previous next


In opening his great Speech—the Crime against KansasMr. Sumner said, May 19th and 20th, 1856:— [263]
Mr. President,—You are now called to redress a great wrong. Seldom in the history of nations is such a question presented. Tariffs, army bills, navy bills, land bills, are important, and justly occupy your care; but these all belong to the course of ordinary legislation. As means and instruments only, they are necessarily subordinate to the conservation of Government itself. Grant them or deny them, in greater or less degree, and you inflict no shock. The machinery of Government continues to move. The State does not cease to exist. Far otherwise is it with the eminent question now before you, involving, as it does, Liberty in a broad Territory, and also involving the peace of the whole country, with our good name in history for evermore.

Take down your map, Sir, and you will find that the Territory of Kansas, more than any other region, occupies the middle spot of North America, equally distant from the Atlantic on the east, and the Pacific on the west, from the frozen waters of Hudson's Bay on the north, and the tepid Gulf Stream on the south,—constituting the precise geographical centre of the whole vast Continent. To such advantages of situation, on the very highway between two oceans, are added a soil of unsurpassed richness, and a fascinating, undulating beauty of surface, with a health-giving climate, calculated to nurture a powerful and generous people, worthy to be a central pivot of American institutions. A few short months have hardly passed since this spacious mediterranean country was open only to the savage, who ran wild in its woods and prairies; and now it has drawn to its bosom a population of freemen larger than Athens crowded within her historic gates, when her sons, under Miltiades, won liberty for mankind on the field of Marathon,— more than Sparta contained, when she ruled Greece, and sent forth her devoted children, quickened by a mother's benediction, to return with their shields or on them,—more than Rome gathered on her seven hills, when, under her kings, she commenced that sovereign sway which afterwards embraced the whole earth,—more than London held, when, on the fields of Crecy and Agincourt, the English banner was borne victorious over the chivalrous hosts of France.

Against this Territory, thus fortunate in position and population, a Crime has been committed which is without example in the records of the Past. Not in plundered provinces or in the cruelties of selfish governors will you find its parallel; and yet there is an ancient instance which may show, at least, the path of justice. In the terrible impeachment by which the Roman Orator has blasted through all time the name of Verres, charges were, that he had carried away productions of Art, [264] and had violated the sacred shrines. But, amidst charges of robbery and sacrilege, the enormity which most aroused the indignant voice of his accuser, and which still stands forth with strongest distinctness, arousing the sympathetic indignation of all who read the story, was, that away in Sicily he had scourged a citizen of Rome,—that the cry, ‘I am a Roman citizen,’ had been interposed in vain against the lash of the tyrant governor. It was in the presence of the Roman Senate that this arraignment proceeded,—in a temple of the Forum,—amidst crowds such as no orator had ever before drawn together, thronging the porticos and colonnades, even clinging to the house-tops and neighboring slopes, and under the anxious gaze of witnesses summoned from the scene of crime. But an audience grander far, of higher dignity, of more various people, and of wider intelligence,—the countless multitude of succeeding generations, in every land where eloquence has been studied, or where the Roman name has been recognized,—has listened to the accusation, and throbbed with condemnation of the criminal. Sir, speaking in an age of light, and in a land of constitutional liberty, where the safeguards of elections are justly placed among the highest triumphs of civilization, I fearlessly assert that the wrongs of much-abused Sicily, thus memorable in history, were small by the side of the wrongs of Kansas, where the very shrines of popular institutions, more sacred than any heathen altar, are desecrated,—where the ballot-box, more precious than any work in ivory or marble from the cunning hand of Art, is plundered,—and where the cry, ‘I am an American citizen,’ is interposed in vain against outrage of every kind, even upon life itself. Are you against robbery? I hold it up to your scorn. Are you against sacrilege? I present it for your execration. Are you for the protection of American citizens? I show you how their dearest rights are cloven down, while a Tyrannical Usurpation seeks to install itself on their very necks!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Kansas (Kansas, United States) (4)
North America (2)
France (France) (2)
Crecy (Texas, United States) (2)
Agincourt (France) (2)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Verres (2)
Charles Sumner (2)
Miltiades (2)
Grant (2)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May 20th, 1856 AD (2)
May 19th, 1856 AD (2)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: