We left Lawrence Keitt likely with foreknowledge that something serious would go down between Preston Brooks and Charles Sumner on the Senate floor. The Senate adjourned for the day and Sumner remained at his desk, which could only improve the odds. Brooks came and waited. His friend Henry Edmundson stepped outside and talked proprieties of attacking a senator with another senator. Keitt must have stood somewhere in easy reach, but my materials don’t say where.
Brooks sets the scene in his statement to the House,
I went to the senate and stood without the bar until it did adjourn. Mr. Sumner continued within the Hall, though he did not all the time retain his Seat. He had upon his desk a large number off his speeches and was, when not interrupted, employed in franking them. Several ladies continued in the Hall some on the floor and some in the gallery.
Members of Congress use the franking privilege to send free mail to their constituents. Sumner would have essentially used his name in lieu of a stamp. On that Thursday afternoon, he set to working his way down a pile of The Crime Against Kansas. History sometimes hits things so closely on the nose.
Sumner agreed that he had done just that. He busied himself with the franking, “in order to be in season for the mail, which was soon to close.” Others did not appreciate the post office’s deadlines and came up to talk to him. Sumner brushed them off “promptly and briefly”. Finally free from socializing, he
drew my arm-chair close to my desk, and with my legs under the desk continued writing. My attention at this time was so entirely withdrawn from all other objects, that, though there must have been many persons on the floor of the Senate, I saw nobody.
The Senate fell away and he and his pen continued on; Charles Sumner entered the franking zone.
While thus intent, with my head bent over my writing, I was addressed by a person who had approached from the front of my desk, so entirely unobserved that I was not aware of his presence until I heard my name pronounced. As I looked up, with pen in hand, I saw a tall man, whose countenance was not familiar, standing directly over me, and at the same moment, caught these words: “I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine-” While these words were still passing from his lips, he commenced a succession of blows with a heavy cane on my bare head, by the first of which I was stunned so as to lose sight.