Southern Chivalry



Southern Chivalry


John L. Magee


This political cartoon by Philadelphia printer, John L. Magee, depicts an incident that occurred on the floor of the Senate on May 22, 1856. During a session of Congress, South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks repeatedly struck Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the head with his cane in retaliation for Sumner’s speech, “Crime Against Kansas,” in which he denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The speech generally berated the South for acting as “slave power of our Republic” in its attempt to compel the Kansas territory to accept slavery. More specifically, however, Sumner’s speech rebuked Brooks’s cousin, Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, for believing himself “chivalrous,” while embracing the “mistress” of slavery. For this insult against his family, Brooks repeatedly struck Sumner on the head with a heavy, gold tipped cane until it broke, causing damage that led the Senator to vacate his seat for three years. The violence of this exchange between “gentlemen” on the Senate floor both highlighted existing antipathy between anti-slavery Northerners and pro-slavery Southerners, and fueled future episodes of sectional hostility. Northern newspapers condemned Brooks and “the slave-power” in political cartoons like this one. Here, the quill and paper shown in Sumner’s hands serve as symbols of truth, to which Southern men respond with force. In the South, “fire-eaters” who wanted secession valorized Representative Brooks, and South Carolina officials presented him with many new canes, one of which came inscribed with the words, “Hit Him Again.”


Digital Commonwealth, accessed September 28, 2016,




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