The Caning of Charles Sumner

The Caning of Charles Sumner

A Poem by J.S.R. Rayburn
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The true story of the savage beating of Charles Sumner by Preston Brooks on the United States Senate floor over the issue of slavery.

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It was in Eighteen Hundred and Fifty Six

When slav’ry was still argued in politics

The chains of the chattel chafing as they bled

Kansas veins oozing, painting grasslands bright red

When Rep Preston Brooks nearly beat Senator

Charles Sumner to death on the Senate floor.

 

It all began with a speech, Sumner gave o’er two days

Which he called for Kansas, with his tongue set ablaze

To be admitted as a free state to the Union

Denouncing the Kansas-Nebraska Act “solution”

And attacking the authors, Stephen Douglas

And Andrew Butler, making an absolute a*s

Out of these men. He called Butler “Quixote,”

That slav’ry were his harlot, and noted that he

Could not argue his point, without slurring his speech

And after five long hours, Sumner’s oration ceased.

Butler could not respond, for he was absent those days

He had suffered a stroke; now his mind’s in a haze.

 

But while Butler was out; and this is one for the books

This speech caught the eye of Preston Smith Brooks.

A Representative of South Carolina he was

And Andrew Butler’s younger, fiery second cuz.

He was angry, incensed, and deeply offended

He had to do something, something only men did.

He approached fellow Rep, Laurence M. Keitt

And asked on the rules of a duel in the street

When Keitt said, with a look drenched in spite

“Dueling’s only for gents. He deserves not a fair fight.”

Brooks nodded assent; he now knew what to do

He would teach that fool Sumner a damn thing or two.

 

Two days later, the twenty-second of May

Brooks entered the Senate on that fateful day 

With a cane in his hand, his heart unsavory

He’d avenge his cousin and defend slavery.

Keitt and Henry A. Edmundson followed him in

They had the man’s back; they’d protect Brooks’ skin.

Then they waited until the gallery was clear

Making sure no ladies would be anywhere near

To see what was about to occur that day.

Sumner was sitting at his desk, writing away

When Brooks said, “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech

Twice over carefully.” Sumner was now within Brooks’ reach.

“‘Tis a libel on South Carolina and Mister

Butler who’s a relative of mine,” Brooks blistered.

 

Sumner started to rise, but before he could stand

Brooks lifted the walking cane in his hand

And he struck the senator right in the head.

Sumner was blinded at once, his eyes coated in red.

Then Brooks swung again, and again, and again

And connected each time with his hard wooden cane.

 

This sudden attack sent waves to and fro

And many rushed over to stop Brooks’ blows.

But guarding the fight, not daring to breathe

Were Keitt and Edmunson armed to the teeth

With a cane and a gun. In between Sumner’s yelps

Keitt pointed his pistol, at those who wanted to help

And he said in an anger, man had not yet known,

“Let them be! God damn you, let them alone!”

 

As Brooks savagely beat the man Legree-esque

Sumner fell, and was trapped underneath his own desk

As Brooks continued to bash in his brains

Adrenaline coursed through his veins

He stood up, he pushed underneath the desk base

And he ripped the bolted desk from its place.

With his blood in his eyes, he was blind as a bat

He staggered up the aisle, until he fell flat

On his face, when he was struck yet again

On his back by Brooks with that cane.

And even when the cane splintered in two

Brooks continued to thrash him through and through.

The attack did not cease; O how everything ached.

Sumner let out a yell, and was no longer awake.

However, this didn’t stop Brooks, and with great malcontent

He kept pounding away at the unconscious gent.

 

Finally, two Congressmen, Ambrose S. Murray

And Edwin B. Morgan restrained Brooks in a hurry

Who quickly left the room without saying a word.

The men examined the violent scene that had just occurred.

Floor covered in blood, Sumner, half-dead, laying

And pieces of cane broken off from the flaying.

Sumner was led to the cloakroom and stitched up

And was then taken by a carriage hitched up

To his home, where he then underwent

More treatment for his violent torment.

Brooks also sought aid, and boy this had to sting 

For he’d struck himself hard on one of his backswings.

 

Sumner survived, somehow, but was out for three years

His seat remained bare; a reminder by his peers.

Brooks was arrested, found guilty, and was fined, as he’d grouse,

A full three hundred bucks, but he remained in the House.

The reactions were just what you’d expect; thenceforth

Brooks was hailed in the South, with Sumner martyred up North.

 

Any chances of peace where now shattered kaput

There was no turning back, Civil War was afoot.

© 2020 J.S.R. Rayburn


Author's Note

J.S.R. Rayburn
This is basically a first draft. I know some of the rhymes are awful, and that this is woefully unpolished. I'd like to know if there were parts that were either unclear to those unfamiliar with the historical event, or if certain lines are awkwardly written.

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Featured Review

Possibly you could polish some of the rhymes, but for a first draft, this is a good recounting of one of the most shocking events in the history of the US Congress. I have read that some years later, when he was dying of pneumonia, Brooks asked Sumner's forgiveness for the assault. I have also read that the beating was one of the things that inspired John Brown to launch the bloody Pottawatomie massacre in Kansas later that same month.

Posted 10 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Possibly you could polish some of the rhymes, but for a first draft, this is a good recounting of one of the most shocking events in the history of the US Congress. I have read that some years later, when he was dying of pneumonia, Brooks asked Sumner's forgiveness for the assault. I have also read that the beating was one of the things that inspired John Brown to launch the bloody Pottawatomie massacre in Kansas later that same month.

Posted 10 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on July 9, 2020
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Tags: caning, charles sumner, preston brooks, civil war, us, america, american, history, true