Caning of Charles Sumner

By: Tori Holmberg, Jacy Van Arkel, Brenden Lasola

"A Crime Against Kansas"

"The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress 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 in his sight -- I mean the harlot, slavery."

"But the senator touches nothing which he does not disfigure -- with error, sometimes of principles, sometimes of fact. He shows an incapacity of accuracy, whether in stating the Constitution or in stating the law, whether in the details of statistics or the diversions of scholarship. He cannot open his mouth, but out there flies a blunder. Surely he ought to be familiar with the life of Franklin; and yet he referred to this household character, while acting as agent of our fathers in England, as above suspicion; and this was done that he might give point to a false contrast with the agent of Kansas -- not knowing, that, however they may differ in genius and fame, in this experience they are alike, that Franklin, when intrusted with the petition of Massachusetts Bay, was assaulted by a foul-mouthed speaker, where he could not be heard in defence, and denounced as a "thief" even as the agent of Kansas has been assaulted in this floor, and denounced as a "forger." And let not the vanity of the senator be inspired by the parallel with the British statesmen of that day; for it is only in hostility to freedom that any parallel can be recognized."

"Next comes the Remedy of Folly, which, indeed, is also a Remedy of Tyranny; but its Folly is so surpassing as to eclipse even its Tyranny. It does not proceed from the President. With this proposition he is not in any way chargeable. It comes from the senator from South Carolina, who, at the close of a long speech, offered it as a single contribution to the adjustment of this question, and who, thus far, stands alone in its support. It might, therefore, fitly bear his name; but that which I now give to it is a more suggestive synonym."

Charles Sumner

  • Born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 6, 1811
  • Graduated from the Harvard Law School in 1833
  • One of the founders of the Free Soil Party in 1848
  • Elected into the Senate as a Free Soiler in 1851
  • Died in Washington, D.C, March 11, 1874

Sumner was a leader of antislavery forces in Massachusetts. During the "Bleeding Kansas" crisis, he gave the speech "A Crime Against Kansas," denouncing the Kansas-Nebraska Act. One of the creators of this act was a senator from South Carolina name Andrew Butler. Within this speech, Sumner bashes on Butler countless times. Preston Brooks, Butlers nephew, heard this speech and was angered about what Sumner stated about his Uncle. Brooks approached Sumner in the Senate on May 22, and beat Sumner with his cane.

Andrew Butler

  • Born in Edgefield, South Carolina on November 18,1796
  • Graduated from the present day University of South Carolina in 1817
  • Judge of the State court of common pleas 1835-1846
  • Senator from South Carolina from 1846-1857
  • Died near Edgefield, S.C. on May 25, 1857

Andrew Butler had recently been incapacitated by a stroke and was recovering in South Carolina. Sumner ridiculed him saying that Butler had taken as his mistress “the harlot, slavery.” As a Northerner Sumner felt that slavery in the South was immoral and he mocked the state of South Carolina. Butler advocated popular sovereignty and supported slavery expanding westward.

Preston Brooks

  • Born in Edgefield District, South Carolina on August 5, 1819
  • Graduated for the present day University at South Carolina in 1839
  • Member of the State House of Representatives in 1844
  • Served in the Mexican War
  • Democrat in Congress from March 4, 1853 until July 15, 1856
  • Attacked Charles Sumner on May 22, 1856 due to insulting comments he made to his Uncle- later resigned
  • Died in Washington, D.C. on January 27, 1857

Preston Brooks, a member of the House of Representatives from South Carolina, was enraged by the speech Sumner delivered. Brooks walked into the chamber of the United States Senate and savagely beat Charles Sumner. Sumner was in such agony that he tore his bolted desk from the floor, collapsed, bleeding and unconscious. Southerners viewed this as an act of chivalry on Brooks' part, because he was "defending his family."

The Civil War: The Caning of Charles Sumner

Northern and Southern Perspectives


  • Thought that "dueling" over chivalry was savage
  • Saw Preston Brooks as an animal for what he did to Sumner, especially because Sumner was from the North


  • Whites males adopted a code of chivalry - often led to dueling, thus the reason behind why Brooks felt the need to approach Sumner
  • Honor connected to the idea of ethical behavior and bravery but also dignity and authority in the public's perspective
  • Southern people felt that the caning was an appropriate thing to do, because he was protecting his family's dignity
  • Preston Brooks was seen as a hero for defending his family's honor

Works Cited

"Charles Sumner." American Civil War Reference Library. Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom. Ed. Lawrence W. Baker. Vol. 2: Biographies. Detroit: UXL, 2000. 445-452. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.

"Sumner, Charles." Gale Encyclopedia of American Law. Ed. Donna Batten. 3rd ed. Vol. 9. Detroit: Gale, 2010. 437-438. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

"U.S. Senate: Art & History Home Historical Minutes 1851-1877 The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner." U.S. Senate: Art & History Home Historical Minutes 1851-1877 The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <>.

McNamara, Robert. "Violence Over Slavery on the Floor of the US Senate." 19th Century History., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <>.

"Butler, Andrew Pickens." BUTLER, Andrew Pickens. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <>.

"Brooks, Preston Smith." BROOKS, Preston Smith - Biographical Information. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. <>.

"THE CRIME AGAINST KANSAS:THE APOLOGIES FOR THE CRIME:THE TRUE REMEDY." Furman: The Crime Against Kansas, by Charles Sumner. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.

"SUMNER, Charles - Biographical Information." SUMNER, Charles - Biographical Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013. <>.