Politics can stir most anyone’s dander. Personally, I avoid it like a pandemic. But I can’t say the same for everyone. Can you?
Congressional discord and infighting are grim realities of today’s political climate. And violent racial protests on city streets have become almost commonplace. But they are hardly new. Take, for example, what South Carolina U.S. Representative Preston S. Brooks perpetrated on Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner.
Brooks Historical Histrionics
According to an account at www.ushistory.org, Senator Sumner, an avowed abolitionist, gave a bitter speech after the sack of Lawrence, Kansas on May 21, 1856 . He blasted the murderous robbers from Missouri. He called them hirelings, picked from the drunken spew and vomit of an uneasy civilization.
- The Sacking of Lawrence occurred on May 21, 1856. Antislavery settlers from Massachusetts hoped to make Kansas a free state. Proslavery settlers, led by Douglas County Sheriff Samuel J. Jones, attacked and
ransacked Lawrence, Kansas. The incident fueled the irregular conflict in Kansas Territory that later became known as Bleeding Kansas.
Part of Sumner’s speech was a bitter, personal tirade against South Carolina’s Senator Andrew Butler. Sumner declared him an imbecile. “Senator Butler has chosen a mistress. I mean the harlot, slavery.” Stephen Douglas predicted that a fool like Sumner would likely get himself killed by another fool. The speech went on for two days. And another two days passed before the prediction proved true. (C-Span would have a field day!)
Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina was a Southerner raised to live by an unwritten code of honor. Defending the reputation of his family sat squarely at the top of the list.
As a distant cousin of Senator Butler, Brooks entered the Senate chamber where Sumner was working at his desk. “You’ve libeled my state and slandered my white-haired old relative, Senator Butler. I’ve come to punish you for it.”
Brooks struck Sumner over the head repeatedly with a gold-tipped cane. The cane shattered as Brooks administered blow after blow. But Brooks could not be stopped. Only after being physically restrained did Brooks end the pummeling.
Northerners were incensed. The House levied Brooks a $300 fine when they were unable to garner the votes to expel him. He resigned and returned home. South Carolina held events in his honor and reelected him to his House seat. Supporters sent replacement canes to Brooks from all over the South. This response outraged northern moderates even more than the caning itself.
His physical and psychological injuries kept Charles Sumner away from the Senate for most of the next several years. Massachusetts voters reelected him and let his seat sit vacant during his absence as a reminder of southern brutality. The Kansas violence had spilled over into national politics.
Sounds like a scene from a novel. Would you enjoy reading about such historical histrionics?
Which brings me back to politics today.
News outlets have shown a few brawls in legislative bodies in other countries. And both violent and peaceful political gatherings have made the news in the U.S. Political and religious fanaticism has taken some to extremes. Unfortunately, we’ve had to turn off TVs to find peace amid the turmoil. Would you close a book for the same reason?
So far, we haven’t seen physical brawls among members of Congress like this one. But would it surprise you?
Lord, deliver us from such actions. Make us peacemakers instead. And – please – keep the canes out of Congress.
~ For Jesus’ sake ~