from 1853-57, serving as a Democrat
from South Carolina
. Secured his place in history
when he beat Sen. Charles Sumner
) with his cane
on the floor of the Senate
chamber, 22 May 1856.
Abolitionist Sumner went on a two-day tirade against pro-slavery Kansans on 19-20 May 1856, which turned quickly into a personal attack on Sen. Andrew Butler (D-SC), Brooks's uncle and one of the most beloved men in the Senate. Brooks was personally offended by this, and would have challenged Sumner to a duel, except that one does not duel with one's inferior, and Brooks clearly viewed Sumner as his inferior (a view with which most Congressmen of the time would have agreed).
Two days later, with Congress out of session due to the death of a member, Sumner was working quietly at his desk on the Senate floor (at the time, very few Congressmen aside from committee chairmen had offices in Washington). Brooks walked in, saw that a lady was present, and quietly took a seat across the aisle from Sumner. When the woman left the chamber, Brooks then commenced to beat Sumner with his cane. Brooks broke his cane, then continued beating Sumner with the stubs until other members present restrained him. The whole incident took less than a minute.
The actual injuries to Sumner were questionable (one doctor gave him four stitches and pronounced him cured; but, as explained in the Charles Sumner node, he didn't return to his Senate seat for three years). When news of the incident broke, Southerners sent Brooks hundreds of replacement canes, many engraved with inscriptions urging him to use them the same way he had used the first. Brooks resigned from his House seat after a motion to remove him failed, and was promptly re-elected by South Carolinians to fill the vacancy.