Trying Again: Caning Charles Sumner, Part 2

Charles Sumner

Charles Sumner dodged his volunteer bodyguards and left the Senate alone despite the perceived danger he faced for his late speech. He arrived at his boarding house on Tuesday, May 20, without incident. Preston Brooks, who aimed to get satisfaction from Sumner in the form of an apology or straight from his body, lay in wait for him on the Capitol steps come Wednesday. A Virginian congressman, Henry Edmundson, saw him there and the two went aside to discuss things. Brooks wanted Edmundson to serve as a witness, stepping in only if Sumner arrived with friends. They sat together and waited, but Sumner never appeared.

Thursday, May 22, Edmundson came to the Capitol again and again saw Brooks. This time the South Carolinian sat in the gatehouse on Pennsylvania Avenue. Edmundson approached him

I said, You are looking out. He said he was desirous of seeing Mr. Sumner; that he could not overlook the insult; that he had scarcely slept any the night before, thinking of it; and that it ought to be promptly resented. We sat there only a few moments, during which time I learned that his purpose was to meet Mr. Sumner before he got into the Senate chamber; that he could see from that position whither he should walk or ride; if he should be in a carriage, he (Mr. Brooks) intended to pass through the grounds and Capitol and meet him before he reached the Senate chamber.

Brooks would struggle to corner, let alone, attack a man in a carriage. But Sumner couldn’t ride all the way to the Senate floor. The plan makes enough sense on the surface, yet Edmundson thought it unwise as

I had no doubt that Mr. Sumner was physically a stronger man than himself, and the exertion and fatigue of passing up so many flights of steps would render him unable to contend with Mr. Sumner, should a personal conflict take place.

In other words, Sumner could put a boot somewhere Brooks wouldn’t care to have one. I don’t know about his physical strength, but Sumner stood above six feet and enjoyed good health at the time. Brooks might not win a fair fight with him, let alone one after chasing the Senator across the Capitol. The South Carolinian must have taken that as a persuasive point, since he walked with Edmundson rather than remain. Their conversation moved to other things and they parted company within the building. Edmundson made for the House chamber. Brooks turned for the Senate.

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