“He said nothing in the world about what his purpose was” Caning Charles Sumner, Part 4

Preston Brooks (D-SC)

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left Henry Edmundson near to the Senate chamber, where he had just left Preston Brooks. He came upon Senator Johnson, of Arkansas, and Edmundson asked him a simple question: If something should happen between Brooks and Sumner, “an altercation” if you will, would he mind too much? Johnson could probably read between the lines well enough to know exactly what Edmundson meant: Did Johnson understand it as an assault upon the Senate for Brooks to physically attack Sumner? Edmundson told the committee investigating later that he

suggested, in the said conversation, there seemed to me no impropriety in calling on Mr. Sumner in the Senate, it having adjourned some time before, and there being few persons present; the insult was given here, and that might be looked upon as the proper place to resent it; and further, that should a collision follow, both parties might prefer it to take place where it wold be more private than it would probably be outside the Capitol.

You had to do these things the proper way. Edmundson clearly understands himself as asking for approval. Johnson didn’t have to involve himself personally, but a man’s honor hung on the esteem of his peers. If he got an answer from Johnson that he had it all wrong and Brooks needed to wait, Edmundson probably would have rushed to tell Brooks the news. A lone lady sitting in the gallery had held things up this far, but she could leave at any time.

Still, Edmundson told the committee

I did not anticipate an immediate assault, because when I left the chamber there was a lady in the chamber, and Mr. Brooks had said that he would have nothing to do with the matter in the presence of ladies. He had expressed a desire to see Mr. Sumner outside the Hall.

He might have been covering for himself after the fact, but Edmundson sounds fairly genuine here. Given his involvement to date, he seems to have thought himself as a possible facilitator for Brooks. The South Carolinian probably didn’t mean to challenge Sumner to a proper duel, which the Senator would surely refuse, but if it came to that Edmundson already acted the part of a second in advising Brooks on the affair. Furthermore, while Brooks did wait on the lady to vacate the Senate he had also tried to meet Sumner elsewhere. A reasonable person could surmise that he came to the Senate chamber in a mind to stare daggers and eventually demand an apology, without immediate escalation.

Brooks probably thought somewhat differently of Edmundson’s involvement. The committee asked the Virginian if Brooks expected him to remain for the full event, as a second or potential second would. Edmundson said he had no hint of such a thing from Brooks, save on Wednesday morning. Brooks likewise gave Edmundson no sign that he went to the Senate that day to see things to a conclusion:

He said nothing in the world about what his purpose was in going to the Senate. I do not think-if there was, I do not recollect it-that there was any reference made to the matter in walking from the gate-house to the Capitol. We were in conversation about some other matter when we arrived at the rotundo.

The committee pressed. Did things remain casual when Edmundson went to the Senate to hear eulogies for the deceased Missourian congressman? They had. If Edmundson told the truth, he came to the Senate on Thursday innocent of Brooks’ purpose and unconnected with him.

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