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Tue, Sep 23, 2014

VINSON: Bloodshed on Senate floor prescursor to Civil War?

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Right off, allow me to declare I am not a Civil War historian or expert by any stretch of the imagination.

Here lately, though, I’ve been reading up on the War Between the States, and I happened up on some information that proved to be quite enlightening, something of which the majority, I’m confident, are unaware.

Basically, the Civil War was a major conflict between the northern states and the southern states pitting pro-slavery advocates against antislavery abolitionists—Confederate against Yankee, as it’s been called. Slavery, in this particular context, could be defined as: Blacks of African lineage held in absolute servitude by white plantation owners in the American South, though some northerners also were slave owners. The Civil War began in 1861 and ended in 1865.

Some cite Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in the 1790s as the key factor that ultimately led to the Civil War, which resulted in more than 600,000 being killed, with much of the South’s infrastructure being destroyed.

Prior, the task of removing cotton seed from the lint to make the fibers usable, thus marketable, had been painstakingly performed by the hands of slaves.

When the cotton gin came along, however, it separated out the fibers, and because of this advanced technology, cotton production in the Deep South increased six-fold. As a result, slave labor was in greater demand than ever.

While the cotton gin might have kindled the fire, other factors arguably caused the fire to blaze out of control.

The early morning of Oct. 16, 1859, in an attempt to help stamp out slavery, the “South’s peculiar institution,” John Brown, a die-hard abolitionist, led a force of approximately 21 men in a raid on the federal armory located in Harper’s Ferry, Va.

Brown had enlisted the help of noted abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

Tubman did not participate in the raid because she was too sick at the time, and Douglass declined because he thought Brown’s plan was doomed for failure, a prediction that proved  true.

The Marines were called in to deal with Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.

On Oct. 18, 1859, after some fierce gun battles, Brown was taken prisoner by Lt. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart, acting under the direct command of none other than Col. Robert E. Lee.

On Dec. 2, 1859, John Brown was hung from the gallows until dead for his raid on Harper’s Ferry.

Interestingly, John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was present for Brown’s hanging.

A credible source states: “The irrepressible conflict was initiated at Harper’s Ferry.” However, it’s what might have actually caused Brown to raid Harper’s Ferry that is intriguing.

Charles Sumner was an attorney and strong abolitionist from Massachusetts. His political affiliations, at one point or the other,  included the Whig Party, Free Soil, and the Democratic and Republican parties. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1851.

On May 19, 1856, Sumner rose from his seat in the Senate Chamber and delivered a spellbinding antislavery speech to a standing room-only audience, attacking proponents for the “hateful embrace of slavery.”

Sumner singled out South Carolina, a much-pro slavery state, by saying civilization might be better off if the whole history of the state were “blotted out of existence.”

Feeling both he and his state had been affronted,  U.S. Rep. Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery Democrat from South Carolina, dished out retribution when, two days later, he attacked Sumner on the Senate floor, nearly beating him to death with a cane.

The blood flowed “copiously” and saturated Sumner’s clothes,” according to reports at the time.

It has been written that when Brown and his followers heard of Sumner’s beating by Brooks, “They went crazy. It seemed to be the finishing, decisive touch.”

A plausible theory is bloodshed on the Senate floor very well might have led to the Civil War.



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