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May 22, 2018

ON THIS DAY IN 1856, CONGRESSMAN PRESTON BROOKS (D-SC) BEAT SENATOR CHARLES SUMNER (R-Mass) WITHIN AN INCH OF HIS LIFE ON THE FLOOR OF U.S. SENATE: Two days earlier, at the height of the “Bleeding Kansas” crisis, Sumner had given an impassioned speech against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and against slavery itself. Brooks, whose cousin Senator Andrew Butler had been instrumental in the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, viewed the beating with a cane as an acting of retaliation for defamation. Sumner was lucky to survive.   It was years before he was able to continue his work at the Senate full time.

If you think we’re polarized now, try 1856: William Cullen Bryant in the New York Evening Post wrote: “Has it come to this, that we must speak with bated breath in the presence of our Southern masters?… Are we to be chastised as they chastise their slaves? Are we too, slaves, slaves for life, a target for their brutal blows, when we do not comport ourselves to please them?” On the other hand, the Richmond Enquirer editorialized that “vulgar abolitionists in the Senate” should be “lashed into submission.”