Glenn Beck became a national figure around 2009 when he left a low-rated talk show gig on CNN’s Headline News to fill Fox News’ 5 pm time slot of death. His first guest was Sarah Palin, just a couple of months after the 2008 election. Beck then caught on to the Tea Party movement that started in the early spring. His show was often filled with historical anecdotes and the shadowy history of Barack Hussein Obama.
While Beck was almost as popular as Bill O’Reilly, his content made the network uneasy and Beck used his popularity and resources to start a network that covered radio, internet streaming and the satellite networks who decided to carry The Blaze TV.
Beck managed to make a lot of enemies when he endorsed Ted Cruz for the Republican nomination. Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck were adversaries by then and her endorsement of Donald Trump a few days earlier made his endorsement a desired consolation prize. As part of Never Trump, Beck became the keynote speaker at Redstate: The Gathering.
Beck compares the Ted Cruz speech (and the NeverTrump reaction in general) to the story of Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Senator who was nearly beaten to death by a pro-slavery Representative from South Carolina.
Beck compares Sumner to Ted Cruz as being lone figures trying to end an amoral system. Sumner was a radical, opposing both Lincoln and Grant at different times. In 1856, he gave a speech about the imposition of slavery on Kansas and comparing fellow Senator Andrew Butler of pimping out the harlot of slavery. Butler was the second cousin of Preston Brooks, who felt Sumner had attacked his family’s honor.
For whatever reason, Beck tells a story where Sumner gives the speech and Brooks grabs a cane and starts beating Sumner. Worse yet, no one else in the chamber comes to Sumner’s aid, forcing him to take refuge under a desk until Brooks breaks his cane over Sumner’s broken body. Brooks is never punished for his action.
In reality, Sumner gave the speech without incident. Brooks took his ire to Laurence Massillon Keitt, a fellow Congressman, looking for the proper response. Keitt suggested that Sumner was not worthy of a duel and that he should merely be beaten like a dog (or a slave). Keitt’s sense of honor was questionable, given that he tried to strangle another legislator two years later.
The beating started in a nearly empty chamber where Brooks clocked Sumner in the back of the head. Instead of the desk protecting him, it actually acted as a cage as it was bolted to the floor. Brooks’ friend Keitt prevented any assistance by holding everyone back with both a gun and a cane. Fittingly, the pugnacious Keitt was killed in the Civil War. Brooks resigned his seat, only to be reelected, but died before taking office again. Sumner eventually recovered from the beating after two years and returned to Congress where he served until his death in 1874. He saw the death of the Confederate South and both the men responsible for his savage beating.
Beck’s version of the story is of a man without a party. Sumner was actually an early Republican and stayed with the party for the rest of his life. He was mostly hated by the South. Ironically, the attack by Brooks and the subsequent taunting by the Southern congressmen accelerated the Civil War which would end slavery in the United States.
I find it interesting that Beck uses this story to fit his narrative, rather than the more interesting historical reality. Even better, he used this same story three years ago as an allegory to Rand Paul. In that version, Brooks ripped the desk from its bolted foundation and Sumner came back three years later to “finish the speech.”