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On This Day
1856 – Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina severely beats Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with a cane in the hall of the United States Senate for a speech Sumner had made regarding Southerners and slavery.
Charles Sumner (January 6, 1811 – March 11, 1874) was an American politician and United States Senator from Massachusetts. As an academic lawyer and a powerful orator, Sumner was the leader of the anti-slavery forces in Massachusetts and a leader of the Radical Republicans in the U.S. Senate during the American Civil War. He worked hard to destroy the Confederacy, free all the slaves, and keep on good terms with Europe. During Reconstruction, he fought to minimize the power of the ex-Confederates and guarantee equal rights to the freedmen. He fell into a dispute with fellow Republican President Ulysses Grant on the question of taking control of Santo Domingo. Grant’s allies stripped Sumner of his power in the Senate in 1871, and he joined the Liberal Republican movement in an effort to defeat Grant’s reelection in 1872.
Sumner changed his political party several times as anti-slavery coalitions rose and fell in the 1830s and 1840s before coalescing in the 1850s as the Republican Party, the affiliation with which he became best known. He devoted his enormous energies to the destruction of what Republicans called the Slave Power, the influence over the federal government of Southern slave owners who sought the continuation and expansion of slavery. In 1856, a South Carolina Congressman, Democrat Preston Brooks, nearly killed Sumner on the Senate floor two days after Sumner delivered an intensely anti-slavery speech called “The Crime Against Kansas.” In the speech, Sumner characterized the attacker’s cousin, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, a Democrat, as a pimp for slavery. The episode played a major role in the coming of the Civil War. During the war, Sumner was a leader of the Radical Republican faction that criticized President Abraham Lincoln for being too moderate on the South. One of the most learned statesmen of the era, he specialized in foreign affairs, and worked closely with Abraham Lincoln to keep the British and the French from intervening on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Sumner’s expertise and energy made him a powerful chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
As the chief Radical leader in the Senate during Reconstruction, Sumner fought hard to provide equal civil and voting rights for the freedmen on the grounds that “consent of the governed” was a basic principle of American republicanism, and to block ex-Confederates from power so they would not reverse the gains made from the Union’s victory in the Civil War. Sumner, teaming with House leader Thaddeus Stevens, battled Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction plans and sought to impose a Radical program on the South. Although Sumner forcefully advocated the annexation of Alaska in the Senate, he was against the annexation of the Dominican Republic, then known by the name of its capital, Santo Domingo. After leading Senators to defeat President Ulysses S. Grant’s Santo Domingo Treaty in 1870, Sumner broke with Grant, and denounced him in such terms that reconciliation was impossible. In 1871, President Grant and his Secretary of State Hamilton Fish retaliated; through Grant’s supporters in the Senate, Sumner was deposed as head of the Foreign Relations Committee. Sumner had become convinced that Grant was a corrupt despot and that the success of Reconstruction policies called for new national leadership. Sumner bitterly opposed Grant’s reelection by supporting the Liberal Republican candidate Horace Greeley in 1872 and lost his power inside the Republican Party. Less than two years later, he died in office.
Born On This Day
1909 – Margaret Mee, English illustrator and educator (d. 1988)
Margaret Ursula Mee, MBE (22 May 1909 – 30 November 1988) was a British botanical artist who specialised in plants from the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. She was also one of the first environmentalists to draw attention to the impact of large-scale mining and deforestation on the Amazon Basin.
Margaret Ursula Brown was born in Whitehill, Chesham in 1909. She attended Dr Challoner’s Grammar School, Amersham, followed by The School of Art, Science and Commerce, Watford. After a short period of teaching in Liverpool she decided to travel abroad.
While in Berlin in 1933, Brown witnessed the burning of the Reichstag and subsequent Jewish boycott, which confirmed her left-wing views. During the Second World War she worked in Hatfield as a draughtswoman at the de Havilland aircraft factory.
Mee married Reginald Bruce Bartlett in January 1936. Like her husband, she became a committed trade union activist for the Union of Sign, Glass and Ticket Writers and joined the Communist Party. Mee addressed the TUC in 1937, proposing the raising of the school-leaving age and was subsequently offered, but declined, a job with Ernest Bevin. The marriage to Bartlett was not happy and, after a long separation, ended in divorce in 1943. She later married Greville Mee, who was also attending Saint Martin’s School of Art, in the late 1940s.
Career as artist
After the war Mee studied art at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. In 1950 she attended the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, where she learnt her style of illustration, and received a national diploma in painting and design in 1950. She moved to Brazil with Greville Mee in 1952 to teach art in the British school of São Paulo. Her first expedition was in 1956 to Belém in the Amazon Basin. She then became a botanical artist for São Paulo’s Instituto de Botanica in 1958, exploring the rainforest and more specifically Amazonas state from 1964, painting the plants she saw, some new to science, as well as collecting some for later illustration. She created 400 folios of gouache illustrations, 40 sketchbooks, and 15 diaries.
Mee travelled to Washington D. C., USA in 1964 and briefly to England in 1968 for the exhibition and publication of her book, Flowers of the Brazilian Forests. She returned to Brazil and joined protests to draw international attention to the deforestation of the Amazon region.
Mee died following a car crash in Seagrave, Leicestershire on 30 November 1988. She was 79. In January 1989 a memorial to her life, botanical work and environmental campaigning took place in Kew Gardens.
Recognition and honours
In 1976 Mee was awarded the MBE for services to Brazilian botany and a fellowship of the Linnean Society in 1986. She also received recognition in Brazil including an honorary citizenship of Rio in 1975, the Brazilian order of Cruzeiro do Sul in 1979, In her honour, after her death the Margaret Mee Amazon Trust was founded to further education and research in Amazonian plant life and conservation, by providing scholarships for Brazilian botanical students and plant illustrators who wish to study in the United Kingdom or conduct field research in Brazil.
In 1990 Mee was recognised for her environmental achievements by The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and added to its Global 500 Roll of Honour.
The Diaries of Margaret Mee, written between 1956 and 1988, were published posthumously in 2004 and included an illustrated account of Mee’s expeditions to the Amazonian rainforest. Most of her illustrations are now part of the Kew Gardens collection.
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