Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) via Annie Blaine. This, I think, helps explain the poisoned atmosphere of our political discourse. It has become personal in the worst kind of way.
It has happened before. On May 22, 1856 on the floor of the U. S. Senate, Preston Brooks, Democratic Congressman from South Carolina, beat Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts so viciously with his cane that Sumner never recovered. The attack came in response to a speech two days earlier in which Sumner had heatedly attacked both the institution of slavery and the character of those who practiced it. Brooks intended to “punish” Sumner, not for his attack on slavery but to avenge the honor of his relative, Senator Andrew Butler (D, S.C.).
Many Southerners thought Sumner had it coming. As the leader of the radical Republicans in the Senate, he was an uncompromising abolitionist whose speeches were filled with invective and incendiary allusions. (His counterpart in the House was Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, he of the club foot, who held the seat I ran for in 1996, a seat now occupied by one of the most reactionary men in the United States Congress. Such is the sad trajectory of the Grand Old Party.)
Four years later, the country was at war, in part because some had taken forceful speech against an unconscionable institution as attacks on their personal honor.