Mr. President, it is impossible for me to sit still and hear the principle announced which I have heard on this occasion. As to the facts connected with this matter, I know nothing about them, and of them I have nothing to say. I am here in a pretty lean minority; there is not, perhaps, more than one fifth part of the Senate who have similar opinions with my own, and those are very unpopular ones here; but when I hear it stated on the floor of the Senate that an assassin-like, cowardly attack has been made upon a man unarmed, having no power to defend himself, who was stricken down with the strong hand and almost murdered, and that such attacks are approved of by senators, it becomes a question of some interest to us all, and especially to those who are in the minority. It is very true that a brave man may not be able to defend himself against such an attack. A brave man may be overpowered by numbers on this floor; but, sir, overpowered or not, live or die, I will vindicate the right and liberty of debate and freedom of discussion upon this floor so long as I live. If the principle now announced here is to prevail, let us come armed for the combat; and although you are four to one, I am here to meet you. God knows a man can die in no better cause than in vindicating the rights of debate on this floor; and I have only to ask that if tile principle is to be approved by the majority, and to become part and parcel of the law of Congress, it may be distinctly understood.Wilson said: ‘Mr. Sumner was stricken down on this floor by a brutal, murderous, and cowardly assault—’ Butler, interrupting him from his seat, said, ‘You are a liar!’ and rising moved about in high rage as if contemplating an attack on Wilson;1 but at the instance of senators who saw he was getting into trouble, withdrew the words, and they were suppressed in the official report.2 Wilson, replying to Butler's statement as to abstaining from recognizing Sumner in debate, said: ‘Any assumption of superiority by the senator from South Carolina, or any other senator, as to recognition, will pass for what it is worth in the Senate and the country.’ Butler's single ejaculation at Wilson, the grossest and most unparliamentary that was possible, shows how assumed was the indignation of Southern men at Sumner's personal descriptions. Foster, who was calm and amiable in temper, and who, being a new senator, as yet rarely took part in debates, asserted the right of free speech in manly words, and his determination to maintain it at every cost. Trumbull sought an opportunity to speak, but the Senate stopped the debate. Seward remained silent; his want of spirit on such occasions was unaccountable. Butler, in a speech of two days, June 12 and 13, when the Kansas bill was pending, took occasion to reply to Sumner's speech, and to comment on the
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.