Stephen Puleo speaks about his book “The Caning": The Assault that Drove America to Civil War Tuesday, May 7 7:30 p.m. Pond Room
(coffee and cookies available at 7:00 p.m.)
Stephen Puleo has been a featured speaker many times at the Jenks Center. He spoke about his books at different times through the years as they were published: “Dark Tide”, “The Boston Italians” and “A City So Grand”. On Tuesday, May 7, he will return to the Jenks Center to tell us about his newest book, “The Caning” about a brutal incident that was one of the factors that precipitated the Civil War.
A Turning Point in American History, the Beating of U.S. Senator Charles Sumner and the Beginning of the War Over Slavery
Early in the afternoon of May 22, 1856, ardent pro-slavery Congressman Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina strode into the United States Senate Chamber in Washington, D.C., and began beating renowned anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner with a gold-topped walking cane. Brooks struck again and again—more than thirty times across Sumner’s head, face, and shoulders—until his cane splintered into pieces and the helpless Massachusetts senator, having nearly wrenched his desk from its fixed base, lay unconscious and covered in blood. It was a retaliatory attack. Forty-eight hours earlier, Sumner had concluded a speech on the Senate floor that had spanned two days, during which he vilified Southern slaveowners for violence occurring in Kansas, called Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal,” and famously charged Brooks’s second cousin, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, as having “a mistress. . . who ugly to others, is always lovely to him. . . . I mean, the harlot, Slavery.” Brooks not only shattered his cane during the beating, but also destroyed any pretense of civility between North and South.
One of the most shocking and provocative events in American history, the caning convinced each side that the gulf between them was unbridgeable and that they could no longer discuss their vast differences of opinion regarding slavery on any reasonable level. The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War tells the incredible story of this transformative event. While Sumner eventually recovered after a lengthy convalescence, compromise had suffered a mortal blow. Moderate voices were drowned out completely; extremist views accelerated, became intractable, and locked both sides on a tragic collision course.
The caning had an enormous impact on the events that followed over the next four years: the meteoric rise of the Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln; the Dred Scott decision; the increasing militancy of abolitionists, notably John Brown’s actions; and the secession of the Southern states and the founding of the Confederacy. As a result of the caning, the country was pushed, inexorably and unstoppably, to war. Many factors conspired to cause the Civil War, but it was the caning that made conflict and disunion unavoidable five years later
About the Author
Stephen Puleo is an author, historian, university teacher, public speaker, and communications professional.
In 2008, Steve was the recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Award, presented by the Appian Club, an Italian-American organization dedicated to preserving and promoting Italian culture in Massachusetts. In 2007, he received the prestigious i migliori award, presented by the Pirandello Lyceum to Italian-Americans who have excelled in their fields of endeavor and made important contributions to society.
A former award-winning newspaper reporter and contributor of feature stories and book reviews to American Historymagazine and the Boston Globe, Puleo holds a master’s degree in history (From Italy to Boston’s North End: Italian Immigration and Settlement, 1890-1910, UMass-Boston, 1994), for which he received the Dean’s Award for Academic Achievement, and was the Graduate Convocation keynote speaker. He teaches at Suffolk University in Boston.
An experienced, dynamic, and in-demand speaker and presenter, he has made more than 300 public appearances, before thousands of readers, since the publication of his first book in 2003. Events have included bookstore signings, keynote addresses, presentations at libraries, historical societies, community events, seminars, panel discussions, book clubs (nearly 50 have chosen his books), newspaper and magazine interviews, radio and television appearances, and appearances at universities, and public and private K-12 schools.
Among his showcase appearances have been serving as keynote speaker at the Northeast Regional Association of the Social Studies (more than 600 history teachers); as a guest speaker for the 150th Anniversary Celebration of the Massachusetts Superior Court; and as a panel participant with Italian-American and Jewish-American scholars entitled Italy and the Holocaust: The Calabria Connection, presented at UMass-Boston.