United States and American History: 1856

About the history of the United States in 1856, Sumner and Brooks fight in Congress, John Brown and his free-soilers kill pro-slavery folks.


May 14 James King, owner of the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, was killed by a rival newspaper owner. Confidence in local authority was low and a vigilante group snatched the assassin from the sheriff. The vigilantes tried, convicted, and executed King's murderer. Vigilante committees continued to spring up in the lawless California territory.

May 19 Sen. Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, rose in the Senate to speak out against the proslavery people. In his speech, Sumner attacked old Senator Butler, of South Carolina, stating that Butler had taken "the harlot, Slavery" for his "mistress."

May 22 Senator Butler's nephew, Congressman Preston Brooks, also from South Carolina, burst into the Senate Chamber in search of Senator Sumner, the man who had insulated his uncle. Sighting Sumner at his desk, busily writing, Congressman Brooks charged at him, beating him over the head with the heavy cane he was carrying. Sumner, his legs caught under the desk, tried to rise, but finally crumpled to the Senate floor from the steady rain of blows, tearing his desk loose as he fell. Brooks continued to strike at Sumner's head until his cane broke. Two Georgia senators who were standing nearby watched the attempted murder, merely laughing at the assault.

Senator Sumner survived, but his injuries disabled him for 3 years and left him almost blind in one eye. Meanwhile, Southern supporters deluged Congressman Brooks with gifts of more canes and even a few whips to use on other abolitionists.

May 25 Free-Soilers, led by John Brown, killed 5 sleeping proslavers in a village on the Pottowatomie River.

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