168 years ago, a senator was brutally attacked amidst heated debates about slavery in Kansas

In a shocking incident that took place on May 22, 1856, South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks physically assaulted Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner within the hallowed halls of the U.S. Senate chambers (U.S. Senate).

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner demonstrated immense bravery and selflessness in his relentless pursuit of freedom for the people of Kansas.

168 years ago, on May 22, 1856, he endured a brutal assault by the deranged South Carolina Representative, Preston Brooks. Sumner had just given a passionate speech denouncing the immorality of slavery and those who supported it within the chamber. The speech was titled “The Crime Against Kansas.” During this period, the status of Kansas as a potential state was a subject of dispute between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions.

According to the Senate Historical Office, the event was described as “one of the most dramatic and deeply ominous moments in the Senate’s entire history.”

The news was almost unbelievable to Northerners, as the Republican Party, newly formed, experienced significant electoral gains during that summer. Southerners, on the other hand, celebrated the violence by reelecting Brooks to his office and showering him with hundreds of canes as gifts.

The stage was set for the onset of the Civil War.

The impact of summer can still be observed in various parts of Kansas. Sumner County, home to Wellington and Belle Plaine, was founded on February 26, 1867, and named after the influential senator, as mentioned in the book “1001 Kansas Place Names”. Another noteworthy tribute is the Sumner Academy of Arts and Science in Kansas City, Kansas, which was initially a segregated institution but has now transformed into a prestigious magnet school catering to exceptionally talented students. Additionally, Sumner Elementary School in Topeka played a pivotal role in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case.

However, it is important to acknowledge that Sumner’s perspective holds validity.

It is important to remember that having a strong and deeply-held opinion does not automatically make it right. Being passionate about a cause does not inherently make you or the cause virtuous.

Sumner’s caustic nature often led to him being disliked by his fellow colleagues in the Senate. Some argue that if he had been more open to compromise, he may have been able to achieve even more in terms of protecting the rights and lives of individuals who differed from him. Sadly, he passed away without accomplishing his most significant objective: the enactment of a comprehensive civil rights legislation. It took another 80 years for this goal to be realized, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

In his influential speech of 1856, Sumner passionately expressed his disapproval of the use of force in Kansas, saying, “When the entire world, regardless of religious beliefs or nationality, unites in condemning this injustice and making it a disgrace to nations, here in our Republic, force, yes, force has been openly utilized to impose this contamination on Kansas, all for the sake of political power.”

It is important for Kansans to be acquainted with Sumner’s principled positions rather than just being familiar with his name or remembering a few violent moments in the Senate chambers.

Comparing 1856 to 2024, one cannot help but ponder the statesman’s impact and enduring legacy. Fortunately, we have made significant strides towards freedom and equality since then. It is comforting to imagine that our Massachusetts lawmaker would take pride in the progress our nation has achieved.

Can we effectively engage in debates about difficult topics? Are we able to navigate through our differences and find common ground? If we fail to do so, could we potentially descend into a state of chaos and civil unrest?

So far, we have not witnessed any physical altercations between senators or representatives on the floors of their respective chambers. While there may be heated exchanges of words, we have yet to see members of the Freedom Caucus engaging in physical confrontations with members of The Squad, or vice versa. This is definitely a positive development.

Violent threats have unfortunately become all too common in Kansas. One notable incident involved an effigy of President Joe Biden being viciously attacked at a GOP fundraising event in Johnson County. Another example is the case of a Wichita man who received a 21-month jail sentence for making threats to kill Biden.

I hope that the dark months of 1856 and the subsequent years are permanently etched in the annals of history. However, I am concerned that they may be more relevant to our current situation than we care to admit.

Reference Article


Avatar photo
MBS Staff
Articles: 7042

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *