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State; and with incoherent phrases discharged the loose CHAP. III. expectoration of his speech, now upon her representative and then upon her people. There was no extravagance of the ancient parliamentary debate which he did not repeat; nor was there any possible deviation from truth which he did not make, with so much of passion, I am glad to add, as to save him from the suspicion of intentional aberration. But the Senator touches nothing which he does not disfigure - with error, sometimes of principle, sometimes of fact. He shows an incapacity of accuracy, whether in stating the Constitution or in stating the law, whether in details of statistics or the diversions of scholarship. He cannot open his mouth but out there flies a blunder.


Butler was not present in the Senate on either day; what he might have said or done, had he been there, can only be conjectured. The immediate replies from Douglas and others were very bitter. Among pro-slavery members of both Houses there was an under-current of revengeful murmurs. is possible that this hostile manifestation may have decided a young member of the House, Preston S. Brooks, a nephew of Senator Butler, to undertake retaliation by violence. Acquainting Henry A. Edmundson, another member, with his design, he waited on two different occasions at the western entrance to the Capitol grounds to encounter Mr. Sumner, but without meeting him.

On the 22d of May, two days after the speech, Brooks entered the Senate Chamber on the same errand. The session had been short, and after adjournment Sumner remained at his desk, engaged in writing. The sessions were at that time held in the old Senate Chamber, now occupied by the Supreme Court. The seats were arranged in semicircles, with a railing to separate them from a VOL. II.—4


CHAP. III. narrow lobby or open space next the wall; a broad aisle ran from the main door to the desk of the presiding officer. Mr. Sumner's seat was in the outside row next to the railing, at the second desk to the right from the entrance and the main aisle. Occupied with his work, Mr. Sumner did not notice Mr. Brooks, sitting across the aisle to his left, and where in conversation with a friend he was manifesting his impatience that a lady seated near Mr. Sumner did not take her departure from the chamber. Almost at that moment she arose and went out; quickly afterwards Brooks got up and advanced to the front of Sumner's desk. The act attracted the attention of Brooks's friend; he was astonished, amid the bitterness of party feeling, to see a South Carolina Representative talk to a Massachusetts Senator. His astonishment was quickly corrected. Leaning upon the desk and addressing Sumner with a rapid sentence or two, to the effect that he had read his speech, that it was a libel upon his absent relative, and that he had come to punish him for it, Brooks began striking him on the head with a gutta-percha walkingcane, of the ordinary length and about an inch in diameter.

Surprised, blinded and stunned by the blows, Sumner's first instinct was to grapple with his assailant. This effort, however, was futile; the desk was between them, and being by his sitting posture partially under it, Sumner was prevented from rising fully to his feet until he had by main strength, in his struggles, wrenched it from its fastenings on the floor. In his attempt to follow Brooks they became turned, and from between the

desks moved out into the main aisle. By this time, CHAP. III. through the repetition of the heavy blows and loss of blood, Sumner became unconscious. Brooks, seizing him by the coat-collar, continued his murderous attack till Sumner, reeling in utter helplessness, sank upon the floor beside the desk nearest the aisle, one row nearer the center of the chamber than his own. The witnesses variously estimated the number of blows given at from ten to thirty. Two principal wounds, two inches long and an inch deep, had been cut on the back of Sumner's head; and near the end of the attack, Brooks's cane was shivered to splinters.

There were perhaps ten or fifteen persons in the chamber, and after the first momentary pause of astonishment half a dozen started to interfere. Before they reached the spot, however, Lawrence M. Keitt, another South Carolina Representative, came rushing down the main aisle, brandishing his cane, and with imprecations warning lookers-on to "let them alone." Among those hastening to the rescue, Mr. Morgan arrived first, just in time to catch and sustain the Senator as he fell. Another bystander, who had run round outside the railing, seized Brooks by the arm about the same instant; and the wounded man was borne to an adjoining room, where he was cared for by a hastily summoned physician.

Among Mr. Sumner's friends the event created a certain degree of consternation. The language which provoked the assault, whatever might be thought of its offensive character, was strictly parliamentary, uninterrupted either by the chair or by any member. The assault itself was so des

CHAP. III. perate and brutal that it implied a vindictiveness deeper than mere personal revenge. This spirit of bullying, this resort to violence, had recently become alarmingly frequent among members of Congress, especially as it all came from the proslavery party. Since the beginning of the current session, a pro-slavery member from Virginia had assaulted the editor of a Washington newspaper; another pro-slavery member, from Arkansas, had violently attacked Horace Greeley on the street; a third pro-slavery member, from California, had shot an unoffending waiter at Willard's Hotel. Was this fourth instance the prelude of an intention to curb or stifle free Congressional debate? It is probable that this question was seriously considered at the little caucus of Republican Senators held that night at the house of Mr. Seward. The Republicans had only a slender minority in the Senate, and a plurality in the House; they could do nothing but resolve on a course of parliamentary inquiry, and agree on an attitude of defense.

Sumner's colleague, Henry Wilson, made a very brief announcement of the occurrence to the Senate on the following day, and it at once became apparent that the transaction would assume an almost strictly party character. As no Democratic Senator proposed an inquiry, Mr. Seward moved for a committee of investigation; upon which James M. Mason, of Virginia, proposed that the committee should be elected by ballot. The result was that no Republican was chosen upon it; and the committee reached the conclusion that it had no power in the premises, except to report the occurrence to the House. In the House the usual committee

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