A dramatic portrayal, clearly biased toward the northern point of view, of an incident in Congress which inflamed sectional passions in 1856. The artist recreates the May 22 attack and severe beating of Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner by Representative Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina. Brooks's actions were provoked by Sumner's insulting public remarks against his cousin, Senator Andrew Pickens Butler, and against Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas, delivered in the Senate two days earlier. The print shows an enraged Brooks (right) standing over the seated Sumner in the Senate chamber, about to land on him a heavy blow of his cane. The unsuspecting Sumner sits writing at his desk.
At left is another group. Brooks's fellow South Carolinian Representative Lawrence M. Keitt stands in the center, raising his own cane menacingly to stay possible intervention by the other legislators present. Clearly no help for Sumner is forthcoming. Behind Keitt's back, concealed in his left hand, Keitt holds a pistol. In the foreground are Georgia senator Robert Toombs (far left) and Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas (hands in pockets) looking vindicated by the event. Behind them elderly Kentucky senator John J. Crittenden is restrained by a fifth, unidentified man.
Above the scene is a quote from Henry Ward Beecher's May 31 speech at a Sumner rally in New York, where he proclaimed, "The symbol of the North is the pen; the symbol of the South is the bludgeon."
David Tatham attributes the print to the Bufford shop, and suggests that the Library's copy of the print, the only known example, may have been a trial impression, and that the print may not actually have been released. The attribution to Homer was first made by Milton Kaplan.