The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War

Overview

A Turning Point in American History, the Beating of U.S. Senator Charles Sumner and the Beginning of the War Over Slavery
Early in the afternoon of May 22, 1856, ardent pro-slavery Congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina strode into the United States Senate Chamber in Washington, D.C., and began beating renowned anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner with a gold-topped walking cane. Brooks struck again and again—more than thirty times across Sumner’s head, face, and ...

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The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War

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Overview

A Turning Point in American History, the Beating of U.S. Senator Charles Sumner and the Beginning of the War Over Slavery
Early in the afternoon of May 22, 1856, ardent pro-slavery Congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina strode into the United States Senate Chamber in Washington, D.C., and began beating renowned anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner with a gold-topped walking cane. Brooks struck again and again—more than thirty times across Sumner’s head, face, and shoulders—until his cane splintered into pieces and the helpless Massachusetts senator, having nearly wrenched his desk from its fixed base, lay unconscious and covered in blood. It was a retaliatory attack. Forty-eight hours earlier, Sumner had concluded a speech on the Senate floor that had spanned two days, during which he vilified Southern slaveowners for violence occurring in Kansas, called Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal,” and famously charged Brooks’s second cousin, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, as having “a mistress. . . who ugly to others, is always lovely to him. . . . I mean, the harlot, Slavery.” Brooks not only shattered his cane during the beating, but also destroyed any pretense of civility between North and South.
One of the most shocking and provocative events in American history, the caning convinced each side that the gulf between them was unbridgeable and that they could no longer discuss their vast differences of opinion regarding slavery on any reasonable level.The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War tells the incredible story of this transformative event. While Sumner eventually recovered after a lengthy convalescence, compromise had suffered a mortal blow. Moderate voices were drowned out completely; extremist views accelerated, became intractable, and locked both sides on a tragic collision course.
The caning had an enormous impact on the events that followed over the next four years: the meteoric rise of the Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln; the Dred Scott decision; the increasing militancy of abolitionists, notably John Brown’s actions; and the secession of the Southern states and the founding of the Confederacy. As a result of the caning, the country was pushed, inexorably and unstoppably, to war. Many factors conspired to cause the Civil War, but it was the caning that made conflict and disunion unavoidable five years later.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1856, two days after a fiery speech by abolitionist senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, South Carolina representative Preston Brooks entered the Senate chamber and beat Sumner brutally with a heavy cane. Historian Puleo (Due to Enemy Action: The True World War II Story of the USS Eagle) exaggerates when he claims that this was a cause of the Civil War ("A line had been crossed… and their was no going back"), but the incident illustrated the murderous gulf that had opened between pro- and antislavery forces. More convincingly, Puleo emphasizes that the beating's enthusiastic approval throughout the South shocked Northern opinion more than the assault itself, persuading many moderates that slavery advocates might not be amenable to reason. Two weeks later, the new Republican Party held its presidential convention and, energized by the caning, the party went on to win a majority of Northern votes in the election. Portraying his subjects as sincere if fervent, with Brooks the more sympathetic of the two, Puleo surrounds this skillful dual biography with a competent account of a hopelessly divided nation sliding toward bloody conflict. 28 illus. Agent: Joy Tutela, David Black Literary Agency. Oct. 20).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594161643
  • Publisher: Westholme Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/10/2012
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 374
  • Sales rank: 796,555
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

STEPHEN PULEO is the author of five books, including the bestselling Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 and Due to Enemy Action: The True World War II Story of the USS Eagle 56. A former award-winning newspaper reporter and contributor to American History and other publications, he holds a master’s degree in history and teaches at Suffolk University in Boston.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Prologue xv

Part I

1 Bleeding Kansas 3

2 Omens of War 11

3 The Spread of Slavery 19

4 The Fugitive Slave Act 31

5 The Making of Charles Sumner 43

6 The Crime Against Kansas 59

Part II

7 Nothing But a Cane 75

8 A Son of South Carolina 80

9 Valuable Property 91

10 The Southern Code of Honor 99

Part III

11 The Caning 109

12 A Divided Response 118

13 Enter John Brown 136

14 Heated Debate in the Senate 149

15 An Opportunity for the Republican Party 156

16 Two Martyrs 163

17 Shamming Illness 175

18 The Empty Chair 186

19 The Election of 1856 199

20 The Most Popular Man in Massachusetts 207

21 The First Casualty 214

22 A Miscast President 226

Part IV

23 Dred Scott 237

24 Fire Treatment 251

25 The Lecompton Constitution 267

26 A House Divided 275

27 A New Saint 280

28 The Final Speech 291

29 President Lincoln 306

30 The Inevitability of War 313

Epilogue 323

Bibliographic Essay 339

Acknowledgments 361

Index 365

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