Period 5: 1844-1877
Southern Chivalry - Argument versus Club's.
In this lithograph from 1856, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner is being attacked by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks. Also known as the "Caning of Charles Sumner," this ordeal took place after Senator Sumner, an abolitionist, delivered an anti-slavery speech in which he unwisely criticized one of Brooks's slave-holding relatives. Brooks, a Democrat, retaliated by beating Sumner with his cane, as shown in this image. This event has become a symbol for the breakdown of civil discourse and the failure of compromise in the years preceding the Civil War. Other events such as "Bleeding Kansas" and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry made the prospect of war inevitable. This period is one of deep sectional divides. South Carolina, Brooks's state, was the first to secede from the Union following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860. In reality, these sectional divides were not something new. In fact, sectionalism can be observed from the very start of America's history as the two societies, Northern and Southern, developed different way's of life: one built on race-based slavery, the other not. The reason this image is important is because it symbolizes the explosion of these sectional divides. Territorial acquisitions had always reintroduced the slavery debate to the political sphere, and the Mexican-American war did just that. After the Kansas-Nebraska Act undid the Compromise of 1850 leading to "Bleeding Kansas", the country became further entrenched in its sectionalism. Sentiments of "Southern nationalism" developed and the North grew more and more antagonized, especially after the Dred Scott decision. After the war, these brutal sectional antagonisms did not disappear and continued through Reconstruction as radical Republicans sought to punish the South, and Southerners formed myths like the "Lost Cause" in order to justify their support of the Confederacy. In summary, this image shows how sectionalism finally reached a tipping point and divided the nation in a time of great turmoil.