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This assault upon Mr. Sumner was, however, chiefly noticeable for its related facts and subsequent developments. Standing alone, it was [251] but one of many outrages which have disfigured and disgraced human history, as indefensible as they were full of pain and peril,—one good man suffering at the hands of a bad man from the impulse of passion or the greed of gain. But, standing as it does in its relations to the irrepressible conflict between freedom and slavery, it was a revelation of a state of public feeling and sentiment, especially at the South, which both startled and surprised the nation and the world; though it has since lost much of its special significance, looked at by the side of the more horrible demonstrations of rebellion and civil war. Thus considered, it shows Mr. Brooks as only a fit representative of the dominating influences of the slaveholding States, where not only did their leading public men and presses indorse the deed as their own, and defend it by voice and vote, but the people generally seemed ready to vie with each other in their professed admiration of his course, so that the bludgeon became the weapon of honor, the bully the hero of the hour.

The committee reported want of jurisdiction, because, it contended, ‘authority devolves solely upon the House, of which he is a member,’ and the Senate itself took no further action. The House committee entered at once upon the investigation, and proceeded to examine the witnesses of the transaction. Visiting Mr. Sumner at his room, they took his deposition from his sick-bed. He made substantially the same statement already given, mentioning the additional fact that on coming to consciousness he saw ‘Mr. Douglas and Mr. Toombs standing in the Senate,’ and Mr. Slidell in the anteroom, from which the latter ‘retreated at once.’ This statement becoming known, these Senators felt called upon to make explanations of their knowledge of the affair and of the course they adopted in relation to it. Mr. Slidell, referring to the fact that he was conversing with other Senators, among whom was Mr. Douglas, when a messenger rushed in with the intelligence that somebody was beating Mr. Sumner, contemptuously said: ‘We heard this remark without any particular emotion. For my part, I confess I felt none. I am not disposed to participate in broils of any kind. I remained very quietly in my seat. The other gentleman did the same. We did not move.’ He stated that, a few minutes afterward, he went into the Senate Chamber, and was told that Mr. Sumner was lying in a state of insensibility. Returning to the anteroom, and attempting to pass out, he saw the wounded man as he was carried into the anteroom, ‘his face covered with blood, and evidently faint and [252] weak.’ ‘I am not,’ said Mr. Slidell, ‘particularly fond of scenes of any sort. I have no associations or relations of any kind with Mr. Sumner. I have not spoken to him for two years. I did not think it necessary to express any sympathy or make any advances toward him.’ Slidell closed his remarks by saying he was free from any participation, connection, or counsel in the matter.

Douglas, too, deemed it his duty to make some explanation. He said that when the messenger passed through the room and said somebody was beating Mr. Sumner, ‘I rose immediately to my feet. My first impulse was to come into the Senate Chamber and help to put an end to the affray if I could. But it occurred to my mind in an instant that my relations to Mr. Sumner were such that if I came into the hall my motives would be misconstrued perhaps, and I sat down again.’ He stated that a few moments afterwards he went into the Senate Chamber and saw the crowd gathering about Mr. Sumner, who was prostrate on the floor. He closed his remarks by stating he did not know that he was in the Capitol; that he did not know that any man thought of attacking him, and that he had not the slightest suspicion of what was to happen.

Mr. Toombs said: ‘As for rendering Mr. Sumner any assistance, I did not do it. As to what was said, some gentleman present condemned it in Mr. Brooks. I stated to him, or to some of my own friends, probably, that I approved it. That is my opinion.’ It was also given in evidence that Mr. Keitt was present at the assault, not only consenting to the action of his colleague, but with violent demonstrations and profane expressions warning off all who would interfere to save the victim from his assailant.

Of course, Northern men could not remain unmoved by such admitted complicity with and indorsement of an outrage like that. Mr. Wade said: ‘It is impossible for me to sit still and hear the principle announced which I have heard on this occasion. I am here in a pretty bare minority; but when I hear, on the floor of the Senate, that an assassin-like, cowardly attack has been made on a man unarmed, having no power to defend himself, who was stricken down with the strong arm and almost murdered, and that such attacks are approved of by Senators, it becomes a question of some interest to us all, and especially to those who are in the minority. A brave man may be overpowered by numbers on this [253] floor; but, sir, overpowered or not, live or die, I will vindicate the right and liberty of debate and freedom of discussion upon this floor so long as I live.’

Mr. Wilson remarked that there was no conflict between the statements of Mr. Sumner and those of Slidell, Douglas and Toombs. The assault itself he pronounced ‘brutal, murderous and cowardly.’ This provoked the exclamation ‘You are a liar!’ from Mr. Butler; although, at the request of Senators, he immediately withdrew the words. The charge of Mr. Wilson led to a challenge from Mr. Brooks, which was borne to him by General Lane of Oregon, afterward Democratic candidate for the Vice-Presidency. Mr. Wilson, against the urgent advice of Mr. Giddings, Mr. Colfax and other friends, immediately returned this reply:

‘I characterized, on the floor of the Senate, the assault upon my colleague as “ brutal, murderous and cowardly.” I thought so then. I think so now. I have no qualification whatever to make in regard to those words. I have never entertained, in the Senate or elsewhere, the idea of personal responsibility in the sense of the duellist. I have always regarded duelling as the lingering relic of a barbarous civilization, which the law of the country has branded as crime. While, therefore, I religiously believe in the right of self-defence in its broadest sense, the law of my country and the matured convictions of my whole life alike forbid me to meet you for the purpose indicated in your letter.’

Having sent this reply by James Buffinton, a member of the House from his State, Mr. Wilson telegraphed to his wife, then in Massachusetts: ‘Have declined to fight a duel, shall do my duty and leave the result with God. If assailed, shall defend my life, if possible, at any cost. Be calm.’ Writing a hurried note to his friends, William Claflin, afterward Governor of Massachusetts, and John B. Alley, subsequently for several years a member of Congress, to befriend his son, then only ten years of age, if he should be struck down by violence, Mr. Wilson armed himself for defence, resolved to go where duty called. At once a meeting was held at the National Hotel by a few Southern members, and the question of making an assault upon him considered; and actual violence was prevented mainly by the efforts of Mr. Orr of South Carolina, as he informed Mr. Wilson in the winter of 1873, when on his way to Russia as Minister of the United States.

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