say to you, that you have published a libel on my State, and uttered a slander upon a relative, who is aged and absent, and I am come to punish you."

At the concluding words Mr. Sumner attempted to spring to his feet, showing fight, but whilst in the act was struck by Col. Brooks a back-handed blow across the head, with a gutta percha cane near an inch thick, but hollow, and he continued striking him right and left until the stick was broken into fragments, and Mr. Sumner was prostrate and bleeding on the floor. No one took hold of Col. B. during the time, so quick was the operation; but immediately afterwards Mr. Crittenden caught him around the body and arms, when Col. B. said, "I did not wish to hurt him much, but only whip him."

No one knew of the anticipated attack but the Hon. H. A. Edmundson, of Virginia, who happened not to be present when the attack commenced. It was reported on the streets for several days previous that Mr. Sumner would be armed when he delivered his speech and that if occasion required it he would use his weapon. He was not armed when attacked by Col. Brooks to-day. It is said, also, that Mr. Sumner gave out, before he made his speech, that he would be responsible he might say.

After his arrest Colonel Brooks went to the office of Justice Hollingshead, and tended his bond with securities to appear and answer any charge preferred by the Grand Jury. But the Justice, deeming the bond premature, discharged him upon his parole of honor to appear before him again whenever required.

Subsequently Mr. Brooks was complained of by Mr. William Y. Leader, on whose oath Justice Hollingshead required Brooks to give bail in the sum of five hundred dollars as security for his appearance to-morrow afternoon.

The most intense excitement prevails this evening among the nigger worshippers, and they intend to-morrow morning to introduce resolutions expelling Colonel Brooks from his seat in the House. They are working assiduously to accomplish this object, but they will certainly fail. [4]


[June 4, 1856] -

Messrs. Brooks and Sumner.

The Richmond Enquirer passes the following extremely spicy judgment upon the recent affair in the Senate Chamber:


"A few Southern journals, affecting an exclusive refinement of feeling or regard for the proprieties of official intercourse, unite with the abolition papers in condemning the chastisement inflicted upon Sumner by the Hon. P. S. Brooks. We have no patience with these mealy mouthed pharisees of the Press. Why not speak out and declare at once that you are shocked by the "brutality of a slaveholding ruffian?" It is much more manly to adopt the violent vocabulary of the Tribune, than to insinuate disapprobation in the meek accents of a conscience-smitten saint.

In the main, the press of the South applaud the conduct of Mr. Brooks, without condition or limitation. Our approbation at least is entire and unreserved. We consider the act good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequence. These vulgar Abolitionists int he Senate are getting above themselves. They have been humored until they forgot their position. They have grown saucy, and dare to be impudent to gentlemen! Now, they are a low, mean, scurvy set, with some little book learning, but as utterly devoid of spirit or honor as a pack of curs. Intrenched behind "privilege," they fancy they can slander the South, and insult its Representatives, with impunity.

The truth is, they have been suffered to run too long without collars. They must be lashed into submission. Summer, in particular, ought to have nine-and-thirty early every morning. He is a great strapping fellow, and could stand the cowhide beautifully. Brooks frightened him, and at the first blow of the cane he bellowed like a bull-calf. There is the blackguard Wilson, an ignorant Nantick cobbler, swaggering in excess of muscle, and absolutely dying for a beating. Will not somebody take him in hand? Hale is another huge, red face, sweating scoundrel, when some gentlemen should kick and cuff until he abates something of his impudent talk.

These men are perpetually abusing the people and representatives of the South, for tyrants, robbers, ruffians, adulterers, and what not. Shall we stand it? Can gentlemen sit still in the Senate and House of Representatives, under an incessant stream of denunciation from wretches who avail themselves of the privilege of place, to indulge their devilish passions with impunity? In the absence of an adequate law, Southern gentlemen must protect their own honor and feelings. It is an idle mockery to challenge one of these scullions. It is usually useless to attempt to disgrace them. They are insensible to shame; an dcan be brought to reason only by an application of cowhide or gutta percha. Let them once understand that for every vile word spoken against the South, they will suffer so many stripes, and they will soon learn to behave themselves, like decent dogs--they can never be gentlemen.

Mr. Brooks has initiated this salutary discipline, and he deserves applause for the bold, judicious manner, in which he chastised the scamp Sumner. It was a proper act, done at the proper time, and in the proper place. Of all places on earth the Senate chamber, the theatre of his vituperative exploits, was the very spot where Sumner should have been made to suffer for his violation of the decencies of decorous debate, and for his brutal denunciation of a venerable statesman. It was literally and entirely proper that he should be stricken down and beaten just beside the desk against which he leaned as he fulminated his filthy utterances through the capitol. It is idle to talk of the sanctity of the Senate chamber since it is polluted by the presence of such fellows as Wilson, and Sumner, and Wade. They have desecrated it, and cannot now fly to it is as a sanctuary from the lash of vengeance.

We trust other gentlemen will follow the example of Mr. Brooks, that so a curb may be imposed upon the truculence and audacity of Abolition speakers. If need be let us have a caning or cowhiding every day. If the worse come to the worse, so much the sooner so much the better. [5]


[July 17, 1856] -


The trial of P. S. Brooks for his assault on Senator Sumner, took place at Washington, on Tuesday. The District Attorney read the correspondence between himself and Mr. Sumner, to show that he had used due diligence, though unsuccessfully, to obtain the presence of Mr. Sumner, who had expressed himself as having no desire to take part in the proceedings, and had left the city. Testimony was then given in by Wm. L. Leder, who caused the arrest of Mr. Brooks after the assault on Mr. Sumner, and by J. W. Simonton, Mr. Keitt, and Senators Foster, Pearce and Toombs. The last witness (Toombs) wished to read in mitigation of the assault, at the instance of Mr. Linton, counsel of the accused extracts from Mr. Sumner's speech, reflecting on South Carolina. Drs. Boyle and Lindsley, and Senator Benjamin also gave their testimony. Mr. Brooks made a short speech, regretting that Mr. Sumner was absent. He had hoped for the benefit of interrogation concerning his (Sumner's) testimony before the House Committee. He took the ground that there are some offences for which the law affords no adequate remedy. He said while he had a heart to feel and a hand to strike, he would redress the wrongs of his political mother from every effort to cover her with obloquy and dishonor. -- His property might be squandered and his life endangered, but he would be true to her who bore him. He then bowed tot he majesty of the law to receive his sentence. Judge Crawford said, as the matter might perhaps, at the moment be subject to investigation, he would not weary the members of the House of Representatives. He would forbear to comment on the testimony, and pronounce as the judgment of the Court that Mr. Brooks pay a fine of $300. Mr. Brooks then retired with his friends. [6]


[July 18, 1856] -

The Brooks and Sumner Case -- Close of the Debate -- Resignation of Mr. Brooks. 

After a protracted debate, lasting four days, the Brooks and Sumner affair has ended, so far as the action of the House of Representatives is concerned. From the time Mr. Sumner suffered himself to be conveyed to his lodgings to the closing speech of Mr. Campbell, of Ohio, there have been reckless, determined and persistent attempts made to convert a purely private quarrel into an important adjunct to systematized political agitation. Ninety-nine out of every hundred readers of the black-republican journals firmly believe that Mr. Charles Sumner was stricken down in his seat in the Senate chamber because of his heroic championship of freedom in Kansas. Quite an equal number are of the opinion that he was beaten nearly to death with a heavy bludgeon, and that if he should ultimately recover fro his wounds, it will be with a shattered frame and disordered intellect. We do not hazard too much in saying that not more than one out of every hundred readers of the class alluded to are aware of the fact that Mr. Sumner was soundly but not dangerously punished by Mr. Brooks--not because of his hostility to southern institutions--not because of his peculiar positions on the Kansas question--but because he had committed a foul, unprovoked, and malignant libel upon his native State and upon a near, aged, and absent relative. How long this wretched deception can be kept up we are not prepared to say. Many of its authors appear to be heartily ashamed of it. Mr. Sumner himself has got tired of being housed in Washington as a bleeding martyr, and has left for parts where his excellent physical condition will not be the subject of public observation and laughing comment, and it is not too much to expect that hte discussion of the last four day sin the House, which all its attendant statements and development, will soon reach the eyes of the great mass of the people, of the North as well as the South, and the whole of this unfortunate difficulty fully comprehended and dispassionately passed upon by the public voice.

Soon after the meeting of the House yesterday it became apparent that a blunder, possibly a serious one, of some kind, had been committed by such of the black-republican leaders as have this case in charge. Mr. Campbell, of Ohio, made repeated and strenuous efforts to have the majority report of the investigating committee amended. This was resisted by Mr. Houston of Alabama, Mr. Orr of South Carolina, Mr. Letcher of Virginia, and others, on the ground that the investigating committee ceased to exist with the presentation of their report, and that an amendment offered by one of the members of the late committee had no more force and effect than an amendment offered by any other member of the House. After a running debate partly relevant, partly irrelevant, and slightly personal, the previous question was called and ordered, with the understanding that the parties implicated should have the privilege of addressing the House. Availing himself of this privilege, Mr. Edmundson, of Virginia, took the floor. He spoke for nearly an hour, and was listened to from the commencement to the close of his remarks with an eager, earnest attention by an unusually crowded house. It was a searching, an impassioned, and a powerful appeal to his brother members in their judicial capacity. He had, he said, been consulted by Mr. Brooks, as one friend would consult another who suddenly finds himself in an unpleasant personal difficulty. To have betrayed the confidence thus reposed in him would have been to render himself odious and contemptible in the eyes of all honorable men. It is true, he continued, that he accompanied Mr. Brooks at first in his hostile journey, but it was to see fair play, and he would have felt it to have been his duty to assist Mr. Sumner, in case he had had to contend against unfair odds, as he would assist Mr. Brooks in a similar state of affairs. The strongest point made by Mr. Edmundson was in the startling disclosure that he was first used by the committee as a witness and then converted into a principal. The majority of the committee carefully concealed from Mr. E. that he was implicated by them in the transaction. Not the slightest notice to that effect was given to him-- not the least chance afforded him for defense or explanation. He was tried in secret, found guilty in secret, sentenced in secret, without the formality of an indictment or even requiring his personal presence. 

The debate was closed by Mr. Campbell in a long, rambling, pointless speech. He alluded to Mr. Cobb's masterly arguments, but did not answer them. He vehemently denied that either he or his associates of the committee has sought to make political capital out of the case confided to their charge; and to show how false and foolish the charge is, he proceeded to deliver himself of a set anti-slavery speech, filled with he same ungenerous flings at the South, and the same wicked appeals to Northern sectionalism and Northern prejudices, which one expects to meet with in a harangue from Mr. Giddings, when by chance or agreement that venerable agitator gets the floor.

After the close of Mr. Campbell's remarks, a vote was taken on the various amendments which had been offered in the shape of substitutes. The question was then put on the expulsion of Mr. Brooks, and lost--yeas 121, nays 95--two-thirds not voting in the affirmative.

On the anouncement of this vote, Mr. Brooks rose and, in pursuance of previous arrangement, proceeded to address the House. With characteristic courtesy, Mr. Giddings objected to Mr. Brooks availing himself of the privilege which had been previously conceded to him and the other gentlemen implicated in the majority report. Much feeling was manifested on both sides of the House; and it is but jsut to add that a large number of the Black-Republican embers did not conceal their disapprobation of Mr. Giddings's rudeness and unfairness. -- Through the remonstrances of his own political associates, he was finally induced to withdraw his objections, and Mr. Brooks resumed his remarks. He spoke for nearly one hour with great warmth of language and earnestness of manner. At certain passages of his speech some difficulty was experienced in repressing applause in the galleries. We will endeavor, at an early day, to lay before our readers a full and corrected report of the speech. 

In the course of his remarks, Mr. Brooks stated that from the first his case had been prejudiced by a majority of his fellow-members--that he had foreseen what had now taken place--and that some twelve days ago he had provided for this contingency, by forwarding to the Governor of South Carolina his resignation as a member of the House of Representatives.

It requires no stretch of prophetic vision to foresee the result. Mr. Brook's constituents do not regard, and cannot be made to regard, his difficulty with Mr. Sumner as a sectional or a political one. They believed him to be a gentleman of warm and generous impulses, and, in the ardor of his nature, not disposed to set from prudential considerations when the honor of his State and the reputation of a relative have been ruthlessly and deliberately assailed. So believing, their suffrages will be unanimously and enthusiastically given for his return to the seat which he has thus voluntarily vacated.

Washington Union. [7]


[September 19, 1856] -

Col. Brooks.

The Washington correspondent of the San Francisco Globe writes as follows:

Much has been said in some of your papers about the ruffianism displayed by Col. Brooks in his attack upon Sumner. The editors knew nothing of that which they wrote except through the medium of such papers as the N. Y. Tribune, Times and Herald, who prefer falsehood to fact even if the latter would better serve their purpose.

As to Sumner, it now appears and has been proven, that he is in every sense wanting in every characteristic constituting a gentleman. He wrote out the testimony given by him to the Committee and published it in advance of the report of the Committee, so as to anticipate the report and keep up the excitement. Col. Brooks was arraigned before the Criminal Court, and plead guilty and was fined $300. He was anxious to have Sumner brought before the Court and examined as a witness, but Sumner ran away on the day before the trial, for fear that his testimony in the most material point would have been discredited. Sumner was not severely hurt as may be seen by the testimony of Dr. Boyle, and the appearance of the man himself.

He is now at Cape May in good health, but actually ashamed to make his appearance in his seat.  The basest and falsest statements have been made in relation to the attack. The facts are, that Col. Brooks approached Sumner and said to him "I have read your speech with as much deliberation as I was capable of, and sir, it is a libel on my State and a slander on my kinsman, and I deem it my duty to chastise you." Upon which he tapped Sumner across the face, not to hurt, but to insult him. Sumner sprang to his feet and towards Brooks, and then commenced his blows. Mr. Sumner is upwards of six feet two inches in stature, weighs forty pounds more than Brooks, one of the most symmetrical men I ever saw, and the most powerful and athletic gymnast in the country, while Brooks is a cripple, his left arm shrunk to one-half its natural size, and severely injured in the hips and spine, from wounds received while a Captain in the Palmett regiment, during the Mexican war, while Sumner was getting off tirades in favor of the Mexicans. [8]


[1] Column 2. New York Tribune, New York, NY. May 21, 1856. Page 4.

[2] "Argument of the chivalry." American cartoon print filing series, LOC. For more information see:

[3] "The Assault in the Senate Chamber Yesterday." The Evening Star, Washington, DC. May 23, 1856. Page 2. LOC.

[4] "Messrs. Brooks and Sumner." Charleston Mercury, Charleston, SC. May 26, 1856. Page 2. Includes reprint of a New York Herald report. 

[5] "Messrs. Brooks and Sumner." Charleston Mercury, Charleston, SC. June 4, 1856. Page 2. Reprinted from the Richmond Enquirer.

[6] "Trial of Brooks for the Sumner Assault." Farmer's Cabinet, Amherst, NH. July 17, 1856. Page 2.

[7] "The Brooks and Sumner Case." Charleston Mercury, Charleston, SC. July 18, 1856. Page 2. Reprinted from the Washington Union.

[8] "Col. Brooks." Charleston Courier, Charleston, SC. September 19, 1856. Page 1. Reprinted from the San Francisco Globe.


No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...