Origins

“Hit Him Again” are the words inscribed on a cane given by the City of Charleston to Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina. The cane was intended to replace the cane that he broke over the back of Charles Sumner in 1856. The abolitionist political cartoon featured prominently on this page was originally done by J.L. Magee, and carried the inscription “Southern Chivalry: Argument vs. Clubs.”

Preston Brooks is an entertaining character of American history – despite his being on the wrong side of slavery. During his lifetime, he participated in multiple duels, fisticuffs, was expelled from college (after being suspended twice), held up a jail at gunpoint – only to eventually become a lawyer and U.S. Congressman. This site is devoted in part to discovering more about his turbulent life and will be periodically updated with historical research.

As to his defining event, Brooks assaulted Charles Sumner in retaliation for the contents of a speech delivered on the floor of the Senate in promotion of Kansas’s entry into the Union as a free state. Brooks took exception to two main points of Sumner’s speech.

First, Charles Sumner mocked Senator Butler’s (a relative of Brooks) speech impediment:

With regret, I come again upon the Senator from South Carolina (Mr. Butler), who, omnipresent in this debate, overflowed with rage at the simple suggestion that Kansas had applied for admission as a State and, with incoherent phrases, discharged the loose expectoration of his speech, now upon her representative, and then upon her people. There was no extravagance of the ancient parliamentary debate, which he did not repeat; nor was there any possible deviation from truth which he did not make, with so much of passion, I am glad to add, as to save him from the suspicion of intentional aberration. But the Senator touches nothing which he does not disfigure with error, sometimes of principle, sometimes of fact. He shows an incapacity of accuracy, whether in stating the Constitution, or in stating the law, whether in the details of statistics or the diversions of scholarship. He cannot open his mouth, but out there flies a blunder . . .

Second, Brooks accused Sumer of “slandering” the state of South Carolina due to the following:

Were the whole history of South Carolina blotted out of existence, from its very beginning down to the day of the last election of the Senator to his present seat on this floor, civilization might lose—I do not say how little; but surely less than it has already gained by the example of Kansas . . . throughout this infant Territory there is more mature scholarship far, in proportion to its inhabitants, than in all South Carolina. Ah, sir, I tell the Senator that Kansas, welcomed as a free State, will be a “ministering angel” to the Republic, when South Carolina, in the cloak of darkness which she hugs, “lies howling.”

Preston Brooks explained the motivation for the assault in a speech before the House following the incident:

I should have forfeited my own self-respect, and perhaps the good opinion of my countrymen, if I had failed to resent such an injury by calling the offender in question to a personal account. It was a personal affair, and in taking redress into my own hands I meant no disrespect to the Senate of the United States or to this House.

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