Preston Brooks: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Preston Brooks

Preston Smith Brooks (August 5, 1819 – January 27, 1857) was a Democratic Congressman from South Carolina, known for severely beating Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the United States Senate in response to a perceived insult. His first cousin, Matthew Butler, was a Confederate general.


Early life

Born in Roseland, Edgefield County, South Carolina, he was the son of Whitfield and Mary Parsons-Carroll Brooks. Brooks attended South Carolina College (now known as the University of South Carolina) but was expelled just before graduation for threatening local police officers with firearms. (Note that the Congressional Biographical Directory of the United States 1774–present states that he did graduate in 1839.) He was admitted to the Bar in 1845. Brooks served in the Mexican-American War with the Palmetto Regiment. Brooks once fought a duel with future Texas Senator Louis T. Wigfall and was shot in the hip, forcing him to use a walking cane for the rest of his life. Niep was his nickname.


  • First marriage: Caroline Harper Means (1820-1843). Brooks was widowed upon her death.
    • Children: Whitfield D. Brooks (1843-1843).
  • Second marriage: Martha Caroline Means (1826-?).
    • Children: Caroline Harper Brooks (1849-1924), Rosa Brooks (1850-?), Preston Smith Brooks (1854-?).

Preston's paternal grandparents

His paternal grandparents were Zachariah Smith Brooks and Elizabeth Butler Brooks. Preston's paternal grandfather, Zachariah Smith Brooks, moved to Edgefield, South Carolina, from Loudoun, Virginia, before the Revolutionary War. Zachariah was a lieutenant in the Revolutionary War and a Colonel of the South Carolina Cavalry. Zachariah owned a plantation located at Big Creek, a branch of the Saluda River. In 1850 he was recorded on The Slave Schedules Records. Mrs. Elizabeth Butler Brooks was the daughter of James Butler, a martyr of the Revolution, and of his wife, Mrs. Mary Simpson Butler.

Political career

He was a member of the South Carolina State house of representatives in 1844. Brooks was elected to the United States Congress in 1853. Brooks was officially associated with the Democratic Party.

Sumner assault

On May 22, 1856, Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner with his Gutta-percha wood walking cane in the Senate chamber because of a speech Sumner had made three days earlier, for singling out Brooks' uncle, Andrew Butler. Senator Andrew Butler was not in attendance when the speech was read, but Sumner compared Butler with Don Quixote for embracing slavery, and mocking Butler for a physical handicap. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, who was also a subject of criticism during the speech, suggested to a colleague while Sumner was orating that "this damn fool [Sumner] is going to get himself shot by some other damn fool." (Jordan et al., The Americans)

Laurence M. Keitt
J.L. Magee's famous political cartoon of the attack on Charles Sumner

At first intending to challenge Sumner to a duel, Brooks consulted with fellow South Carolina Rep. Laurence M. Keitt on dueling etiquette. Keitt instructed him that dueling was for gentlemen of equal social standing, and suggested that Sumner occupied a lower social status comparable to a drunkard due to the supposedly coarse language he had used during his speech. Brooks thus decided to attack Sumner with a cane.

Two days after the speech, on the afternoon of May 22, Brooks confronted Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber. Brooks was accompanied by Keitt and Henry A. Edmundson of Virginia. Brooks said, "Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine." As Sumner began to stand up, Brooks began beating Sumner on the head with his thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head. Sumner was trapped under the heavy desk (which was bolted to the floor), but Brooks continued to bash Sumner until he ripped the desk from the floor. By this time, Sumner was blinded by his own blood, and he staggered up the aisle and collapsed, lapsing into unconsciousness. Brooks continued to beat Sumner until he broke his cane, then quietly left the chamber. Several other senators attempted to help Sumner, but were blocked by Keitt who was brandishing a pistol and shouting "Let them be!" (Keitt would be censured for his actions and later died of wounds in 1864 fighting for the Confederacy during the US Civil War.)

Sumner was unable to return to his Senate duties for more than three years while he recovered. He later became one of the most influential Radical Republicans throughout the conduct of the American Civil War, and on through the early years of Reconstruction.

After the attack

South Carolinians sent Brooks dozens of brand new canes, with one bearing the phrase, "Hit him again." The Richmond Enquirer crowed: "We consider the act good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequences. These vulgar abolitionists in the Senate must be lashed into submission." The University of Virginia's Jefferson Literary and Debating Society sent a gold-headed cane to replace Brooks's broken one.

Brooks survived an expulsion vote in the House but resigned his seat, claiming both that he "meant no disrespect to the Senate of the United States" by attacking Sumner and that he did not intend to kill him, for he would have used a different weapon if he had. His constituents thought of him as a hero and returned him to Congress. However, Brooks's attack on Sumner was regarded in the north as the act of a cowardly barbarian. One of the bitterest critics of the attack was Sumner's fellow New Englander, Congressman Anson Burlingame. When Burlingame denounced Brooks as a coward on the floor of the House, Brooks challenged him to a duel, and Burlingame accepted the challenge. Burlingame, as the challenged party, specified rifles as the weapons, and to get around American anti-dueling laws he named the Navy Yard on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls as the site. Brooks backed out of the challenge, claiming that he would be murdered on his way north. Burlingame's reputation as a deer hunter and a deadly shot with a rifle may also have been a factor. Brooks remained in office until his death from the croup in 1857. He is buried in Edgefield, South Carolina.


The city of Brooksville, Florida, and Brooks County, Georgia, are named in Brooks' honor.[1].


  • Hollis, Daniel Walker (1951) University of South Carolina, volume I: South Carolina College, p. 139, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. recounts the details of his expulsion from South Carolina College,
  1. ^ City of Brooksville website

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John McQueen
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1853 – January 27, 1857
Succeeded by
Milledge L. Bonham


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