The Negro and the Nation: A History of American Slavery and Enfranchisement

By George S. Merriam | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
"FREMONT AND FREEDOM"

THE Congress of 1855-6, divided between an administration Senate and an opposition House, accomplished little but talk. One chapter of this talk had a notable sequel. Charles Sumner, in an elaborate and powerful oration in the Senate, denounced slavery, "the sum of all villainies," and bitterly satirized one of its prominent defenders, Senator Butler of South Carolina. He compared Butler to Don Quixote, enamored of slavery as was the knight of his Dulcinea, and unconscious that instead of a peerless lady she was but a wanton. The response to the speech was made by a nephew of Senator Butler and member of the House, Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina. He entered the Senate chamber during a recess, accompanied and guarded by a friend and fellow member, Lawrence Keitt; approached Sumner as he sat writing at his desk, and without words felled him to the ground with a heavy cane, and beat him about the head till he was insensible. Sumner, a man of fine physique, was for a long time an invalid from the assault, and was unable for years to resume his place in the Senate.

It was not so much the individual act of Brooks as its treatment by his party and section that gave the deepest significance to the deed and produced the most lasting meffect. A friendly magistrate sentenced Brooks to a nominal fine and so forestalled further prosecution. His party friends in Congress left all public rebuke of the deed to Republicans. A motion to expel Brooks and Keitt from

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