harles Sumner was a prominent U.S. senator (1851-1874) from Massachusetts
and a vociferous anti-slavery leader, who became a martyr to the abolitionist
cause when he suffered a vicious attack on the floor of the Senate. Sumner was a
graduate of Harvard University (1830) and Harvard Law School (1833). In 1848 he
helped found the Free-Soil party and ran unsuccessfully for Congress. In 1851 he
was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Free-Soiler and reelected in 1857 as a
During a Senate debate in 1856 on the fate of slavery in the Kansas
Territory, Sumner delivered a stinging "Crime Against Kansas" speech
in which he denounced the Southern "slave power" and singled out
fellow Senator Andrew Butler for particular disparagement. In retaliation, U.S.
Representative Preston Brooks, Butlerís nephew, bludgeoned Sumner with a cane
while the Senator was seated at his desk on the floor of the Senate chamber. The
injuries Sumner sustained caused him to be absent from the Senate for four
years. Butlerís actions were celebrated throughout the South for upholding the
honor of his uncle against a rapid abolitionist, while Sumner became a hero in
the North for bearing the assault of a barbaric pro-slavery Southerner.
During the Civil War, Sumner advocated emancipation and civil rights for
black Americans. During Reconstruction he sided with the Radical Republicans,
and in 1872 he became a leader in the Liberal Republican movement.