Hostility about slavery thrived in the U.S. Senate.
On May 22, 1856, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, an arrogant abolitionist, launched a tirade against Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, calling him an imbecile who has taken "a mistress who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; I mean, the harlot, Slavery."
Two days later, Sumner, writing letters at his desk, failed to notice Representative Preston Brooks.
"Mr. Sumner," Brooks said, "Your speech libels South Carolina, and my white-haired relative, Senator Butler. I've come to punish you."
Sumner rose. Brooks smashed Sumner's skull with a gold-headed cane, knocking him under his desk. The tall Senator struggled to rise from under the desk, bolted to the floor. Blood gushed down his face.
Using thighs as levers, Sumner ripped the desk from its bolts, freeing himself. Blinded by blood, he staggered. Brooks rained blows that shattered his cane.
Sumner lurched, buckled and passed out. Brooks pummeled Sumner until legislators restrained him.
Brooks left, as others carried the unconscious Sumner, spurting blood. Three years would pass before he could resume his Senate duties.