The Role of the Qur’an in the Caning of Charles Sumner

***Please Note: This post is for older children with the guidance of their parents.***


Some may know the story of caning of Charles Sumner.  Charles Sumner was a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who strove to end slavery. His comments were so insulting to the South, that he was attacked on the floor of the Senate on May 22, 1956 by Senator Brooks from South Carolina.  Brooks used his cane to nearly beat Sumner to death.  The sketch of Sumner being caned has forever been ingrained in the American history as one of many events that led to the Civil War.

So what did Sumner say that was so offensive? What did the Qur’an have to do with any of this?  Sumner, like many scholars of law before him, had a copy of the translation of the Qur’an because scholars of law viewed the Qur’an as a book of laws.  He recognized the significance that the Qur’an played in building great Arab civilizations during the Middle Ages.   The translation by George Sale was the same as the translation that was owned by Thomas Jefferson.  Sumner used the translation of the Qur’an compare Southerners to Muslims.  This was a great insult, as the pirates of Barbary States had been taking whites Christians as slaves in the name of religion for hundreds of years.

While many people of the West continue to see Islam as a barbaric religion, Sumner saw Islam in another light.  He understood that Islam put laws in place to gradually eradicate slavery in a time where slavery was a norm in every country in the world.  Sumner highlighted for the Southerners that Islam provided protections for slaves in the 6th century that the slave owners of the South did not give their slaves in the 20th century.   The fact that some Barbary states had ended slavery before the South did was a greater insult to injury. Sumner insulted the people of the South by claiming that they were the real barbarians.

The most important point that Sumner made in reference to the Qur’an was that Islam established redemption for slaves. This means that it created a way for slaves to work for their freedom and encouraged slave owners to have compassion for slaves by making it easy for slaves to obtain their redemption.  He quoted on the Senate floor in a speech in 1853 verse 33 from Surah 24 from the Qur’an on the redemption of slaves.  But the greatest insult that Sumner made was in a speech in 1856 called, The Crime Against Kansas.  In this speech, he accused Andrew Butler of wanting to continue slavery because he wanted to be able to commit adultery with his slaves. He referred to slavery as Butler’s “harlot.”  He pointed out how uncivilized it was to enslave one’s children. By having children with their own slaves and then enslaving these children, he claimed that the Southerners were committing disgusting crimes.  He knew that Islam forbade the enslavement of one’s own children.  To top all of these disgusting acts, Sumner criticized the South for justifying their treatment of slaves in the name of Christianity.

Senator Brooks, being the proper Southern gentleman, felt that he must defend the pride of his cousin, Senator Butler, and all Southerners by attacking Sumner on the floor of the Senate with his cane.  However, rather than giving a Sumner a chance to face Brooks, he attacked him from behind.  Sumner had no chance of defending himself.  As a result of the caning, Sumner was unable to serve for three years.  He became a hero of the North. Southerners took pride in the act by wearing souvenirs made out of the pieces of the cane to show solidarity for Brooks.  The event had marked a clear division between the North and the South that ultimately led to the Civil War and eventually the end of slavery.  The most remarkable thing was that the Qur’an’s reference to redemption for slaves played a large part in the unfolding of these significant events in American history.

  1. Who was Charles Sumner?
  2. Which verse did Sumner quote on the Senate floor?
  3. How did Islamic laws attempt to gradually end slavery?
  4. How did Charles Sumner insult Southerners?
  5. What were the consequences of Sumner’s insult of the South?



2 thoughts on “The Role of the Qur’an in the Caning of Charles Sumner”

    1. Sumner’s speech made in 1853, entitled, “White Slavery of the Barbary States” quotes Sura 24, Ayat 33 from the Quran.
      Sumner’s speech on May 19, 1856, entitled, “The Crime Against Kansas,” refers to those who enslave their children and insults the South.
      “Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War” (2009) by D.H. Donald is one source as well.


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