Sumner’s colleague, Henry Wilson, made a very brief announcement of the occurrence to the Senate on the following day, and it at once became apparent that the transaction would assume an almost strictly party character. As no Democratic Senator proposed an inquiry, Mr. Seward moved for a committee of investigation; upon which James M. Mason, of Virginia, proposed that the committee should be elected by ballot. The result was that no Republican was chosen upon it; and the committee reached the conclusion that it had no power in the premises, except to report the occurrence to the House. In the House the usual committee from the three parties was raised, resulting in two reports. The minority, sustained by the vote of sixty members, pleaded a want of jurisdiction. The majority recommended the expulsion of Brooks, and expressed disapprobation by the House of the course of his colleague, Edmundson, in countenancing the assault, and of the act of Keitt in his personal interference. But the necessary two-thirds vote for the expulsion of Brooks could not be obtained; a vote of censure was therefore passed by a large majority. The discussion of the report and resolutions occupied the House several days, and whatever effort members made to disguise their motives, their actions, either of condemnation or of excuse, arose in the main clearly enough from their party relations. Under the forms of parliamentary debate, the South and the North were breathing mutual recrimination and defiance.
The public of both sections took up the affair with equal party zeal. From the North came resolutions of legislatures, outbursts of indignation in meetings and addresses, and the denunciation of Brooks and his deed in the newspapers. In the South the exactly opposite sentiment predominated. Brooks was defended and eulogized, and presented with canes and pitchers as testimonials to his valor. When the resolution of censure had been passed, he at once resigned his seat in the House, and going home to his constituents, was immediately reelected. Within three weeks he reappeared at the bar of the House, with a new commission from his Governor, and was sworn in and continued his service as before. The arrogant address which preceded his resignation contained the remarkable intimation that much more serious results might have grown out of the incident. “No act of mine,” he said, “on my personal account, shall inaugurate revolution; but when you, Mr. Speaker, return to your own home, and hear the people of the great North—and they are a great people—speak of me as a bad man, you will do me the justice to say that a blow struck by me at this time would be followed by a revolution; and this I know.”
Under the state of public sentiment then prevailing at the South, it would have been strange if the extraordinary event and the succeeding debate had not provoked other similar affairs. Mr. Sumner’s colleague, Senator Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts (afterwards Vice-President of the United States), in his speech characterized the assault as “brutal, murderous, and cowardly.” For this language Brooks sent him a challenge. Wilson wrote a reply declining the encounter, but in the same letter announcing that “I religiously believe in the right of self-defense, in its broadest sense.”