Discuss the relevancy of Preston Brooks to American History.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Preston Brooks' most relevant aspect is his beating of fellow legislator Charles Sumner on the Senate Floor in 1856.  Sumner was from Massachusetts and an ardent abolitionist, while Brooks was a Representative from South Carolina.  While Sumner was delivering a particularly scathing speech against South Carolina and its senator, Andrew Butler, a relative of Brooks, the South Carolina Representative took exception.  A couple days after the speech, Brooks approached Sumner in a near empty chamber, declared his exception taken, and then proceeded to use his cane to beat the Senator.  The image is probably one of the most stark and horrifying in American History.  The Senate, the center of the legislative branch where all problems are settled through discussion and debate, where civility is to reign above all, and where the Framers saw the hopes of the nation realized, became the setting for one legislator beating another into a crippled mass with a cane.  It was also not lost on the public that a Southerner was beating up a Northerner, and crippling him in the process.  In a nation that was growing apart because of different paths to economic progress along with the issue of slavery becoming a more divisive issue, Southerners saw it as a vindication of sorts.  Thousands of Southern supporters sent canes to their legislators and to Brooks as a sign of support and solidarity.  Brooks' attack demonstrated how the Civil War was unavoidable.

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