Brooks, Preston S.

Born: 1819-08-06 Edgefield, South Carolina

Died: 1857-01-27 Washington, DC

Flourished: South Carolina

Preston S. Brooks had a career in politics and the military but would become famous for an act of violence in U.S. Congress. He studied law at South Carolina College, graduated in 1839, and was admitted to the bar in 1843. The next year, Brooks was elected to the South Carolina General Assembly. He served during the Mexican War as the captain of Company D of the Palmetto Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers.

Brooks was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1853 and won re-election twice as a States’ Rights Democrat. On May 19, 1856, Senator Charles Sumner made a speech to the U.S. Senate entitled “The Crime Against Kansas,” attacking the institution of slavery and, in particular, Stephen A. Douglas and South Carolinian Andrew P. Butler. After the Senate adjourned on May 22, Brooks entered the chamber and repeatedly beat Sumner with a cane. A bill to expel Brooks from the House failed to receive a required two-thirds majority and stalled. Brooks resigned his seat but was then unanimously reelected by his constituents, serving in the House until his death.

Brooks married Caroline H. Means in 1841, and the couple had at least three children. In 1850, Brooks had amassed real estate valued at $6,800.

James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, eds., “Brooks, Preston Smith,” Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: D. Appleton, 1887-1889), 1:389-90; Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1949 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1850), 895; Moorfield Storey, Charles Sumner (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1900), 137, 139-40; South Carolina, U.S., Compiled Marriage Index, 1641-1965, 11 March 1841 (Provo, UT: Operations, 2005); U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Edgefield County, SC, 83; Gravestone, Edgefield Village Cemetery, Edgefield, SC.