“This damn fool Sumner is going to get himself shot by some other damn fool.” – Sen. Stephen Douglas

Today in History, May 22, 1856:

Years before the Civil War. On May 20, 1856 US Senator Charles Sumner, a free soil Democrat and later Republican from Massachussetts, had given a firey speech entitled “Crime Against Kansas” about the violence in that state over slavery.

A devout abolitionist, he excoriated the south, in particular Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, who he likened to a pimp abusing a prostitute (slavery).

This enraged Butler’s nephew, Senator Preston Brooks. When Sen. Stephen Douglas heard the speech, he commented, “this damn fool Sumner is going to get himself shot by some other damn fool.”

On the 22nd, Brooks entered the Senate chamber with two other Southern Senators, found Sumner at his desk writing and proceeded to bludgeon him nearly to death with his heavy metal tipped cane while Sumner was trapped within his desk, defenseless.

Southerners hailed Brooks a hero.

Northerners called him a coward. One of these, Republican Representative Anson Burlingame called him such on the House floor.

Brooks challenged Burlingame to a duel. When Burlingame actually accepted and showed up, Brooks did not.

Sumner would suffer debilitating pain for the rest of his life from his injuries, but would recover to become a key proponent of abolitionist policies during reconstruction, living until 1872.

Brooks on the other hand died in January 1857, less than a year after the attack, of the croup.

Women’s Army Corps

Today in History, May 15, 1942:

President Franklin Roosevelt signs a bill passed the previous day creating the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.

The bill had been put forward by Massachusetts Representative Edith Nourse Rogers in mid-1941, who had seen women volunteer in the first World War…on their own dime and without compensation or benefits. The bill lingered until after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when it was taken more seriously.

The many women who served as WACS and WAVES (Navy) during WWII were paid and received benefits, although not as much as the men. It would be decades before they received pensions.

Their service was to be in non-combat roles…secretarial, air traffic control, ferrying aircraft, and hundreds of other positions.

While the inclusion of the hundreds of thousands of women in the military was a huge step forward for a nation which had only given women the vote two decades before, it was still repleat with gender bias. Women could not command men.

The move also was born of necessity, rather than revolutionary thinking. It had the full support of the Army’s commanding General, George C. Marshall, who testified before Comgress on behalf of the legislation.

Marshall expected the “Two-Ocean War” to quickly overwhelm the nation’s ability to provide “manpower”. He believed women already trained in administrative jobs would be more efficient and effective than men.

While the women served in “non-combat” roles as operators, etc, you can’t serve in a combat zone without the risks of combat. WACS were killed in action. One source indicated 16.

The Corrupt Bargain…

Today in History, December 1: 1824 –

The Presidential election had involved 4 candidates; Andrew Jackson, who by far won the most popular votes and the most Electoral College votes, but not a majority amongst the candidates. So, in accordance with the 12th Amendment, on this date the vote for President went to the House of Representatives.

The House, after much deliberation…elected John Quincy Adams President. The problem? One of the other candidates was Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who threw his support behind Adams, causing his win. Clay, “ironically”, was then appointed to the coveted position of Secretary of State under Adams. At that time in our history, becoming Secretary of State almost guaranteed you the Presidency at some point.

The Jackson Democrats claimed (probably correct) a “Corrupt Bargain”, which tainted Adams’ Presidency…minimizing any success he experienced and almost guaranteeing what happened in 1828…the landslide election of Jackson to the Presidency.

Goodbye 55

Today in History, September 20: 1995 – The US House of Representatives votes to approve the National Highway Designation Act, intended among other things to repeal the mandatory National Speed Limit of 55 MPH signed into law by President Nixon in 1974. The Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act had been enacted as a response to the 70’s oil embargo by OPEC nations. 

 President Clinton would sign the law repealing it on November 28th, and speed limits would go back up almost immediately when it went into effect December 8th.

The Amistad Trial

Today in History, February 24: 1840 – US Representative John Quincy Adams, a former President, begins his defense of slaves aboard the Amistad, a Spanish slave ship which was transporting them to Cuba to be sold. The slaves killed the ship’s Captain and forced the crew to sail them back to Africa…the crew instead took them to the US. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, where Adams argued for their return to their home. He won the argument….but not the funds to return them. The funds would have to be raised from sympathetic Americans.

Adams would continue to serve in the House until he collapsed at his desk, and died two days later on February 23, 1848. Several of his decendants would serve prominently in the government.