Charles Sumner

U.S. Senator

Born: 6 January 1811
Died: 11 March 1874
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts
Best known as: The anti-slavery activist who was caned in the U.S. Senate in 1856

Charles Sumner was a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1851-74) who was active before and after the Civil War in the movement to abolish slavery and give equal rights to black Americans. In 1856 Sumner read a hot-tempered speech, "The Crime Against Kansas," in which he condemned his opponents on the issue, including South Carolina's Senator Andrew P. Butler. Two days later Preston Brooks, Butler's nephew and a Congressman from South Carolina, entered the Senate chamber and beat Sumner unconscious with a cane. Brooks was a hero to his constituents and was re-elected; Sumner, who took three years to recover from the beating, was a martyr to his contituents and was re-elected. Sumner was one of the most powerful members of the Radical Republicans, whose insistence on immediate equal rights for blacks (and punitive measures against slaveowners) caused him to clash with presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant.

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