Thinking Historically (Part One)

BurkeWhen one considers the vast scope of the human experience it is not hard to recognize that we, at present, live in an age unique in the gradual evolution of civilization. Ours is, after all, an age of advancement, of unparalleled progression, development and improvement. It should, when we consider it against the backdrop of where we have come from, mesmerize and enthrall us. After all, we seem to perpetually be on the cusp of enlightenment, of social, and technological breakthroughs beyond the imagination of our ancestors in an increasingly more scientific society.

It isn’t to say that advancement is somehow unique to our current society, or our present age. In truth, we have always been motivated towards growth, and advancement. Engrained in our nature, whatever our motivations might be, we have always sought to master our surroundings. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the American experience, one framed, shaped against the backdrop of the great frontier, challenging its people to be more, to do more. Faced with the challenges of the limitless potential of this new land, they would be forced to show grit and unbridled determination, ingenuity and innovation, not just to survive, but to flourish and prosper as a nation and a people.

Yet, in many senses, we have gone beyond, accelerating at a pace that would have surpassed the wildest imagination of our ancestors. One need only consider the fact that for thousands of years we travelled by sail, or by horse, with essentially the same technology used by Founding Fathers as by Pharaoh before them. Medicine, for the large part remained unchanged, and without significant advancements, with practices like bloodletting existing from Ancient Greece until the 19th Century. Though advancements were made they were slow in progress, and even slower to evolve. Now change seems to occur on an almost daily basis with changes made.

It has created for us a curious predicament. Though we see the immediate benefit, understanding that through advancement we reap a benefit an unparalleled benefit that lets us live longer and more comfortably, that allows us to be connected in ways that we never have before, carrying us places we have never been, and offering new and exciting opportunities, it has also changed our way of thinking. Once where we believed that history offered us instruction, guiding us to a better path for the future, we almost see look on it with a sense of bewilderment now. It interests us but only in so much as visiting a zoo or watching a movie interests us. In many senses we just fail to see how it relates to us, our experiences and to our society. It is, perhaps, why we find it so easy to revise and rewrite history to fit our needs and our purposes, creating a narrative that suits us better than the present one.

We have become a society that doesn’t understand the experience that history has in our lives.

It reminds me of the words of economist F.A. Hayek in “The Road to Serfdom”. In a very simple way, he explains the disconnect between history and the contemporary world when he writes

Contemporary events differ from history in that we do not know the results they will produce. Looking back, we can assess the significance of past occurrences and trace the consequences they have brought in their train. But while history runs its course, it is not history to us. It leads us into an unknown land, and but rarely can we get a glimpse of what lies ahead.

We have taken this to mean that somehow we live outside of history even while we create it. Though we can watch history with interest, that’s ultimately where it ends. The lessons that it offers no longer apply because we are changing too fast, advancing too quickly for them to be relevant. At least that was how it was explained to me as of recent.

Yet, even Hayek would go on to expound upon his idea of the separation of history from current events when he would write:

Yet, although history never quite repeats itself, and just because no development is inevitable, we can in a measure learn from the past to avoid a repetition of the same process. One need not be a prophet to be aware of impending dangers. An accidental combination of experience and interest will often reveal events to one man under aspects which few yet see.

A true study of history isn’t solely a study of names, events, times and places. It is a critical assessment whereby present thought is shaped by the past, by historical knowledge and understanding, to make the choices and the decisions necessary to secure a more solid standing in the future. It is realizing that though history may never occur the same way twice, it can teach us something about how we must react to different situations and circumstances that may arise.

TrumanWhat we must be acutely aware of is the fact that we are not above the lessons of history. We need to have the ability to think historically, and to apply those lessons not only to our reasoning, but to our lives and to the world around us. It is only in that way will we be able to approach the challenges, the struggles and the successes of the new frontiers that lay before us with the fresh thinking that we need to adequately tackle them.

This post, and the ones to follow, are not intended to condemn. It is not my intention to look with contempt on technology, science or advancement. To do so would be to look upon the human spirit, a spirit that is always looking to the future, to that vast undiscovered country that lay before it, with a sense of the endless possibilities. It is, instead, meant to serve as a reminder. We do not live in a vacuum free of the lessons of history. As far as we may have come, as quickly as progress may be upon us, we are still bound by the same laws and lessons of the generations passed. The only difference is that by failing to recognize the importance of history we fail to realize that there was a path of least resistance to bring us where we wanted and needed to be, we needn’t have ventured so off course.

We cannot let our hubris get the better of us as we stand on the precipice of the new frontiers that lay before us. It is only when we realize that that we come to the understanding that there is more for us to learn from the generations that have come and gone before us and we strengthen our future by properly discerning and applying the lessons of our past.

August 22, 1831

Nat Turner (Banner)

He had escaped, he was free.

Most, if not all, in his position, would have kept running, and not looked back. They would have fled to the Northern Free States, or perhaps British North America, to try and start a new life there, just out of reach of their slave master. That was what his father had done before him when the boy was still too young to remember him. Not young Nat Turner though. After a month in the wilderness, he would return to his master by his own free will. Later, he would explain to Thomas Ruffin Gray, a lawyer who frequently represented slaves, and who’d go on to write “The Confessions of Nat Turner”, “the Spirit appeared to me and said I had my wishes directed to the things of this world, and not to the kingdom of heaven, and that I should return to the service of my earthly master.”

In many senses, though Turner was different than his brothers and sisters in bondage, something that was recognized early on in his life. Though a slave, his first master, Benjamin Turner, would let him be educated in reading, writing, and religion. When Benjamin died in 1810, the ten-year-old Nat faced an uncertain future, sold three times after that. Still, what had stuck with him was the religious training he had received from the youngest of ages, and it had shaped who he would become. Fasting, praying, conducting Baptist services, reading his bible, he would become known as the Prophet by his fellow slaves. In his mind that was exactly what he was, a modern Moses who had come to lead his people from slavery. In his words, “I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching, when the first should be last, and the last should be first.” It was just that he had to wait for the sign.

In 1831 that sign would finally come to him he became convinced that following the eclipse, “I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons.” Laying out his plans to his closest friends, he would begin to strategize, plotting the next move in what would become his revolt, that rebellion that he believed he was divinely ordained to take upon his shoulders and lead. At no point was he mistaken as to what it was, referring to it as “the work of death.” Whatever the cost though it was, in his mind, the price to pay for the freedom of his people, even if it was to be paid in the lives and blood of others.

Still, as he found that though he could recruit others, building his following to 70 slaves and free blacks, many would turn their back on him. It would, at least according to him, leave him so sick that the day would pass and he would have to wait for the next sign. Just over a month later, on August 13th of that same year, as Mount St. Helen erupted and the skies took on a strange new hue, it had come. There would be no more waiting.

Just after midnight on the 22nd of August, Turner and his supporters would launch their Rebellion. Even in the earliest of hours it turned bloodied, as Turner ordered his people that they were to kill indiscriminately of age or sex all white people they would come across. He would sneak into his Master’s chamber, a man he described as kind to him. Dark, too dark for him to see, he would swing a hatch and glance his head. John Travis would awake and call out to his wife. As Turner would tell the story, “it was his last word. Will laid him dead with a blow of his axe, and Mrs. Travis shared the same fate, as she lay in bed. The murder of this family five in number was the work of a moment, not one of them awoke; there was a little infant sleeping in the cradle, that was forgotten, until we had left the house and gone some distance, when Henry and Will returned and killed it.” Leaving guns as they believed they would attract too much attention, his followers would march, almost in military formation, with hatchets and axes and knives and clubs, freeing the slaves and murdering any white people they came across. In one instance they would hack at one woman, the sword so dull that Turner would keep bludgeoning her over the head.

With a trail of violence, blood staining the streets behind them they would cut through Southampton County Virginia, leaving few alive, sparing only the poorest white individuals, believing they were in the same estate as the slave and the black. 60 men, women and children would be brutally murdered, butchered at the order of Turner in his attempt to strike fear and terror into the hearts of the white population as they sought to gain in strength and numbers to get that foothold. Turner would later claim that he had no intention of letting the murders continue, it was only a part of his preliminary plan to build on his momentum and prevent any from stopping him.

Whether that was true or not, it would bring a swift reaction, not of submission, or defeat, but anger as a Militia twice the size of Turner’s insurrection, and supported by three artillery companies would put down the rebellion quickly. In the end, the Militia would kill over a hundred blacks, and the state would execute another 56, including a number who had nothing to do with the rebellion, an almost indiscriminate slaughter that answered Turner’s indiscriminate slaughter blood for blood. Word would quickly spread through the South as rumors circulated that the rebellion was not an isolated occurrence. Executions would become commonplace over the next weeks. John Hampden Pleasants of the Richmond Constitutional Whig would call it “the slaughter of many blacks, without trial, and under circumstances of great barbarity”, while Theodore Trezvant would announce that “The scouting parties through the county have killed 22, without law or justice, as they determined to shew them no mercy.” Men would be tortured, burned and maimed as the list of atrocities mounted in the name of Turner’s Rebellion, until the Commander, General Eppes of Sussex County, seeing enough of what he described as “revolting,” “inhuman” “acts of barbarity and cruelty” ordered it to stop.

Turner himself would survive until November of that year when he was captured by a farmer and then executed by hanging in Jerusalem Virginia, with rumors that he had been skinned afterward. The effects though would be long felt after as Virginia debated the gradual abolition of slavery, and found that the pro-slavery faction controlled too much of the state. Instead it would be the excuse many slave owners needed to pass even more oppressive measures on an oppressed people as laws would be enacted that made it illegal to teach any black or half black to read or write, and that would ban them from assembling or holding religious service without a licensed white minister in attendance.

August 21, 1863

Lawrence Massacre (Banner)

For many, the sounds of the alarms had become so commonplace that few bothered to listen to them anymore. Before the war had even started, Lawrence had become a center of the struggle between abolitionists and pro-slavery settlers in the Border War that would infamously become known as Bleeding Kansas. In 1856 800 men entered the town under the leadership of Sheriff Samuel Jones and destroyed the anti-slavery presses and the Free State Hotel, built the previous year by the New England Emigrant Aid Society as a temporary home for Free-Stater’s relocating to the state. Even if it wasn’t safe, it had seemed to calm, at least for a while. The threat was nothing like it was after the Confederate victory at the Battle of Lexington, or in those days and weeks following the Battle of Springfield just a few months prior. It had seemed like the rebellion in Missouri was finally put down, and the army patrolled the Border. However uneasy it was, there was some semblance of peace. Regardless, with an almost constant state of emergency in place, few residents had probably given the cannons arriving and the drills taking place a second thought

What most didn’t know was that the Union Army had received word that William Quantrill and his band of Bushwacker’s had set their sights on the border town, their blood boiling for revenge after General James Lane led a band of pro-Union “Jayhawkers” on the siege of Osceola. Their hatred for the state had only grown with General Thomas Ewing’s arrest of women and girls who had given aid and comfort to Confederate soldiers. Housing them makeshift prisons in Kansas City, one had collapsed, killing four, and injuring even more. Among the dead and wounded, two of the teenaged sisters of the infamous “Bloody Bill” Anderson, one of Quantrill’s most trusted advisors.

As the day of the attack slowly came and went early in that August, the Mayor, George Collamore, former Brigadier General, and Quartermaster General of Kansas, and Lieutenant T.J. Hadley, who commanded a unit of a few dozen soldiers stationed in Lawrence had to breathe a little easier. Little did they know that about 400 Missouri Guerillas had slowly marched forward. They had no intention of attacking until late August, well after the reports had them striking, perhaps knowing the bold claim that had he attacked when he was supposed to there welcome would come from “bloody hands and hospitable graves.”

By almost 4 am Quantrill, and his men had made it through Franklin, Missouri, only a few miles from their intended target, cloaked by night but still taking every precaution, laying on their horses to avoid drawing attention to themselves, to keep the element of surprise. As they closed the distance between them and Lawrence the order would come up from their commander, “Rush on, boys, it will be daylight before we are there! We ought to have been there an hour ago.” Their pace would quicken as he set his men to columns of fours and pushed forward in a hastened gallop.

At about 5 am on August 21st, 1863, they would reach the outskirts of town with the numbers varying between roughly 300 and 400 men. Second thought and doubt would begin to creep in as some wondered what lay ahead, worrying they not nearly prepared enough to ride through the town, and that they would be quickly cut down. Cautiously Quantrill would send William Gregg with five scouts ahead to ride through town and determine the lay of the land while sending some more up to the top of Mount Oread to serve as lookouts. As scouts made it through town, there was little indication that there was anything to fear. Those they saw, as few as they might have been seemed unconcerned by strangers riding through that early, some even mistaking them for Union soldiers. In the end, it became clear they weren’t prepared for what was about to come.

It wouldn’t matter to Quantrill; his mind had already been made up that he was going to attack. Now at the outskirts of the town, there was no turning back. Crying out to his men he would declare, “You can do as you please, I’m going to Lawrence” before riding into the town. They would follow even as one loudly declared, “We are lost.” Some were sent directly to the house of the Reverend S.S. Snyder, a minister at the United Brethren Church and a Lieutenant in the Second Colored Regiment. He would be one of the first to die, shot as he milked his cow in those early morning hours.

Hard and heavy would Quantrill’s Bushwacker’s ride through the town, raiding, looting, murdering, letting loose hell on the people of the town. They had a list of names of those who they were going to kill first. The Mayor, Collamore, would hide in his family well, as they set fire to his house. Though his family survived the brutality of the day, he would die of smoke inhalation. Senator Lane, the general who had led the jayhawkers in the Siege of Osceola, would escape hiding in corn fields. Former Governor Charles Robinson, another prominent Free Stater, though long time rival of Senator Lane, would barely escape with his own life, as would Hugh Dunn Fischer, chaplain of the 5th Kansas Calvary. He would be dragged out of the house by his wife hidden in a carpet as Quantrill’s men watched his house burn. Though James Speer, the newspaper publisher backed by Lane, would escape with his life, two of his sons would be killed, the only thing sparing his youngest’s life was the fact that he gave a fake name. Meanwhile, Quantrill and his men would capture the Elbridge Hotel as their base for the remainder of the massacre, as his troops began to set fire to the town. By the time it was said and done, 4 hours later, over a quarter of the town was burned to the ground, including all but two of the businesses, and 164 civilians were dead, most of whom were men and boys.

It was, by no account a raid, it was, for lack of a better term, a slaughter, a mass execution, a savage carnage unleashed on the people of Lawrence. So horrified by the events of Lawrence the Confederate Government would withdraw any and all support it had for Quantrill and his men. They would ride into Texas where they would eventually split among different factions by Winter, too rowdy and undisciplined to remain together.

General Ewing would issue his General Order Number 11, expelling Missouri residents from the border counties of their state and then burning their homes and towns to the ground. Kansas Governor Thomas Carney would commission the infamous Colonel Charles Jennison, the Redleg Bandit who been an officer leading the Jayhawk raids in the early days of the war to wreak havoc. He would lay waste to everything in his path until he was finally captured in Missouri two years later, court-martialed and dishonorably discharged.

Quantrill himself would not be so lucky. Still leading a group of maybe a dozen men, he would be caught in a Union Ambush in Kentucky a month after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant, he would be shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist down, before dying at age 27 on June 6th of 1865. Still, his name would live on, not just in the reunions of the men who would, after the war, begin to call themselves Quantrill’s Raiders, but also in the stories of two of his most famous Guerilla’s, Frank and Jesse James.

Independence Day 2017

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

To most patriots it was not simply that they were declaring independence. It was not that solely that they were asserting their national sovereignty as a free people no longer under the authority of the Court of Saint James, no longer owing allegiance to Parliament and Crown. No, too much blood has been spilt, too many of their brethren has fallen by the musket and the cannon, had laid broken and crumbled by the bayonet and the sword. For them it was a sacred act.

The truth was the path to independence was one that had been paved long before the Declaration of Independence was conceived of or even the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. The French and Indian War had launched a series of events, altering the course of history to set the Colonies on a collision course with their Mother Country. As John Adams would observe reconciliation had long become impossible, as they looked to England and recognized that the old order had been shattered, that those who were to represent the people, yes, even the American people, “have been now for many years gradually trained and disciplined by Corruption.” Now came the inevitable amidst a people who would not relent, who looked to their rights, rights they had carried to America from the far distant shores of England, entrenched in Magna Carta, and would not compromise on their liberty.

The Declaration of Independence

More than anything else the offenses of the Crown and Parliament, they wove together, uniting the people in the common understanding that “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Some 241 years later some of the names, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Henry Knox, Nathaniel Greene, Patrick Henry, to name a few, are remembered with reverence, while others, Benedict Arnold, Lord Dunmore John Murray, Charles Cornwallis, William Howe, Bloody Ban Tarkington, have gone done in infamy. Faded to pages of history for as many as are remembered even more are forgotten as time has marched forward unrelenting, unchanging in the course of human events. Yet everything hung on what they did. Had they not fought for our great charter of National Freedom, nothing that came after would have been possible. There would have been Constitution or Bill of Rights. The unique balance struck between National, Political and Individual freedom birthed in this nation would never have been carried to term. It would never have become that shining beacon of liberty that so many look to when they consider the meaning of our natural rights.

This is the legacy that we have been handed as the torch of the sacred fire of liberty has been passed from one generation to the next. It is our heritage, bequeathed by one generation to the next in the hope that the one to follow will not only grow in love and respect for the freedom that had been so hard fought for, but that they strengthen and preserve it. To each of us they have tasked the responsibility of extending what our independence means as we grow in our understanding of justice and equality, building on that deeper knowledge that we are free to think, to do and to be, and all that is asked of us is that we leave our country just as free, if not a little freer than those who came before us. It is a challenge to remember those words of John Adams to his wife Abigail, “Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”

So, as we mark our freedom, as we commemorate our independence, proudly flying our flags as we go to our picnics, and barbecues, as we enjoy our day away from work to take in the beach or a park, taking in the beauty of this nation and its people, remember it is a time to recommit ourselves to the cause of liberty. It is our chance to once more dedicate ourselves to that sacred cause for which so many were, and still are, willing to live and die for. Ask what am I going to do to keep the spirit of 1776 alive, to stand for freedom, holding “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Cherish your freedom, but more than that live in it everyday, seeking to do better and to live better.

A Memorial Day Message

Memorial-Day-Photos-Arlington.jpgThere are times when it is difficult to look at the flag without just feeling overwhelmed. We are, after all, a nation that was born out of sacrifice, out of the willingness of men and women to offer their last breath of devotion to a cause greater than themselves. In the darkest days of trial and tribulation, when the tapestry of this Union tore, and threatened to rip it apart, they stood with courage as a beacon of light and hope. When the world set itself ablaze in the fires of War, with tyranny and oppression, hatred, death and destruction ripping our innocence from us, they offered themselves as a ransom for the victims of despair. It is a tradition that remains today with the fallen of each War and Conflict, with each struggle that lays before us as they stand in defense, willing to live and to die under that flag for our freedom.

These were people’s fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and when we needed them most they answered the call, giving freely and without reservation, without a question of whether it was worth it or not.

Today is Memorial Day, a time when we honor those who have fallen, those who stood on the threshold and crossed so we could partake in the freedom we enjoy today, and make no mistake, because of them we are free. We may not always agree with the direction our Country is going in, but we can speak out because of them. We may not always like our politicians but we can replace them because of them. We may complain about aspects of our life, but we have the chance to make it better, we have the chance to rise above, because of them. In that sense Memorial Day doesn’t just begin and end on May 29th, 2017 or May 30th, 2016 or May 28, 2018. Whether we recognize it or not, we live it each and every day of our lives as we realize we are free to think, to do, to be.

I don’t want to take away from the day that we have to honor our fallen or the sacrifices that thy have made. They are, and always have been, the best and the bravest that we have to offer and they bought our freedom with their blood. We cannot begin to honor their sacrifice for liberty enough for all they have given us. What I want to say is that as today fades into the next, and the next after that, do not let the sacrifices they have made fade to the back of your mind. Honor them each day, feel the deep and abiding gratitude for it each and every day, letting their light shine your way. Look to the flag that they held high with their last breath and see their faces, hear their names, remember the burden that they took on. Give freely of yourselves, and offer of yourselves, knowing that we live in their legacy of love and hope.

We are a people who owe so much to those who have fallen. The least we can do is to dedicate our lives to honoring them by honoring and cherishing what they were willing to offer themselves up for.

God bless,

Keep safe, keep free,

Wyatt McIntyre, 2017

Our Own Magna Carta Americana: The Bill of Rights Part Two

federalpillars-mass.jpgHow far would you trust the current Congress? Would you trust the House and the Senate to take up the cause of your individual rights and freedoms? Would you vest in them the power of Government, with new, more broad expansions of the control that they currently have on the promise of these politicians that they would ensure your rights and freedoms?

We probably wouldn’t. Living in a day and an age when the Bill of Rights is seen more as a hurdle to get over than a framework for responsible government, we probably wouldn’t believe the assurance even of well-meaning politicians to do protect our liberties. Yet as the Constitution was ratified that was exactly what the states and the people did. They ultimately agreed to approve this vast expansion of the powers of government in the promise that these politicians would take to the Congress to draft a Bill of Rights ensuring that as the political rights of the nation were entrenched in the Constitution the Individual Rights of the People would be ensured in an equally powerful document.

In Part Two of this series on the Bill of Rights we leave behind the British Magna Carta, Petition of Rights and Bill of Rights, those documents that were brought to America by the Colonists, and we focus on the path to our own Magna Carta Americana, our own declaration of Rights, and how the ratification process for the Constitution ensured its inevitable passage. Looking at the role of the Massachusetts Compromise, the thoughts of men like James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other early American leaders we chart the contentious course of the Constitution and how its passage came with the stipulation that a Bill of Rights would need to come from the first Congress. We look at the personal struggles that the Constitution brought as Founders were vilified and Madison almost witnessed the death of his own political career.

I hope that you join with me in this next installment of this series on the road to the Bill of Rights.

May 22nd, 1856

Senator Thomas Hart Benton

Civility was quickly becoming a thing of the past. One needed only look at the curious case of the Great Missourian, Senator Thomas Hart Benton, and Mississippi’s Senator Henry Stuart Foote during the debates over the Compromise of 1850to understand that point. Even as Benton charged the smaller Senator Foote on the floor of the Upper Chamber, the Mississippian jumped to his feet, drew his revolver and took aim. Member of the Senate were up, quick to act, trying to hold back Benton, that bull of man, back. They found their efforts were futile as they were unable to restrain him. Even as Foote retreated, Benton would yell, “Let the assassin shoot! He knows that I am not armed!”

Though, in the end, he would not fire his revolver, the thought had, without a doubt, crossed Foote’s mind. And these were two members of the same Party.

Part of this could perhaps be explained by the fact that they were both older men, and originally from the South. For them dueling was a way of life. Foote, for example, walked with a limp from a bullet to the hip he took in a duel with Sargent Prentiss, and Benton had once dueled Andrew Jackson during their service together in the War of 1812. Commenting on it afterwards to someone who asked if he knew Jackson he would tell them, “Yes, sir, I knew him, sir; General Jackson was a very great man, sir. I shot him, sir. Afterward he was of great use to me, sir, in my battle with the United States Bank.”


Senator Charles Sumner

Yet, for as much as it might have been who men like Benton and Foote were, it wasn’t who Charles Sumner, the first term Senator from Massachusetts, was. Still, it wasn’t difficult to see that the Free-Soil Abolitionist was not necessarily going to be popular, at least not in some quarters of the Senate. His first speech to that Body would invoke the Constitution, and the Bill of Right, the Founding Fathers and the name of liberty, attacking the compromises and the laws that prolonged the life of Slavery within the Republic. In response Senator Jeremiah Clemens of Alabama would rise to declare, “the hope that none of my friends would make any reply to the speech which the senator from Massachusetts has seen fit to inflict on the senate… I shall only say, sir, that the ravings of a maniac may sometimes be dangerous, but the barking of a puppy never did any harm.”

Now though, as the Whig Party began to fade as a far distant memory, and the abolitionists, the Free Soil Party and the anti-slavery Whigs, began to unite behind the newly formed Republican Party, tensions were running higher than they ever did before. Now, as Senator Sumner rose to the floor to speak on the Bleeding Kansas Crisis that had degenerated into violence between the two sides of the Slavery debate precipitated by Kansas-Nebraska Act passed in 1854 everyone knew his speech would be controversial. Few though would predict how inflammatory it would be.

The wickedness which I now begin to expose is immeasurably aggravated by the motive which prompted it. Not in any common lust for power did this uncommon tragedy have its origin. It is the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery; and it may be clearly traced to a depraved desire for a new Slave State, hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of slavery in the National Government…

With the tone set he would then set his sights on two men in particular, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, and Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, who, along with President Millard Fillmore, were the primary architects of the Act. Calling them the “Don Quixote and Sancho Panza” of slavery, he would dub slavery their “Dulcinea del Toboso”. Then, mockingly, he would look to Butler, declaring,

if the slave States cannot enjoy what, in mockery of the great fathers of the republic, he misnames equality under the Constitution, in other words the full power in the National Territories to compel fellow-men to unpaid toil, to separate husband and wife, and to sell little children at the auction-block – then, sir, the chivalric senator will conduct the State of South Carolina out of the Union! Heroic knight! Exalted Senator! A second Moses come for a second exodus…. The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean the harlot, slavery. For her his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this senator.

Even as the speech carried on, Douglas, Sancho Panza in Sumner’s narrative, paced along the back of the Senate Chamber, muttering to himself, “This damn fool is going to get himself killed by some other damn fool.” As he concluded, Michigan senator Lewis Cass, would declare his speech, “The most un-American and unpatriotic that ever grated on the ears of the members of this high body.”


Congressman Preston Brooks

Yet what could be considered his harshest criticism would come two days later when, on May 22nd, 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks, representative for South Carolina’s 4th District, and a cousin of Andrew Butler, would enter the Senate chamber accompanied by fellow Congressmen Laurence Keitt and Henry A. Edmundson. Two years prior Edmundson had been arrested by the Sergeant at Arms of the House for trying to attack Ohio Congressman Lewis Campbell on the Floor during the debates over the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Now, he was there to encourage Brooks in his course.

Originally Brooks was to challenge Sumner to a duel but Keitt had talked him out of it, arguing that Sumner was beneath him, and that the language that he had used in his speech established that. He should duel a man this far beneath his station. To Keitt Sumner should suffer the same fate as an insolent slave if he loved them so dearly.


The Caning of Charles Sumner

In a slow, steady voice, Brooks would confront Sumner, poking at him with his cane, stating, “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” The Massachusetts Senator would defiantly push the cane away and go to stand. Immediately Brooks would hit him so hard over the head with his cane that he would stumble back, losing sight immediately as he fell to the ground. Brooks would thrash at him as the Senator found himself trapped under his desk, bolted to the floor, his chair on a sliding track. After the attack, Sumner would say, “I no longer saw my assailant, nor any other person or object in the room. What I did afterwards was done almost unconsciously, acting under the instincts of self-defense.” As the South Carolina Congressman continued to rain down his blows, Sumner would grip his desk as he tried to escape, the blood running down his face. He would rip his desk from the bolts before stumbling through the aisle, unable to keep a pace that would let him escape.

Finally he would collapse in the arms of Brooks who would grab him by his lapel, continuing his caning of the man. Even as a few members of the Senate like Tennessee Senator John J. Crittenden, tried to rush to Sumner’s aid, others, like Stephen Douglas, according to Sumner’s account, would stand at a distance and watch the events unfold. The one’s who did try to help would find Keitt standing in their way, yelling at them to let him be. It wasn’t until Ambrose Murray and Edwin Morgan, Republican Congressman from New York, were able to grab hold of Brooks and tear him away from Sumner that the beating would stop. By this time Sumner would crumble to the United States Senate unconscious, in a pool of his own blood.

Though he would recover with only minor injuries from the beating he took, the effects of what had happened would be long felt.

Though he received the praise and adulation of the Southern Papers, and his own constituents, with new canes being sent to him, the fact is that Brooks had done more to damage his cause than he did to help it. Even as the great Essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson declared at a Town Hall Meeting in Concord, “The events of the last few years and months and days have taught us the lessons of centuries. I do not see how a barbarous community and a civilized community can constitute one state. I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom. Life has not parity of value in the free state and in the slave state,” the caning of Charles Sumner became a turning point for the Republican Party and a rallying cry for them. As historians like Michael Perman and William Geinapp would observe, “Sumner did more for his party by his suffering than he ever had done by his speeches. The Brooks assault was of critical importance in transforming the struggling Republican party into a major political force. “By great odds the most effective deliverance made by any man to advance the Republican Party was made by the bludgeon of Preston S. Brooks.”’

Brooks wouldn’t live to see what his contribution would bring. He wouldn’t live long enough to see the rise or the ascension of the Republican Party to the White House a Having been convicted of the assault and fined, though he would be overwhelmingly re-elected, he would die of Croup within a year.