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 Posted: Fri May 4th, 2007 02:46 am
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Actually, it was not another US Senator that thrashed Sen. Charles Sumner (Mass.) with a gutta-percha cane on the Senate floor on May 22, 1856. It was US Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina. Brooks was upset over a speech Sumner had made a few days earlier that had been critical of President Pierce and Southerners that approved of the pro-slavery violence then occrring in Kansas. Among those Sumner lambasted was Senator Andrew Butler (S.C.), who was a relative of Brooks. Brooks had fumed over the perceived insult to his state and his kinsman. He had considered challenging Sumner to a duel, but had been informed that honorable duels could only be fought between equals. In Brooks' mind, Sumner was a drunkard and an abolutionist, and thus his social inferior.

Brooks entered the nearly empty Senate chamber, and spoke to Sumner, who was working at his desk. He said, "Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine."

Brooks then proceeded to beat Sumner with his cane. Several Senators rushed to stop the fight, but were held off at pistolpoint by US Representative Laurence Keitt of South Carolina.

Ah, those were the days, eh? What a bunch of wusses we have in Washington these days, LOL!

Last edited on Fri May 4th, 2007 02:47 am by medicboymatt

 Posted: Fri May 4th, 2007 02:46 pm
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Wikipedia has gutta-percha as the hardened sap of the percha tree -- when processed, a rubbery substance and, when hardened, a hard material.

It also has Representative Preston Brooks (thanks for the correction, medicboymatt) as using a cane of gutta-percha wood. I read this to mean that the cane was carved of the wood of a percha tree, but I suppose it could mean simply that there was confusion about the material itself.

Just a thought.


 Posted: Fri May 4th, 2007 03:21 pm
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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]

View Manuscript »

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.


 Posted: Fri May 4th, 2007 03:22 pm
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And here is what Preston Brooks has to say: 
Some time since a Senator from Massachusetts allowed himself, in an elaborately prepared speech, to offer a gross insult to my State, and to a venerable friend, who is my State representative, and who was absent at the time.
Not content with that, he published to the world, and circulated extensively, this uncalled for libel on my State and my blood. Whatever insults my State insults me. Her history and character have commanded my pious veneration; and in her defence I hope I shall always be prepared, humbly and modestly, to perform the duty of a son. I should have forfeited my own self-respect, and perhaps the good opinion of my countrymen, if I had failed to resent such an injury by calling the offender in question to a personal account. It was a personal affair, and in taking redress into my own hands I meant no disrespect to the Senate of the United States or to this House. Nor, sir, did I design insult or disrespect to the State of Massachusetts. I was aware of the personal responsibilities I incurred, and was willing to meet them. I knew, too, that I was amenable to the laws of the country, which afford the same protection to all, whether they be members of Congress or private citizens. I did not, and do not now believe, that I could be properly punished, not only in a court of law, but here also, at the pleasure and discretion of the House. I did not then, and do not now, believe that the spirit of American freemen would tolerate slander in high places, and permit a member of Congress to publish and circulate a libel on another, and then call upon either House to protect him against the personal responsibilities which he had thus incurred. But if I had committed a breach of privilege, it was the privilege of the Senate, and not of this House, which was violated. I was answerable there, and not here. They had no right, as it seems to me, to prosecute me in these Halls, nor have you the right in law or under the Constitution, as I respectfully submit, to take jurisdiction over offences committed against them. The Constitution does not justify them in making such a request, nor this House in granting it. If, unhappily, the day should ever come when sectional or party feeling should run so high as to control all other considerations of public duty or justice, how easy it will be to use such precedents for the excuse of arbitrary power, in either House, to expel members of the minority who may have rendered themselves obnoxious to the prevailing spirit in the House to which they belong.
Matters may go smoothly enough when one House asks the other to punish a member who is offensive to a majority of its own body but how will it be when, upon a presence of insulted dignity, demands are made of this House to expel a member who happens to run counter to its party predilections, or other demands which it may not be so agreeable to grant ? It could never have been designed by the Constitution of the United States to expose the two Houses to such temptations to collision, or to extend so far the discretionary power which was given to either House to punish its own members for the violation of its rules and orders. Discretion has been said to be the law of the tyrant, and when exercised under the color of the law, and under the influence of party dictation, it may and will become a terrible and insufferable despotism.
This House, however, it would seem, from the unmistakable tendency of its proceedings, takes a different view from that which I deliberately entertain in common with many others.
So far as public interests or constitutional rights are involved, I have now exhausted my means of defence. I may, then, be allowed to take a more personal view of the question at issue. The further prosecution of this subject, in the shape it has now assumed, may not only involve my friends, but the House itself, in agitations which might be unhappy in their consequences to the country. If these consequences could be confined to myself individually, I think I am prepared and ready to meet them, here or elsewhere; and when I use this language I mean what I say. But others must not suffer for me. I have felt more on account of my two friends who have been implicated, than for myself, for they have proven that " there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." I will not constrain gentlemen to assume a responsibility on my account, which possibly they would not run on their own.
Sir, I cannot, on my own account, assume the responsibility, in the face of the American people, of commencing a line of conduct which in my heart of hearts I believe would result in subverting the foundations of this Government, and in drenching this Hall in blood. No act of mine, on my personal account, shall inaugurate revolution; but when you, Mr. Speaker, return to your own home, and hear the people of the great North and they are a great people speak of me as a bad man, you will do me the justice to say that a blow struck by me at this time would be followed by revolution and this I know. (Applause and hisses in the gallery.)
Mr. Brooks (resuming): If I desired to kill the Senator, why did not I do it? You all admit that I had him in my power. Let me tell the member from New Jersey that it was expressly to avoid taking life that I used an ordinary cane, presented to me by a friend in Baltimore, nearly three months before its application to the " bare head " of the Massachusetts Senator. I went to work very deliberately, as I am charged and this is admitted and speculated somewhat as to whether I should employ a horsewhip or a cowhide; but knowing that the Senator was my superior in strength, it occurred to me that he might wrest it from my hand, and then for I never attempt any thing I do not perform I might have been compelled to do that which I would have regretted the balance of my natural life.
The question has been asked in certain newspapers, why I did not invite the Senator to personal combat in the mode usually adopted. Well, sir, as I desire the whole truth to be known about the matter, I will for once notice a newspaper article on the floor of the House, and answer here.
My answer is, that the Senator would not accept a message; and having formed the unalterable determination to punish him, I believed that the offence of "sending a hostile message," superadded to the indictment for assault and battery, would subject me to legal penalties more severe than would be imposed for a simple assault and battery. That is my answer.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I have nearly finished what I intended to say. If my opponents, who have pursued me with unparalleled bitterness, are satisfied with the present condition of this affair, I am. I return my thanks to my friends, and especially to those who are from non- slave-owning States, who have magnanimously sustained me, and felt that it was a higher honor to themselves to be just in their judgment of a gentleman than to be a member of Congress for life. In taking my leave, I feel that it is proper that I should say that I believe that some of the votes that have been cast against me have been extorted by an outside pressure at home, and that their votes do not express the feelings or opinions of the members who gave them.
To such of these as have given their votes and made their speeches on the constitutional principles involved, and without indulging in personal vilification, I owe my respect. But, sir, they have written me down upon the history of the country as worthy of expulsion, and in no unkindness I must tell them that for all future time my self-respect requires that I shall pass them as strangers.
And now, Mr. Speaker, I announce to you and to this House, that I am no longer a member of the Thirty-Fourth Congress. (Mr. Brooks then walked out of the House of Representatives.)

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