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Behind the Scenes

Weymouth author asserts act of violence on Senate floor led to Civil War

As a divided nation faces a close election and recalls the 150th anniversary of polarization’s worst case scenario — the Civil War — a new book focuses on an act of violence in 1856 that turned moderates into hard-liners and made war almost inevitable.

Two days after Massachusetts Senator William Sumner, the country’s most prominent abolitionist, made a five-hour speech attacking slave owners and singling out a Southern senator for personal abuse, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks attacked him in the Senate chamber, beating him almost to death with his cane.

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