America in the 1850s

The Emergence of John Brown

Who was Charles Sumner?

Born in Massachusetts in 1811, Charles Sumner was the junior senator from that state (he occupied the seat formerly held by the renowned orator Daniel Webster). From his debut, he showed himself an enemy to the institution of slavery. An ardent abolitionist, Sumner was horrified by the events in Kansas, and even before he knew that Lawrence had been attacked, he rose in the Senate to make a condemnatory speech. Titled “The Crime against Kansas,” Sumner’s speech made some ad hominem attacks against Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, who was not present to defend himself. Sumner truly went over the line when he suggested that this senator, as well as many other Southern gentlemen, was more interested in having sex with his slaves than with the well-being of black people in general.

Senator Charles Sumner (1811–1874) of Massachusetts was strongly opposed to slavery. His ad hominem attack against Southerners, particularly Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, drew such outrage from Butler’s relative Preston Brooks that he beat Sumner senseless with his cane.


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