With regret [said Sumner], I come again upon the Senator from South Carolina [Mr. Butler], who, omnipresent in this debate, overflowed with rage at the simple suggestion that Kansas had applied for admission as a State; and with incoherent phrases discharged the loose expectoration of his speech, now upon her representative and then upon her people. There was no extravagance of the ancient parliamentary debate which he did not repeat; nor was there any possible deviation from truth which he did not make, with so much of passion, I am glad to add, as to save him from the suspicion of intentional aberration. But the Senator touches nothing which he does not disfigure—with error, sometimes of principle, sometimes of fact. He shows an incapacity of accuracy, whether in stating the Constitution or in stating the law, whether in details of statistics or the diversions of scholarship. He cannot open his mouth but out there flies a blunder.
[Illustration: Charles Sumner.]
Butler was not present in the Senate on either day; what he might have said or done, had he been there, can only be conjectured. The immediate replies from Douglas and others were very bitter. Among pro-slavery members of both Houses there was an under-current of revengeful murmurs. It is possible that this hostile manifestation may have decided a young member of the House, Preston S. Brooks, a nephew of Senator Butler, to undertake retaliation by violence. Acquainting Henry A. Edmundson, another member, with his design, he waited on two different occasions at the western entrance to the Capitol grounds to encounter Mr. Sumner, but without meeting him.
On the 22d of May, two days after the speech, Brooks entered the Senate Chamber on the same errand. The session had been short, and after adjournment Sumner remained at his desk, engaged in writing. The sessions were at that time held in the old Senate Chamber, now occupied by the Supreme Court. The seats were arranged in semicircles, with a railing to separate them from a narrow lobby or open space next the wall; a broad aisle ran from the main door to the desk of the presiding officer. Mr. Sumner’s seat was in the outside row next to the railing, at the second desk to the right from the entrance and the main aisle. Occupied with his work, Mr. Sumner did not notice Mr. Brooks, sitting across the aisle to his left, and where in conversation with a friend he was manifesting his impatience that a lady seated near Mr. Sumner did not take her departure from the chamber. Almost at that moment she arose and went out; quickly afterwards Brooks got up and advanced to the front of Sumner’s desk. The act attracted the attention of Brooks’s friend; he was astonished, amid the bitterness of party feeling, to see a South Carolina Representative talk to a Massachusetts Senator. His astonishment was quickly corrected. Leaning upon the desk and addressing Sumner with a rapid sentence or two, to the effect that he had read his speech, that it was a libel upon his absent relative, and that he had come to punish him for it, Brooks began striking him on the head with a gutta-percha walking-cane, of the ordinary length and about an inch in diameter.