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Historical Glossary

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“crime against Kansas” speech

 On 19 May 1856, in a speech condemning the proslavery party in Kans., Senator Charles Sumner made insulting remarks about Senator Andrew Pickens (S.C.), including sexual innuendos and mocking references to a stroke-related speech impairment. On 22 May, after Sumner had failed to apologize for his behavior and the Senate had taken no action to censure him, Congressman Preston Brooks, Pickens's nephew, assaulted him on the Senate floor with a cane and caused severe brain damage, which kept Sumner's seat vacant until December 1859. Brooks resigned from the House, but was returned by his constituents. The episode further polarized southerners, who applauded Brooks, from northerners, who condemned southerners as fanatics capable of any violence. 

“Old Ironsides”

The US Navy's most famous ship, the USS Constitution was authorized on 27 March 1794 and launched on 21 October 1797. She served in the undeclared war with France, and in the wars with Barbary pirates she made five attacks on Tripoli from 25 July to 4 September 1804. Her dramatic victories in the War of 1812, especially over the HMS Guerrière (19 August 1812) and HMS Java (19 December 1812), gave major boosts to US morale. Her crew nicknamed her “Old Ironsides” after seeing several of the Guerrière's cannon balls bounce off her hull. She became a training ship in 1833, and has been permanently docked at Boston Navy Yard since 1897.

“Salary Grab” Act

(3 March 1873)    Congress raised its own pay from $5,000 to $7,500 (retroactive for two years), doubled the president's salary to $50,000, and increased compensation for the Supreme Court. Public outrage led Congress to repeal its own pay increases on 20 January 1874, although salaries for the president and Supreme Court were not reduced.