On May 22, 1856, Congress’s long-simmering debate over slavery erupted in violence when Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina entered the Senate Chamber and repeatedly struck Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the head with a walking cane. The next day the House passed a resolution to form a select committee of five Members appointed by Speaker Nathaniel Banks to investigate the assault. The report described the assault as, “a most flagrant violation, not only of the privileges of the Senate and of the House . . . and the personal rights and privileges of the Senator, but of the rights of his constituents and of our character as a nation.” While the select committee’s final report determined that Brooks did not intend to kill Sumner, but merely punish him, it recommended his expulsion. The resolution advocating for Brooks to be expelled is included in the select committee’s report. The House may discipline its Members by expulsion, censure, or reprimand, with expulsion representing the severest punishment.
In mid-July the House took up the vote on whether to expel Brooks, but failed to reach the two-thirds necessary to remove him from office. To protest the expulsion vote, Brooks resigned his House seat on July 14. With support from his constituents back home in South Carolina, Brooks was returned to his seat in a special election and sworn in on August 1, 1856.