“It is impossible to regard him without apprehension.”

Charles Sumner (R-MA)

Charles Sumner ended May of 1856 in a poor state. His head wound became infected, but after his doctors let the pus drain Sumner improved. Then he took a further plunge, likely courtesy of various complications from the wound and the infection. His extended convalescence threw suspicion on him from points South. Surely the Senator played for sympathy; no one suffered so badly from a few light blows which he had coming. The dismissal of Sumner’s original doctor, Cornelius Boyle, added fuel to that speculation. On the other side of the partisan divide Republicans believed that Boyle soft-pedaled Sumner’s diagnosis on purpose, citing his personal friendship with Preston Brooks.

With hindsight, we know that Sumner did continue suffering. He remained bed-ridden as the Washington summer closed in. He escaped the city for Francis P. Blair’s home at Silver Spring, Maryland. The distance and shade, he and his doctors reasoned, would help. It only did so much and Sumner suffered another relapse. On June 23 he wrote a friend

For nearly four weeks I lay twenty-two hours out of the twenty-four on my back; and I am still very feeble, but able to totter a mile round the garden, and hoping daily for strength, which comes slowly.

William H. Seward (R-NY)

On the twenty-fifth, Sumner came back into Washington City to testify before the grand jury. For three days he worked at some correspondence and entertained many visitors. That took a great deal out of Sumner, who promptly retired to Blair’s again. William Henry Seward called on him there and reported

He is much changed for the worse. His elasticity and vigor are gone. He walks, and in every way moves, like a man who has not altogether recovered from a paralysis, or like a man whose sight is dimmed, and his limbs stiffened with age. His conversation, however, was like that of his season of better health. It turned altogether on what the Senate were doing, and the course of conduct, and debate therein. When he spoke of his health, he said he thought he was getting better now; but his vivacity of spirit and his impatience for study are gone. It is impossible to regard him without apprehension.

In that conversation, Sumner said he would like to get back and give another big speech before the session of Congress ended. Seward advised Sumner that if he insisted upon that, it would be his last speech “in this world.”

While this went on, the legal case against Brooks proceeded. Sumner wrote to Phillip Barton Key, the US Attorney handling case, that he couldn’t come to court because

I have suffered a relapse, by which I am enfeebled, and also admonished against exertion. Being out of town, I have not had an opportunity of consulting my attending physician; but a skillful medical friend, who has visited me here, earnestly insists that I cannot attend Court for some time without peril to my health.

Preston Brooks (D-SC)

Key must not have got the hint, because he wrote again and Sumner had to answer a second time explaining that he wanted “nothing to do, directly or indirectly” with the prosecution. The Senator thought he had done enough by coming in and testifying for the grand jury. He needed to tend to his recovery.

Without Sumner, the Brooks trial went on. For assaulting a Senator on the floor of the United States Senate, he received a fine of $300.

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Brooks in the Southern Press

Preston Brooks (D-SC)

Yesterday we heard what ordinary Southerners, in the persons of Preston Brooks’ constituents, and Southern Senators thought of his caning Charles Sumner. For good measure, honorary Southerner James Buchanan chimed in. However, one might expect the Washingtonian sectional elite and the people who elected Brooks to go all-in for him. For that matter, any time James Buchanan fails to shamelessly do slavery’s bidding we should probably assume he made a mistake and regretted it intensely. To get a better sense of the general reaction, we should look more broadly.

South Carolina, as one must expect, responded with delight. According to a letter in Sumner’s Works,

the Charlestonians have subscribed ten cents each and bought a splendid cane, with the words ‘Hit him again‘ engraved on the head; and if Mr. Sumner troubles South Carolina or Mr. Brooks again, he will get something engraved on his head which will be very apt to make him a grave subject.

Nineteenth century Americans of both sections loved their public meetings. Just as in the North, they convened to express themselves on the issue. The men of Martin’s Depot, South Carolina, resolved that

if Northern fanatics will persist in meddling with our private institutions, we deem it expedient that Southern members should reply to them by the use of gutta-percha.

Brooks’ own constituents got into the act with a resolution to give him a cane of their own, inscribed “Use knock-down arguments” on the grounds that nothing else would work on “a perverted mind and degenerate race.”

Of course one must also expect proslavery radicalism from South Carolina. Virginia, like every other state in the Union, had a less radical reputation on such things. The Richmond Enquirer gives the example of the University of Virginia:

Some very eloquent speeches were delivered, all of which fully approved the course of Mr Brooks, and the resolution was passed to purchase for Mr. Brooks a splendid cane. The cane is to have a heavy gold head, which will be suitably inscribed, and also bear upon it a device of the human head, badly cracked and broken.

The Richmond Examiner declared that

the precedent of Brooks vs. Sumner will become a respected authority at Washington. It will be a ‘leading case,’ as it clearly defines the distinction between the liberty of speech as guarantied to the respectable American Senator and that scandalous abuse of it by such men as Charles Sumner.

The Examiner spoke to a broader truth. White Southerners fundamentally did not believe that antislavery speech was acceptable. They spent decades fighting against it in their own borders, both by censoring the mails and extralegal vigilance against suspected dissenters. Their demands sometimes reached into the North, as when Calhoun demanded censorship even of Yankee mails. He didn’t get that, but calls to do something about antislavery groups remained a staple of Southern grievance.

The Enquirer agreed on the point the next week, saying

Sumner and Sumner’s friends must be punished and silenced. Government which cannot suppress such crimes as theirs has failed of its purpose. Either such wretches must be hung or put in the penitentiary, or the South should prepare at once to quit the Union.

Henry Wilson (R-MA)

A few days later, the same paper called for giving Sumner thirty-nine licks a day and suggested

There is the blackguard Wilson, an ignorant Natick cobbler, swaggering in excess of muscle, and absolutely dying for a beating. Will not somebody take him in hand? Hale is another huge, red-faced, sweating scoundrel, whom some gentleman should kick and cuff until he abates something of his impudent talk.

Wilson, of course, had a challenge from Brooks. John Hale served as a villain for proslavery men for near to a decade by this point. Now that someone had broken the ice by breaking a cane, Southerners lined up cheering for sequels like studio executives with a runaway summer blockbuster on their hands.

Southerners Weigh in on Brooks

Preston Brooks (D-SC)

In following the aftermath of Charles Sumner’s caning by Preston Brooks, we have largely focused on northerners. As those posts went up, I searched for Southern defenses of Brooks. Andrew Butler made a speech on his behalf, but as a directly interested party he makes a poor substitute for a sectional response. His kinsman caned Sumner on his behalf. Robert Toombs’ after the fact approval and John Slidell’s obvious indifference speak better to a sectional attitude.

To them we could add James Mason. Preston Brooks’ constituents planned to throw him a celebratory dinner to express “their complete indorsement of his Congressional course”. The authors didn’t necessarily mean for politicians to accept their invitations. Rather they wrote to get back a public letter on a subject. Mason obliged, his letter appearing in the fifth volume of Sumner’s Works:

He [Brooks] has shown himself alike able and prompt to sustain the rights and interests of his constituents in debate and by vote, or to vindicate in a different mode, and under circumstances of painful duty, the honor of his friend. I would gladly, therefore, unite with you were it in my power, in the testimonial proposed by his generous constituents

For the same occasion, Brooks’ supporter back home invited the Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. He wrote back

It would give me much pleasure, on any occasion, to meet you, fellow-citizens of the Fourth District of South Carolina; and the gratification would be materially heightened by the opportunity to witness their approbation of a Representative whom I hold in such high regard and esteem. […] I have only to express to you my sympathy with the feeling which prompts the sons of Carolina to welcome the return of a brother who has been the subject of vilification, misrepresentation, and persecution, because he resented a libellous assault upon the reputation of their mother.

Clearly, Brooks had many Senatorial friends and admirers. They include some of the most powerful men in the nation, who could easily have ignored invitations from his constituents or responded without speaking to the substance of their invitation. The editorial notes in Sumner’s Works waste no time pointing out that Toombs, Slidell, Mason, and of course Davis spent the first half of the 1860s in the Confederate government.

The editors also found a less Southern man, geographically if not politically, to say a few kind words for Brooks. Then running for president, James Buchanan attended a college graduation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. One of the students gave an anti-Brooks speech to enthusiastic applause. The student sat down next to Buchanan, who corrected him loudly enough for the whole room to hear:

My young friend, you look upon the dark side of the picture. Mr. Sumner’s speech was the most vulgar tirade of abuse ever delivered in a deliberative body.

James Buchanan

The student protested. Surely the Old Public Functionary didn’t approve of what happened? Buchanan answered:

Mr. Brooks was inconsiderate, but that Senator Butler was a mild man.

The next President of the United States didn’t go all the way out and say Sumner had it coming, but he tried. Dismissing a dangerous attack on a sitting Senator as “inconsiderate” and expressing his sympathy for Butler spoke volumes. It also fit neatly with Buchanan’s long career of being thoroughly inclined to do a solid for any proslavery man who happened along.

 

Brooks vs. Burlingame: Burlingame in Hiding

Anson Burlingame

Preston Brooks meant to duel Anson Burlingame. Burlingame first backed down, then changed his mind after the newspapers pushed him to stand and fight. As the venue for that, Burlingame chose the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. That meant Brooks would have to travel through the North, subject to arrest and attack by mobs. Brooks declined to hazard them. As a man who knew something about indignation-born violence, he could see it coming. Burlingame then teased Brooks about not naming an alternative, then ducked out of Washington before Brooks could actually do that. Brooks’ second spent the next days searching for Burlingame, then delivered a note to his second, Lewis Campbell.

You say that Mr. Burlingame was willing to meet Col. Brooks at any other place than Canada to adjust this difference. You did not tell me so although I told you that Canada was inconvenient. On the contrary, you left me under the impression that Mr. Burlingame would not meet Col. Brooks at any other place than Canada. I so informed Col. Brooks and advised him to give the matter no further notice. Inasmuch, however, as you now say that Mr. Burlingame was willing ot meet Col. Brooks at any other place, I am authorized and requested by Col. Brooks to say that he expects Mr. Burlingame to designate some other place that is convenient and acceptable to both parties, and awaits his answer to this suggestion.

Brooks also told him to name any location within ten miles of Washington, or take the suggestion of anywhere within a hundred. A hundred miles, Campbell’s historian nephew noted, would have let Burlingame name a location within Pennsylvania. Brooks and Burlingame could have dueled at Gettysburg. Getting no answer to his letter of July 30th, Brooks’ second then wrote again on August 1 to escalate matters. He threatened that if he heard nothing before the coming Tuesday, the fifth, he would “make an expose of the matter.” In other words, he would publicize the fact that Burlingame had engaged in hiding from a duel he said he would fight.

Receiving the letter, Campbell insisted that he had nothing to do with duel planning since his letter of the 26th. Since then, he knew nothing about the matter and saw no reason for Joseph Lane to keep bothering him. If Lane persisted, then Campbell told him

I know no act of Mr. B. from an exposure of which he or his friends would shrink, and am therefore at a loss to understand your threat to make “an expose” if he does not return.

If, however, you have reference to your letter and my reply of yesterday, or to any act of mine, I beg to assure you that you need not delay your “expose” until Tuesday morning.

Campbell did have a continuing connection to the affair. He alone in Washington knew that Anson Burlingame had camped out at his own home up in Ohio. The same day as Lane threatened Campbell, the hiding congressman wrote his friend:

I hope and pray that you are not in trouble. You must not let the rascals get out of their trouble by involving either you or myself.

It will disgrace us forever if we have anything more to do with the vile set.

Preston Brooks (D-SC)

Burlingame also noted with satisfaction that the challenge couldn’t go any further without his and Campbell’s participation. Historian Campbell attributes all this to Burlingame’s cowardice. If Burlingame acted in self-interest, including possibly leaving Congressman Campbell in a lurch, then he also acted with political cunning. By answering Brooks’ challenge, he vindicated himself to the newspapers. By naming Canada as the location, he put Brooks on the defensive. Then ducking out let him have the best of both worlds in the eyes of the public: no duel to shame him or cost his life and the widespread perception that Brooks refused to fight him, rather than the other way around.

Brooks vs. Burlingame: Second and Third Tries

Anson Burlingame

Anson Burlingame and Preston Brooks came to the edge of a duel, then backed down. Burlingame offered an apology, Brooks accepted, and both men went about their lives. Shortly thereafter, Burlingame’s apology hit the New England papers and they turned on him. Burlingame promptly changed course, publishing a retraction of his apology in the National Intelligencer. Since Burlingame determined to stand by his words on the House floor and withdrew his explanation that he condemned the caning, not Brooks personally, Brooks sent him a note on the day of publication, July 21, 1856.

Sir:-

Will you do me the kindness to indicate some place outside of this District where it will be convenient to you to negotiate in reference to the difference between us.

A duel in the District of Columbia would break the law. Politicians took their disputes usually to Bladensburg, five miles away. No Washington duel had taken place more than nine miles distant. Burlingame may not have known the exact numbers, but he clearly understood the pattern. He likely didn’t want to risk a duel, which could backfire on him politically and might just cost his life. So he asked Lewis Campbell how he might accept the challenge, thus avoiding any appearance of cowardice, but not have to go through with it. Campbell came up with just the solution and wrote back to Brooks:

In reply I have to say that I will be at the Clifton House on the Canada side of Niagara Falls on Saturday next at 12 o’clock M. to “negotiate” in reference to “any differences between us” which in your judgment may require settlement “outside of this district.”

Brooks knew exactly what Burlingame meant with all this. He wrote later

I could not reach Canada without running the gauntlet of mobs and assassins, prisons and penitentiaries, bailiffs and constables. … I might as well have been asked to fight on Boston Common.

He could go there, but if Preston Brooks showed his face far north of the Mason-Dixon Line he might get his own caning and then some. Brooks naturally refused, at which point the northern papers took him to task whilst simultaneously puffing up Burlingame as a man ready to go to the ends of the Earth to fight. The New York Evening Post published a doggerel mocking the South Carolinian

To Canada Brooks was asked to go

To waste of power a pound or so.

He sighed as he answered no, no, no

They might take my life on the way, you know.

Preston Brooks (D-SC)

The mockery can’t have delighted Brooks, but the paper had him dead to rights. Burlingame then appeared in the House once more, on July 28, and suggested that if Brooks didn’t have the courage to go to Canada, which Burlingame considered neutral ground, Brooks could name another place. Then he promptly left Washington. Only Lewis Campbell knew where he went. Brooks’ second spent the next days looking for Burlingame to deliver a counter-proposal as asked.

Brooks vs. Burlingame

Preston Brooks (D-SC)

Anson Burlingame castigated Preston Brooks for caning Charles Sumner. Brooks resented that as he resented Henry Wilson’s remarks on the caning and challenged Burlingame to a duel. Burlingame made a distinction between Brooks’ action, which he deplored, and Brooks himself. That satisfied Brooks’ seconds and Burlingame shortly left Washington to stump for the upcoming presidential race. I intended today to progress from that point, but a kind friend has put in my hands perhaps the only article ever written about the Brooks-Burlingame affair. It hails from The Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly XXXIV, hot of the presses in 1925. Therein, James E. Campbell relates that Preston Brooks practically went shopping for dueling partners.

He began with Henry Wilson, as we know. Campbell adds that Brooks issued a challenge to a Congressman Woodruff, who answered much in the same vein that Wilson did. Brooks resented Lewis Campbell for introducing the motion to investigate the caning and then chairing the committee which recommended Brooks’ expulsion. (Historian Campbell, incidentally, is Congressman Campbell’s nephew.) The day after the caning, friends advised the elder Campbell that he would soon face a challenge.

Mr. Campbell made no reply until they passed a shooting gallery; when, turning back, he invited his friend to enter. Asking the proprietor to remove the customary target and replace it with a lighted candle, he proceeded to snuff that candle with a rifle ball, “off-hand” three times in succession. It is hardly necessary to add that the subject of his challenge was never afterward alluded to, for the certainty of death has a tendency to cool the ardor of the most persistent duelist.

This sounds like one of those stories an older relative tells you in your childhood, but I know of other duels called off in part on the grounds that the challenged party had excellent aim. Burlingame had a similar reputation as a crack shot. It seems Brooks came to him last of all. Campbell quotes from Burlingame’s apology, written in Nathaniel Banks’ hand. Burlingame

disclaimed any intention to reflect upon the personal character of Mr. Brooks, or to impute to him in any respect a want of courage; but discriminating between the man and the act which he was called upon to allude to

Anson Burlingame

That did settle things, temporarily. Then the apology made its way to the newspapers. They cared not at all for Burlingame backing down, with the Boston Courier leading the charge. Timothy Davis, a “colleague” of Burlingame’s, brought matters to his attention. Between July 18, when the Courier attacked him, and July 21, Burlingame consulted with Campbell. Campbell told him that if he meant what he said on the House floor, he ought to stand up for it. On the latter date, he published a note in the National Intelligencer about his prior apology:

Inasmuch as attempts, not altogether unsuccessful, have been made to pervert its true meaning, I now withdraw it; and, that there may not be any misapprehension in the future I say, explicitly, that I leave my speech to interpret itself, and hold myself responsible for it without qualifications or amendment.

“And smote him as Cain smote his brother” Anson Burlingame Speaks Out, Part 3

Anson Burlingame

Anson Burlingame took to the floor of the House of Representatives on June 21, 1856 to express his outrage at Preston Brooks’ attack upon Charles Sumner. He would have the House know that Charles Sumner gave a fine speech full of righteous indignation and such a great and good man deserved not a single lick from anyone’s gutta-percha cane. All of this, plus a lengthy vindication of the antislavery cause in Kansas and a defense of Massachusetts, brought Burlingame to the fourth page of his speech in the Congressional Globe. There he came to the point:

On the 22nd day of May, when the Senate and the House had clothed themselves in mourning for a brother fallen in the battle of life in the distant State of Missouri, the senator from Massachusetts sat in the silence of the Senate Chamber, engaged in the employments appertaining to his office, when a member from this House, who had taken an oath to sustain the Constitution, stole into the Senate, that place which had hitherto been held sacred against violence, and smote him as Cain smote his brother.

The Senate chamber didn’t have quite the perfect innocence from violence that we would hope. Henry Foote once drew a pistol on an angry and advancing Thomas Hart Benton, after all. But to the best of my knowledge no one before Brooks took the final step of actually committing violence. Everything before 1856 stopped at threats, brandishing arms, or went outside.

Lawrence Keitt (D-SC)

As Burlingame said all this, Lawrence Keitt sat there listening. As soon as the line about Cain came out, he spoke up.

Mr. KEITT, (in his seat.) That is false.

Mr. BURLINGAME. I will not bandy epithets with the gentleman. I am responsible for my own language. Doubtless he is responsible for his.

Mr. KEITT. I am.

Mr. BURLINGAME. I shall stand by mine.

After that posturing, Burlingame reached the event itself. He gave a brief summary of what everyone already knew and then really tore in. He denounced the caning in the name of the Constitution, Massachusetts, humanity, civilization, and fair play. Brooks himself, “if he has a spark of that chivalry and gallantry attributed to him” should lament his attack. Burlingame went on to castigate Slidell, Douglas, and Toombs.

Preston Brooks (D-SC)

Some days after Burlingame closed his speech, Preston Brooks chose to take action. He recruited a couple of men as go-betweens to approach Nathaniel Banks, Speaker of the House, and George Ashmun, both friends of Burlingame’s. They wanted satisfaction, as Henry Wilson puts it, “amicably or otherwise.”

It seems that they came on Banks and Ashmun in Burlingame’s company. He “expressed his personal regard for Brooks” but persisted in attacking the caning. Distinguishing between the act and the actor opened up hope for a non-violent resolution. Everyone left the meeting convinced they had a modus vivendi. Burlingame left Washington to stump for the Republicans in the presidential race.

“The Pride of Massachusetts” Anson Burlingame Speaks Out, Part 2

Anson Burlingame

Anson Burlingame took to the House floor to castigate Preston Brooks and everyone who would defend him. For good measure, he threw in Franklin Pierce and the state of South Carolina. He granted that Sumner took a hard line, but everyone had it coming. Even if they hadn’t, Sumner demonstrated remarkable strength in rising above the endless stream of insults he received from his opponents. Principle and nobility defined Charles Sumner, as Burlingame well knew:

He is my friend; for many and many a year I have looked to him for guidance and light, and I never looked in vain.He never had a personal enemy in his life; his character is as pure as the snow that falls on his native hills; his heart overflows with kindness for every being having the upright form of man; he is a ripe scholar, a chivalric gentleman, and a warm-hearted, true friend.

Burlingame may have meant every word of that; Sumner had the scholarly credentials, at least. Those who knew the Senator from his Massachusetts days had once found him quiet amiable. On his entry into politics, that changed. Sumner could likely have come up as an establishment Whig with little trouble, but the more he involved himself in reform causes the more difficulty he and his old friends had getting along. David Donald, Sumner’s biographer, believes he suffered some kind of mental break resulting from the strain on his business and career after he returned from Europe. Donald doesn’t think highly of Sumner in general, always hunting for the most venal explanations for his behavior, but he clearly has a point here. The future Senator probably clawed his way out of his travail by recommitting himself to causes that had already interested him. Doing so left him less inclined to shrug off differences and Sumner spent the later 1840s steadily losing friends.

Charles Sumner (R-MA)

The congressman proclaimed Sumner “the pride of Massachusetts” and put him in “the highest walks of literature and law.” Everyone in the Bay State now paid him homage…at least in public. In private they might still remember catching the rough side of his principles, but in caning Sumner Brooks made him into a martyr. Donald relates less glowing reviews:

Fletcher Webster, the embittered son of Daniel Webster, said cynically that if Sumner “would indulge in such attacks…he ought at least to take the precaution of wearing an iron pot on his head.” Some of the conservative Curtis family muttered, when they heard the news: “Served him right,” and “I wish they had killed him.” Sumner himself received a very few letters from Northerners who announced: “I am happy that one man was found who chastised you, but…you did not get one half what you merit.”

 

“With modesty, but with firmness” Anson Burlingame Speaks Out

Anson Burlingame

We left Preston Brooks leaving the House of Representatives. The chamber’s majority voted to expel him for breaking his cane over Charles Sumner’s head and continuing on with the broken stump until wrestled away. The Constitution required two-thirds to actually kick him to the curb, which the House could not muster on the grounds that most of the Southern caucus thought Brooks had done no wrong. In getting to that point, I overlooked an important episode. For the moment, let’s turn the clock back to June 21, 1856. Brooks and Lawrence Keitt still have their seats in the House of Representatives. The House committee have released their report and debate on it comes into full swing.

Anson Burlingame, a friend of Sumner’s with a hard re-election fight ahead of him, stood out among those lining up to castigate Brooks. He rose to remind the House that he had never “assailed” another or impugned a state. He dilated upon Massachusetts’ virtues for a few moments, then got down to it:

with modesty, but with firmness, I cast down her glove to the whole band of her assailants.

In the language of romantic chivalry, one strikes a foe with a glove and drop it to challenge them. Burlingame probably didn’t mean to issue an actual challenge; politicians of the era often use this kind of language for rhetorical effect. It shows them as men of learning and refinement, just as gratuitous Latin quotes and endless references to Antiquity did. He pressed on to vent himself against the Bay State’s censurers, from Franklin Pierce on down.

Lawrence Keitt (D-SC)

Burlingame’s complains about Pierce focused on his transparently proslavery policies, right at the points where they put the lie to his claims of impartiality and that the North had abandoned its sectional duties. He got into a brief exchange with Lawrence Keitt over how the Charleston Mercury condemned the Fugitive Slave Act on behalf of South Carolina, then returned to venting on Pierce over Greytown and Lawrence. After four pages in the Congressional Globe, Burlingame finally wandered to the topic of the attack on Charles Sumner. He went with the others to hear the Crime Against Kansas, live and in person:

To say that we were delighted with the speech we heard, would but faintly express the deep emotions of our hearts awakened by it. I need not speak of the classic purity of its language, nor of the nobility of its sentiments. It was heard by many; it has been read by millions. There has been no such speech made in the Senate since the days when those Titans of American eloquence -the Websters and the Haynes- contended with each other for mastery.

He liked it. Sumner’s oratory reads as ponderous and repetitious to us, but the man could put on a show in person and some of what we would consider faults came off much better in the nineteenth century. Sumner acted out his speeches with practiced gestures and intonation, from memory, in an era when most men just read theirs. That can’t help but liven things up.

That said, Burlingame understood that Sumner gave South Carolina in particular and slavery in general the rough side of his tongue:

It was severe, because it was launched against tyranny. It was severe as Chatham was severe when he defended the feeble colonies against the giant oppression of the mother country.

Yet despite “a hostile Senate” Sumner went for two days with no one calling him to order. If the Senators thought him out of bounds, as they did Andrew Butler, they could have insisted on order at any time and demanded retractions or that Sumner cease entirely. The Senators declined the opportunity. Furthermore, Sumner often faced such vicious insults himself and rose above them. Burlingame would have the House know that Brooks broke his cane over the head of a righteous man ever-mindful of “the flaming sword of the Constitution, turning every way, guarding all the avenues of the Senate.”

“I am no longer a member of the Thirty-Fourth Congress.”

Preston Brooks (D-SC)

Henry Wilson had a rough few days of it. He reject Brooks’ challenge to a duel, going out of his way to denigrate the whole practice. Friends advised against that, but Wilson bulled on ahead. Though Brooks never came after him, for some time thereafter. Wilson learned years later of possibly serious talk about roughing him up put down by James Orr. That all fell out over the last days of May. At the start of June, 1856, the House received the reports from the committee they had looking into the matter. Those recommended expulsion for Brooks and censure of Henry Edmundson and Lawrence Keitt, effectively demanding their resignations but stopping short of forcing the two out.

The House didn’t take a vote on the recommendations until the middle of July, at which point a predictably hostile debate broke out. The South Carolinians made it a point of principle to defend their own. The Republicans naturally fought back. In the end, the House voted on sectional lines to expel Brooks. That didn’t give them the two-thirds majority they needed to do the job. Brooks opted to do it for them. According to Sumner’s Works, he gained the floor “with some difficulty” and gave an account of himself I’ve quoted liberally from.

Brooks proceeded to congratulate himself. He failed to start something that ended in

subverting the foundations of this Government and in drenching this Hall in blood. No act of mine, and on my personal account, shall inaugurate revolution

Fresh off thanking himself for failing to incite a revolution, Brooks took a second victory lap on how he used a cane instead of a whip or cowhide, that Sumner might have taken from him and so forced Brooks “to do that which I would have regretted for the balance of my natural life.” In other words, Brooks thought he might have to kill Sumner if the Senator got hold of his cowhide or whip. The House didn’t miss the implication; someone cried out, “He would have killed him!”

Undeterred, Brooks finished what he had to say:

And now, Mr. Speaker, I announce to you, and to this House, that I am no longer a member of the Thirty-Fourth Congress.

Lawrence Keitt (D-SC)

He walked out.

The next day, July 15, the House moved on to the punishments recommended for Edmundson and Keitt. Edmundson got off, 60-136. Keitt got censured 106-96. He likewise resigned. Both Keitt and Brooks submitted themselves to their constituents to fill the vacancies their resignations created. Both found themselves back in the House in early August, an absence of a little over two weeks.