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Happy Birthday, Charles Sumner!

On this day in 1811 Charles Sumner was born in Boston, Massachusetts.

Charles Sumner became a United States senator in 1851. A dedicated abolitionist, he favored immediate equal rights for African Americans. A particularly fiery speech, “The Crime Against Kansas,” insulted South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks, a defender of slavery. Brooks took his cane and beat on Senator Sumner, right there on the Senate floor.

Preston Brooks, you see, was the nephew of South Carolina senator Andrew P. Butler, who had been among those condemned in Sumner’s speech. Senator Sumner’s attack on Butler went beyond his politics and got personal. They say he even called Butler’s mistress ugly. The good old days of civil discourse!

Sumner was re-elected, even though it took him three years to recover, during which time his senate seat was empty. Brooks was not expelled from congress, but he did resign his seat. His actions, condemned in the North, were celebrated in the South and he was re-elected to the House. He died the next year.

But his actions on the senate floor have kept him in the history books. Charles Sumner probably would have been in the history books anyway, as he was one of the best known Radical Republicans in the senate during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Happy birthday, Senator Charles Sumner!

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