1856 – U.S. Senator Charles Sumner spoke out against slavery.

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  • Pro-slavery congressman Preston Brooks attacked antislavery Senator Charles Sumner on floor of Senate
  • Violence of attack hinted at Civil War to come

22 May 1856 may have been the worst day in the history of the United States Senate. Late that afternoon, after both houses had recessed for the day, a young South Carolina congressman named Preston Brooks strode forcefully into the Senate chamber looking for Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. The Senate floor was nearly deserted, but Brooks saw Sumner sitting alone at his desk, preparing a stack of pamphlets for mailing.

Without warning, Brooks rushed forward and began beating the unsuspecting Sumner savagely with a gold-tipped wooden cane. Even after knocking the older man to the ground, Brooks continued raining down blows upon Sumner’s bleeding head and defenseless body, only stopping when his cane shattered into pieces. Finally, after perhaps the most shocking few minutes in the history of Congress, Brooks turned and walked calmly out of the chamber, leaving Sumner bloodied and unconscious.

Charles Sumner nearly died of the wounds he suffered that day. And though he eventually regained consciousness and returned—following three years spent recovering from his injuries—to the Senate, he suffered for the rest of his life from intense headaches and what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

Preston Brooks resigned from the House but was almost immediately returned to office by his South Carolina constituents, who viewed his actions as those of a hero.

What in the world could cause such an eruption of naked violence right there on the floor of “the world’s greatest deliberative body?”

The answer is slavery. Or, to be more precise, an increasingly destructive debate over the future of slavery—a debate which would soon lead to the Civil War.

Charles Sumner was one of the most outspoken opponents of slavery in all of Congress. Three days before his beating, he delivered a speech on the Senate floor, bitterly attacking other senators who favored allowing slavery to spread into Kansas and other new territories in the West. In the speech, Sumner likened slavery to a “harlot” and described a pro-slavery senator as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal.” These were harsh words, obviously, but Sumner felt that he spoke on the side of righteousness against a grave moral evil, and he had no patience for slavery’s defenders in the Senate.

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General David Hunter, issues orders to Free Slaves in SC, FL, and GA without approval so … Lincoln said nah 5/19, 1862

An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

1862 – During the American Civil War, General David Hunter, Union commander of the Department of the South, issued orders freeing the slaves in South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. He did so without congressional or presidential approval. The orders were countermanded by President Abraham Lincoln ten days later.


Proclamation by the President

Washington [D.C.] this nineteenth day of May,
in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two

By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.

Whereas there appears in the public prints, what purports to be a proclamation, of Major General Hunter, in the words and figures following, to wit:

Head Quarters Department of the South,
Hilton Head, S.C.  May 9, 1862.

General Orders No 11.–The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law.  This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862.  Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States–Georgia, Florida and South Carolina–heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.

(Official)  David Hunter,
Major General Commanding.

Ed. W. Smith,
Acting Assistant Adjutant General.

And whereas the same is producing some excitement, and misunderstanding; therefore

I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, proclaim and declare, that the government of the United States, had no knowledge, information, or belief, of an intention on the part of General Hunter to issue such a proclamation; nor has it yet, any authentic information that the document is genuine–  And further, that neither General Hunter, nor any other commander, or person, has been authorized by the Government of the United States, to make proclamations declaring the slaves of any State free; and that the supposed proclamation, now in question, whether genuine or false, is altogether void, so far as respects such declaration.

I further make known that whether it be competent for me, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to declare the slaves of any State or States, free, and whether at any time, in any case, it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the government, to exercise such supposed power, are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I cannot feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field.  These are totally different questions from those of police regulations in armies and camps.

On the sixth day of March last, by a special message, I recommended to Congress the adoption of a joint resolution to be substantially as follows:

Resolved, That the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.

The resolution, in the language above quoted, was adopted by large majorities in both branches of Congress, and now stands an authentic, definite, and solemn proposal of the nation to the States and people most immediately interested in the subject matter.  To the people of those States I now earnestly appeal–  I do not argue, I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves–  You can not if you would, be blind to the signs of the times–  I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partizan politics.  This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any–  It acts not the pharisee.  The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything.  Will you not embrace it?  So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as, in the providence of God, it is now your high privilege to do.  May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Abraham Lincoln

Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, 19 May 1862, #90, Presidential Proclamations, series 23 Record Group 11, National Archives.

Published in The Destruction of Slavery, pp. 123–25, and in Free at Last, pp. 46–48.

Resources : wiki image, historyplace.com  freedman.umd.edu

1992 – The 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect. The amendment prohibits Congress from giving itself midterm pay raises.

Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Twenty-Seventh Amendment has one of the most unusual histories of any amendment ever made to the U.S. Constitution. Congress passed the Twenty-Seventh Amendment by a two-thirds vote of both Houses, in 1789, along with eleven other proposed constitutional amendments (the last ten of which were ratified by the states in 1791, becoming the Bill of Rights). The Amendment provides that: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”

During the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, congressional pay was a central topic, one that took up several days of discussion. Benjamin Franklin’s initial speech to the Convention was on the topic of public salaries: he was against them. Public servants should not get paid at all, Franklin argued, or we would get representatives with “bold and the violent” personalities, engaged in “selfish pursuits.” Franklin’s extreme argument did not prevail because the Framers wisely did not want only the wealthy to be able to afford to hold federal offices. This is a very good thing.

For more constitutioncenter.org