#TBT: The caning of Charles Sumner
On May 22, 1856, Rep. Preston Brooks walked into the US Senate chamber and proceeded to beat Sen. Charles Sumner with a cane, a very uncivil small-scale foreshadowing of the Civil War.
The issue, as you probably guessed, was slavery. Brooks, a Democrat, hailed from South Carolina. Sumner, a Republican, was from Massachusetts. Days earlier, Sumner delivered a speech against admitting Kansas to the Union as a slave state. Importantly, during his speech, he called out South Carolina's Sen. Andrew Butler.
"The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight, with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows," Sumner said of Butler. "I mean the harlot Slavery."
Butler was Brooks' distant relative, and the congressman didn't take kindly to Sumner's speech. Brooks walked into the Senate chamber and beat Sumner so violently with his cane that it reportedly snapped. It took the senator years to recover.
And the story of political incivility lives on -- Brooks became a hero to many in the South. In fact, the city of Brooksville, Florida, was named after him. (Full disclosure, it's my hometown.)
A reminder: Brooks did not represent Florida. It cannot be argued that the city was named for a flawed but respected statesman of the Sunshine State. It was named to honor and immortalize someone whose lasting legacy prominently features an impassioned, violent attack on an abolitionist.
Sure, there have been times in the intervening 162 years that the specter of civility could be seen in the halls of Congress, at debates and even on Twitter. But politics has never been a genteel business.
This case shows that sometimes, the worst offenders don't only escape punishment -- Brooks resigned, but got re-elected shortly thereafter -- but get glorified for bad behavior.