On this day in history, May 22, 1856, United States Representative Preston Brooks criminally attacked Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate, beating Sumner on the head with a heavy cane until the cane broke, and incapacitating Sumner for four years. South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks was the nephew of South Carolina Senator A.P. Butler, who had been sharply criticized by Massachusetts' Sumner in a May 19-20 speech, "The Crime Against Kansas."
Sumner had declared that while Butler "believes himself a chivalrous knight, with sentiments of honor and courage," he "has chosen a mistress" who is "the harlot slavery."
Among the elements of the crime against Kansas was that guns belonging to the free-soil settlers had been confiscated by the pro-slavery territorial government. Senator A.P. Butler had allegedly remarked that the people of Kansas should be disarmed of their Sharps rifles. (The Sharps rifles were the main type which were being sent to the free-soilers by anti-slavery groups in the North, such as the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society, led by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.)
Really, sir, has it come to this? The rifle has ever been the companion of the pioneer and, under God, his tutelary protector against the red man and the beast of the forest. Never was this efficient weapon more needed in just self-defence, than now in Kansas, and at least one article in our National Constitution must be blotted out, before the complete right to it can in any way be impeached. And yet such is the madness of the hour, that, in defiance of the solemn guaranty, embodied in the Amendments to the Constitution, that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," the people of Kansas have been arraigned for keeping and bearing them, and the Senator from South Carolina has had the face to say openly, on this floor, that they should be disarmed--of course, that the fanatics of Slavery, his allies and constituents, may meet no impediment. Sir, the Senator is venerable . . . but neither his years, nor his position, past or present, can give respectability to the demand he has made, or save him from indignant condemnation, when, to compass the wretched purposes of a wretched cause, he thus proposes to trample on one of the plainest provisions of constitutional liberty.Senator Butler indignantly replied that he had never proposed disarming the people of Kansas. He had simply proposed bringing before appropriate judicial authority "an organized body" who possessed Sharps rifles.
But even if Senator Butler could claim that his remarks were misunderstood, antislavery Congressmen had no doubt about the atrocities being perpetrated in Kansas. On May 21, 1856, the "Sack of Lawrence" took place, in which the Kansas territorial militia, bearing arms supplied by the United States government and under the command of a deputy federal marshal, confiscated the guns of a group of free-soilers. On June 30, 1856, Representative G.A. Grow of Pennsylvania listed the constitutional abuses of the proslavery government in Kansas, including: "With the shout of law and order you disarm the citizen, while the Constitution of his country declares that the right 'to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.'".
The 1856 national Republican Convention resolved that "the dearest constitutional rights of the people of Kansas have been fraudulently and violently taken from them . . . the rights of the people to keep and bear arms have been infringed."
The federal government, obviously, had done nothing to interfere with the official militia of the proslavery government in Kansas. Yet the Republicans still saw a violation of the Second Amendment: some of the state's citizens were being disarmed because they considered the current state government illegitimate.
There is no known evidence of any pro-slavery Democrats, or anyone else, defending the Sack of Lawrence or other arms confiscations on the grounds that the Second Amendment did not guarantee the right of individual citizens of Kansas to possess personal firearms for non-militia purposes.