previous next
[412] Columbia, took a manuscript from his desk and occupied an hour or more in reading it. All were amused when Jones of Tennessee treated Gillette's prepared speech as proof that the antislavery senators knew of the contest in advance, and had conspired to bring it on. Pettit declaimed with his habitual vulgarity on the inferiority of the African race. Wilson made his first antislavery speech in the Senate; and being the first senator elected by the Know Nothings, his remarks attracted unusual attention, and he was closely questioned by the Compromise senators. Thus the evening went on. It was eleven when Seward rose. He spoke in his characteristic style, and made the most impressive speech in the debate. With great emphasis he disavowed all connection with the secret order and all sympathy with its principles and methods.1 Then followed Bayard, and at last Sumner, who denounced the bill as ‘an effort to bolster up the Fugitive Slave Act,’—a measure which was ‘conceived in defiance of the Constitution,’ and was ‘a barefaced subversion of every principle of humanity and justice;’ and he closed his speech with a motion for its repeal, which obtained nine votes.2 Butler could not refrain from renewing to Sumner his old questions about constitutional obligations, and being baffled, said he would ‘not take advantage of the infirmity of a man who did not know half his time what he was about.’ As Sumner was scrupulously correct in his habits, and as Butler often and at the very time appeared to have been drinking to excess, the remark provoked general merriment. Sumner's answers were to the effect that he would not himself recommend, or take part in. any State action for the rendition of fugitive slaves. The debate ended at midnight, and the Senate then adjourned after a continuous session of thirteen hours.3

1 Seward had just been re-elected senator against the opposition of Compromise Democrats and Know Nothings.

2 Works, vol. III. pp. 529-547. Fessenden, Seward, and even Cooper, now voted with Sumner, but Fish and Hamlin were still silent. Sumner had in this vote a new ally in his colleague, Wilson.

3 The writer was present in the gallery during the debate. Wilson beckoned to him from his seat shortly before speaking, and they conferred in the lobby as to the effect of his proposed speech on his Know Nothing connections, which at the time he was loath to disturb. Two friends of the Massachusetts senators, F. W. Bird and H. L. Pierce, entered the Senate gallery while Wilson was speaking. They and the writer after the adjournment walked down the steps of the Capitol in company with Seward, who was enjoying a cigar after the long confinement; and the three congratulated him heartily for his decisive expressions against the Know Nothing order. Mr. Bird's description of the debate is printed in the Boston ‘Telegraph,’ Feb. 28, 1855. Other descriptions were by William S. Thayer in the New York Evening Post, and E. L. Pierce in the Detroit ‘Advertiser.’

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.
Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (1)

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
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.
February 28th, 1855 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: