Hated in the South

Certain that Southern politicians would soon try to spread slavery into the West, Sumner joined with Ohio senator Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873) and several other antislav-ery congressmen to issue a document called The Appeal of the Independent Democrats. This document criticized the KansasNebraska Act as "part . . . of an atrocious [terrible] plot [to convert the West] into a dreary region of despotism [tyranny], inhabited by masters and slaves. . . . Whatever apologies may be offered for the toleration of slavery in the States, none can be offered for its extension into Territories where it does not exist." Around this same time, Sumner helped organize the national Republican Party, which soon became the leading antislavery political party in the country. Finally, Sumner continued to deliver public speeches in which he harshly criticized the law and the morality (principles of right and wrong conduct) of Southern slaveholders. His fiery words made him a favorite of Northern abolitionists. But in America's slaveholding states, dislike for Sumner grew into outright hatred.

In May 1856, mounting Southern anger over Sumn-er's harsh criticism of their society and morals finally erupted into a violent incident that became one of the most famous events in U.S. Senate history. On May 19 and 20, 1856, Sumner delivered a speech called "The Crime Against Kansas," in which he condemned Southern leaders for their efforts to expand slavery into Kansas and other territories. During the course of his speech, he criticized a number of Southern politicians by name, including Senator Andrew P. Butler (1796-1857) of South Carolina. At one point, for example, Sumner declared that "[Senator Butler] has chosen a mistress

Butler And Mistress
An editorial cartoon pokes fun at Southern chivalry by showing the attack of Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner by South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks. (Reproduced with permission of Corbis-Bettmann.)

to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste [pure] in his sight. I mean the harlot [prostitute] slavery."

Two days later, South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks, who was Butler's nephew, strode over to where Sumner was seated in the Senate chambers. Without warning, Brooks beat Sumner senseless with his cane. By the time other congressmen intervened to end the assault, Sumner lay bloody and semiconscious on the floor of the Senate.

The attack on Senator Sumner immediately became a symbol of Southern brutality and viciousness across much of the North. "Has it come to this, that we must speak with bated breath [cautiously or quietly] in the presence of our Southern masters?" wrote poet and editor William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) in the New York Evening Post. "Are we to be chastised [punished] as they chastise their slaves? Are we too, slaves, slaves for life, a target for their brutal blows, when we do not comport [behave] ourselves to please them?" Northern outrage over the incident became even greater when the South treated Brooks like a hero. Southerners praised him for defending the region's honor, and South Carolina voters reelected him to the Senate a few months after the attack. The only punishment that Brooks received for his actions was a $300 fine handed out by a district court. Sumner, meanwhile, spent the next three years recuperating from his injuries.

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