It seems fairly unimaginable that a Congressman would attack a Senator on the floor of the U.S. Capitol building, leaving him injured for a period of three years. In 1856, this was the condition of the American political system. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the citizens of the new territories to decide the issue of slavery. This law was meant to be a compromise between the North and South. It actually increased tensions as proponents of both sides of the argument descended upon Kansas to vote for, or against slavery. The tension led to violence throughout the territory and even tore apart the Whig political party.
In May of 1856, the tension of the slavery issue reached the Capitol building. Massachusettes Senator Charles Sumner had delivered an incendiary abolitionist speech to Congress two days earlier and southerners were looking for some retribution. On May 22nd, South Carolina representative Preston Brooks brutally beat Sumner with a walking cane. Sumner was knocked unconscious by the attack and it took him three years to recover and return to his job.
The attack further heightened tensions that already existed between the North and South. In the South, Brooks was lauded as a hero, but to Northerners, it demonstrated the violent and degrading behavior of the Southern mentality.