View single post by susansweet
 Posted: Fri May 4th, 2007 03:21 pm
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Joined: Sun Sep 4th, 2005
Location: California USA
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Ole I found this transcript of the caning witnessed by Isaac Bassett a Senator. 
Very interesting stuff.

I witness[ed] the attack on Senator Sumner by Mr. Brooks of South Carolina in 1856. Sumner was sitting in his seat, addressing the speech to his constituents when Mr. Brooks approached him from the front aisle (this was on the 22 of May) and said, “I have come over from the House to chastise you for the remarks that you made. I have read your speech, it is a libel on South Carolina and against my relative Senator Butler.” At the same time raising his cane, and struck him three time on the head. Mr. Sumner arose from his seat and made an effort to take hold of Mr. Brooks, but the last blow brought him to the floor. It was all done in a minute. As soon as he fell Senator Cass, myself and Arthur Gorman and several lifted him up, and we led him out to the Reception Room of the Senate. I got towels and a basin of water. Washed his head. He walked back down to the front door of the Capitol, got a hack, and went to his lodgings. In the meantime, Brooks and his friends, Mr. Edmundson of Virginia and Mr. Keitt of South Carolina, returned to the House. The cane that Mr. Brooks used was broken in small pieces. I have a piece now in my possession. It was a gutta percha cane an inch thick, the cane broke into fragments. It was the speech that Mr. Sumner delivered on the 19 and 20 of May that caused Mr. Brooks to cane him.

Mr. St. John, one of the employees of the Senate, was picking up the loose paper from the floor and picked up the head of Mr. Brooks’ cane. Mr. Douglas then being in the Senate asked him for it. He gave it to him. What Mr. Douglas done with it I never knew. [1A18-1A20]

Mr. Sumner delivered on the 19 and 20 of May 1856 his speech on the “Crime Against Kansas,” it was marked by his usual efforts of learning and great force. Among those senators he alluded to were Mr. Butler and Douglas, who had singled him out for special attack. It was for words spoken in those speeches that Mr. Brooks, a member of the House from South Carolina, came over from the House after the adjournment of the Senate on the 22 of May. Mr. Sumner at his desk—engaged in sending the very speech to which Mr. Brooks alluded to—while [Mr. Sumner] so engaged, Brooks approached him and said, “I have read your speech twice over, carefully, it is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler who is a relative of mine,” and then immediately with a cane gave him three blows on the head. The last blow broke the cane in pieces and brought Mr. Sumner senseless to the floor. He was taken up and carried in the anteroom of the Senate, where every assistance was paid to him. I immediately got a basin of water and towels and assisted to wash the blood from his head and face. He was then able to go in a carriage to his lodgings. . . . [14D76-14D77, 14D80]

Mr. H.H. St. John being present when Mr. Brooks of South Carolina made the assault upon Charles Sumner in the Senate, says that “Mr. Brooks stood in front [of] Mr. Sumner talking with him. Suddenly he struck Mr. Sumner over the head with a black gutta percha cane that he had in his hand, and felled Mr. Sumner to the floor. The cane flew to pieces and I picked up the gold head of the cane and handed it to Mr. S.A. Douglas who stood by. Mr. Rusk, Mr. Douglas, and others stood by but did not interfere. Mr. Bassett assisted Mr. Sumner to the Reception Room and bathed his head which bled profusely.

-Mr. H.H. St. John” [14D92]

Mr. Sumner was sitting at his desk in [the] Senate Chamber after the adjournment of the Senate, engaged in franking the very speech which was so offensive to the nephew of his uncle—the “Crime Against Kansas”—when the redoubtable Brooks approached {in a threatening manner/stating (How?)} and said: “I have read your speech twice over, carefully; it is a libel on SC and Sen. Butler who is a relative of mine.” He then immediately, without waiting for a reply, without having previously indicating his purposes of violence, or giving Mr. Sumner an opportunity of putting himself on the defensive, assaulted Mr. S[umner] with a stout cane, giving him three heavy blows on the head. Under the last blow the cane broke into pieces, and Mr. S. sank senseless to the floor. He was taken up and carried into the anteroom of the Senate. Every {assistance/attention} was rendered him. The blood was washed from his face and head, and when able was taken in a carriage to his lodgings. [20E115-20E116]

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About This Transcript »

Editor's Note:

Less than a decade prior to the Civil War, the issues of states’ rights and slavery were at the forefront of congressional debates and speeches. A distinct and harsh division formed between those congressmen who supported the right of states to choose if slavery was accepted, and those who favored abolition of slavery by federal law. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts delivered his famous “Crime Against Kansas” speech. In that speech Sumner insulted slave states and Southern senators, most notably Andrew Butler of South Carolina whose relative, Preston Brooks, served in the House of Representatives at the time.

People, Places, & Things:

  • Charles Sumner (Free Soil, Opposition, Republican, Liberal Republican - MA) U.S. senator 1851-1855, 1855-1857, 1857-1873, and 1873-1874.
  • Preston Smith Brooks (Democrat - SC) U.S. representative 1853-1856 and 1856-1857. He resigned from the House of Representatives in 1856 because of his role in the attack on Charles Sumner, but was reelected to fill the vacancy caused by his own resignation.
  • Andrew Pickens Butler (Democrat - SC) U.S. senator 1846-1857.
  • Lewis Cass (Democrat - MI) U.S. senator 1845-1848 and 1849-1857.
  • Arthur Pue Gorman - Gorman served the Senate as a page, messenger, assistant doorkeeper, assistant postmaster, and finally postmaster. Later he served as the Democratic senator from Maryland from 1881-1899 and 1903-1906.
  • Reception Room - Bassett is likely referring to the lobby area adjacent to the Old Senate Chamber.
  • Hack - A carriage for hire, precursor to the modern taxicab.
  • Henry Alonzo Edmundson (Democrat - VA) U.S. representative 1849-1861.
  • Laurence Massillon Keitt (Democrat - SC) U.S. representative 1853-1856 and 1856-1860. He resigned from the House of Representatives in 1856 because of his role in the attack on Charles Sumner, but was reelected to fill the vacancy caused by his own resignation.
  • Stephen Arnold Douglas (Democrat - IL) U.S. senator 1847-1861.
  • Thomas Jefferson Rusk (Democrat - TX) U.S. senator 1846-1857.


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