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The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War Hardcover – October 10, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

STEPHEN PULEO is the author of five books, including the bestselling Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 and Due to Enemy Action: The True World War II Story of the USS Eagle 56. A former award-winning newspaper reporter and contributor to American History and other publications, he holds a master’s degree in history and teaches at Suffolk University in Boston.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Westholme Publishing; 1st Edition edition (October 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159416164X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594161643
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #997,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Caning is a well-written, easy to read narrative about an important but often overlooked event in the American slavery period. On May 22, 1856 U.S. Senator Charles Sumner was beaten at his desk in the Senate chambers by a cane held by U.S. Representative Preston Brooks who was enraged over Sumner's speech, "Crime against Kansas," which included derogatory statements about Brooks' second cousin U.S. Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina.
The book not only focuses on the caning but also discusses Sumner's physical and mental suffering as a result of his injuries and his quest to regain his health.
In addition author Stephen Puleo points out the political ramifications of the beating. A great number of Northerners defended Sumner and the right to free speech as well as united together against slavery; while many Southerners sided with Brooks. They believed the beating was justified because Brooks was defending the southern way of life, particularly the owning of slaves as well as the honor of his cousin.
Other related issues discussed in the book include the Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
I strongly recommend the book to anyone interested in the antebellum period.
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Format: Hardcover
The caning of Charles Sumner by Preston Brooks is an important step on the path to Civil War. Though the incident is still fairly well known, the circumstances surrounding it and the characters involved have been buried under the dust of time. Stephen Puleo blows away that dust, capturing the moment, its significance, and the characters involved in his excellent book.

We come to know Brooks and Sumner quite well, and Brooks is the more likable of the two. Sumner is such a rude, egotistical blowhard that he is hard to like, though his unyielding antislavery stance is admirable. A Senator from Massachusetts, Sumner gave a fiery speech in the Senate in May of 1856 in which he denigrated slavery, the South, and several individuals. Among those he castigated was Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, second cousin of Preston Brooks.

Brooks was a slave-owning congressman from South Carolina known for being a level-headed, good-natured gentleman. To defend his state and his relative, Brooks entered the Senate on May 22, 1856, after the daily session, and proceeded to savagely beat a defenseless Charles Sumner with a cane. Sumner was so severely injured that it would be three years before he was able to return to the Senate.

Puleo tells the tale and tells it well, successfully demonstrating how the caning further polarized an already divided North and South. But here Puleo takes the matter just a bit too far. He believes, as he states in his subtitle, that the caning was "The Assault That Drove America To Civil War." Of course, what caused the war AND the caning was slavery. But Puleo puts such emphasis on this one incident, that he even asks "Without the caning, would the Civil War have broken out?" The answer, he says, is "eventually, perhaps." Perhaps!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book paints vivid pictures of agressor and victim but each with shades of gray... Sumner earnest in his hatred of slavery but arrogant and unliked even by the people of Massachusetts, and Brooks, brutal in his caning of a defenseless opponent but earnestly seeking to defend the honor of his cousin and fellow southerners. The reader comes away understanding how a nation united against the British 80 years earlier could split apart and launch a very bloody war.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very well written book that tells the story of the mid- nineteenth century politics and the violence that took place in the Senate. It connects this act to important events prior to and after it. The book shows the connection of these events to the civil war.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
During the 1850s, events such as the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, and John Brown's raid increased animosity between North and South and propelled the two sections toward war.

But in "The Caning," author Stephen Puleo asserts that the caning of Charles Sumner, a senator from Massachusetts and staunch abolitionist, by Preston Brooks, a congressman from South Carolina and equally staunch supporter of slavery, was the one incident that made war unavoidable. Puleo states that the caning "destroyed any pretense of civility between North and South" and "hardened positions on both sides and convinced each that the gulf between them was unbridgeable."

Puleo offers brief biographical sketches of both Brooks and Sumner and recalls the path that both took to the caning. Sumner was someone whom we would describe today as a cold fish and simply a jerk--while his stand on abolition was certainly admirable, the author notes that he was exceptionally overbearing and moralistic in his desire to enlighten those who disagreed with him, and he was such a difficult person that his relationships even with his family were strained.

In some ways both Brooks and Sumner lived down to the worst, cartoonish stereotypes of their respective regions, but in the book's overall look at the personalities and characters of both men in their entirety the South Carolinian comes across as more likable.
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