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[385] Legislature would do if left to carry out the clause of the Constitution, and said only that she ‘at all times has been ready to do her duty under the Constitution, as she understands it, and I doubt not will ever continue of this mind. More than this I cannot say.’

After Sumner finished, Clay, Butler, and Pettit bandied again their familiar epithets. Both before and after his speech there was a discussion as to the precise form of his answer to Butler's inquiry,—his assailants asserting that he had disclaimed the obligation of his oath to support the Constitution, and that his language had been altered by the official reporter at his instance, and he denying that any change in sense had been made. Fessenden's recollection, which was clear, was as follows:—

The answer made by the senator from Massachusetts was in these precise words: “I recognize no such obligation.” I did not understand that senator as meaning to say that he would not obey the Constitution or would disregard his oath; nor, allow me to say, was he so understood by many gentlemen on this side of the chamber; but he simply meant to say (I certainly so understood him that he did not consider that the Constitution imposed any such obligation upon him; that is all.

Fessenden's version was in substance confirmed by Rusk of Texas. The discussion closed with the question from Toucey of Connecticut, ‘Does he recognize the obligation to return a fugitive slave?’ Sumner replied, ‘To that I answer distinctly, no.’ The petition was then referred. When Sumner at the close of his speech resumed his seat, Chase said to him: ‘You have struck slavery the strongest blow it ever received; you have made it reel to the centre.’

Such was the intense feeling, that Pettit's suggestion of Sumner's expulsion was seriously entertained; but a canvass of the Senate showed that a sufficient vote could not be obtained for it.1 Clay's proposition to send him to Coventry was thought more practicable. It had Sumner's co-operation to this extent, that he had not from this time of his own accord any personal relations

1 Wilson's ‘Rise and Fall,’ vol. II. p. 358. The ‘Courier and Enquirer,’ July 3, the ‘Express’ and the ‘Herald’ of New York, June 30, 1854, and other journals of like temper, repeated the charges of perjury and treason against Sumner, and called for his expulsion. Clingman, member of the House, said two years later (July 9, 1856) that Sumner ‘merited chastisement’ for the speech. Sumner described, on his return home, to his friend Dana, the Senate in executive session, as it seemed at that period, like ‘the cabin of a pirate,’ where the only test of fitness for office was ‘fidelity to the slave-power.’ Adams's ‘Biography’ of Dana, vol. i. pp. 288, 289.

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