In the speech Sumner insulted Butler, a pro-slavery senator, linking him sexually with the institution of slavery: "The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight -- I mean the harlot, slavery. For her his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this senator."
After reading the speech Congressman Brooks approached Sumner in the senate chamber and beat him into unconsciousness with the metal end of his cane. Brooks continued to beat the motionless Sumner until the cane broke.
The bloody beat-down led to heightened sectional tension between the North and South. After taking three years to recover from the severe head trauma Sumner returned to the senate even more determined to break the power of the Southern aristocracy. In the run up to the Civil War Sumner became the most vocal and influential force of the Radical Republicans.