Asking Permission: Caning Charles Sumner, Part 3

Preston Brooks (D-SC)

Parts 1, 2

Preston Brooks had a rough week. He sat through Charles Sumner insulting slaveholding, South Carolina, and his senatorial relative Andrew Pickens Butler. That filled his Monday. Tuesday brought more of the same, which Brooks may have heard personally as he did the day prior. Wednesday, he staked out the front of the Capitol and waited for Sumner. He wanted an apology (unlikely) or some satisfaction drawn unwillingly from Sumner’s body. He missed Sumner. For a second try, Brooks stationed himself in in the gatehouse. If Sumner came on foot, good enough. Should he come by carriage, Brooks would follow him through the Capitol and confront him before the Bay Stater reached the Senate chamber. Henry Edmundson of Virginia found him there and convinced him that he had a bad plan. Sumner, the larger of the two men, would have an edge over Brooks even if the congressman hadn’t run across the building and up many flights of steps to start with.

Brooks gave it up for the moment and the two went into the building. They parted, with Brooks headed toward the Senate and Edmundson for the House. Edmundson arrived to news that a Missourian congressman named Miller had died. The House, following the custom in such matters, adjourned for the day. Edmundson walked over to the Senate side, where he spotted Brooks “standing in the lobby on the opposite side of the main aisle from where Mr. Sumner was sitting.” Edmundson took a seat and in short order Senator Geyer of Missouri announced Miller’s death and the Senate adjourned too. Edmundson lost track of Brooks for at least a few moments, but caught sight of him again “occupying a seat in the Senate chamber.”

Charles Sumner

Edmundson walked over and asked Brooks if he thought himself a Senator:

He then said to me he would stand this thing no longer; he would send to Mr. Sumner to retire from the chamber. He then got up, and went into the vestibule outside of the chamber with that view. I followed him, and said, that if he sent such a message, Mr. Sumner would probably sent for him to come into the Senate chamber. He seemed to be busy at his desk directing documents, as I supposed; and he would effect nothing by this, he having previously said he did not desire to have an interview with Mr. Sumner while ladies were present.

One lady remained seated in the lobby just then. Furthermore, in an era when Senators had no offices provided save their desks in the chamber, Sumner might remain in his seat for hours on end. The two went back into the chamber and there Edmundson ran into a friend of his, Senator Johnson of Arkansas

to whom I propounded the question, if there would be any impropriety, should an altercation occur between Mr. Brooks and Mr,. Sumner, of its taking place in the Senate chamber, the Senate having adjourned at the time.

I can only imagine how this conversation must have gone: Do you think anyone would mind if Preston here beat up that Senator over there?

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