Southern Chivalry


THE EVENTS in "Bleeding Kansas" led Charles Sumner, an abolitionist from Massachusetts, to deliver a two-day speech on the Senate floor titled, "The Crime Against Kansas." In his speech he ridiculed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Democratic Senator A.P. Butler from South Carolina.


Butler's nephew, Representative Preston Brooks, was outraged by the statements made by Sumner and waited two days for an apology. When the apology didn't come he entered the Senate chamber and began to attack Sumner with his cane, hitting him repeatedly until Sumner lay unconscious on the chamber's floor.


Sumner was so badly beaten it took him three years to fully recover from the assault.  He was later reelected to the Senate and served as an advisor to President Lincoln during the Civil War.


Preston Brooks gave up his seat in the House after a vote to expel him failed.  Before he departed he gave a speech justifying his actions stating if he had wanted to kill Sumner he would have used a more lethal weapon.  Brooks was reelected to the House by his district and died one year later from respiratory illness.


Needless to say the events in the Senate chamber polarized Americans.  The North was outraged by Brook's actions. The editor of The New York Post wrote:


"The South cannot tolerate free speech anywhere, and would stifle it in Washington with the bludgeon and the bowie-knife. . . Has it come to this, that we must speak with baited breath in the presence of our Southern master? . . Are we to be chastised as they chastise their slaves?  Are we not slaves, slaves for life, a target for their brutal blows, when we do not comport ourselves to please them?"


In the South, Brooks was viewed as a hero and thanked repeatedly with gifts of gold-handled canes.

Image: "Southern Chivalry," Political drawing