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[76]

Soon after leaving college, Sumner became warmly interested in the Anti-masonic movement, then at its height.1 He resented the annoyances and unfriendly criticisms to which his father had been subjected on account of his participation in this controversy. He was a diligent reader of the newspapers and pamphlets on the subject, with which the period abounded, particularly of Mr. Hallett's ‘Free Press,’ which he frequently posted to his friends. He is supposed to have contributed articles to this newspaper, and even to have had charge of it for a short time, during the editor's absence. He was an admirer of eminent Anti-masons, like Richard Rush and William Wirt, the latter of whom he hoped to see elected President at the next election, of 1832. He pressed ‘the great and good cause’ of Anti-masonry, as he called it, on his favorite classmates, Browne, Hopkinson,2 Tower, Stearns, and Frost; but, while they were not partisans of the Order, they did not sympathize with his ardent support of its political opponents. When he portrayed in his letters the dangers which the Order threatened to liberty and the administration of justice, they quite coolly reproved what they regarded as an intense and exaggerated view. Browne, who always dealt very plainly with him, rallied him for his ‘knight-errantry.’ Sumner himself, as the season of professional study drew near, was persuaded that he had allowed the exciting topic to occupy his thoughts more than would be consistent with the student's work which was to be his first duty; and, while not appearing to undergo any change of opinion, abstained from any further participation in the controversy. Perhaps the direction then given to his mind led him afterwards to favor publicity in the proceedings of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, and the discontinuance of the secret sessions of the United States Senate. ‘The genius of our institutions,’ he said in the Senate, ‘requires publicity. The ancient Roman, who bade his architect so to construct his house that his guests and all that he did could be seen by the world, is a fit model for the American people.’3

1 Browne wrote to Stearns, May 23, 1831. ‘Sumner feels unutterably on the subject, and he is pricked on by the wrongs done his father by Masons. His resentment is worthy of all commendation. I wish it had exploded in a different way.’ And again, July 12: ‘He holds to it [Anti-masonry] as to the ark of the nation's safety. I saw him in Boston last month, very well in body, low in spirits.’

2 Hopkinson wrote, May 10, ‘Leave off reading newspapers, and forget politics till you are thirty; by so doing you may redeem the pledge which Webster says “the public hold of you.” ’

3 Speech in the Senate, April 6, 1853 Works, Vol. III. pp. 212-214.

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