defended at length, May 15 and 16, against Davis
, his ‘popular sovereignty’ idea and his political position; but intense as was the undercurrent of his personal feeling towards the Southern
leaders who were wrecking his plans of ambition, his gentle and conciliatory manner towards them was in contrast with his former treatment of antislavery senators like Chase
in the Kansas
The debate at this stage had in view the disruption of the Democratic party at Charleston
on the issue of Douglas
thought the time had come to meet in the Senate these audacious assumptions once for all, and to treat with absolute plainness and directness of language the principle, motive, and character of slavery, and its baleful effects as seen in the practices of slaveholders and the habits of slave society,—each statement to be supported by facts, the whole to be an argument which would defy answer at the time, or in any future discussion in Congress or elsewhere.1
It was in his mind to show to the country and mankind that what the pro-slavery party vaunted as the finest product of civilization was none other than essential barbarism.
No such speech had as yet been made by any statesman; no one in Congress, not even Sumner
himself, had hitherto attempted more than to treat the institution as related to a pending measure, or incidentally to emphasize one or more of its features.
An assault on American slavery all along the lines in the Senate, where it was most strongly intrenched, required courage and rare equipment at all points in moral and political philosophy, in history and law. Such a treatment of the subject was, however, not at the time agreeable to Republican politicians; they feared, sincerely enough, that it would repel voters in doubtful States, who, though not yet antislavery by conviction, were, on the break — up of the Whig
parties, inclined to vote for Mr. Lincoln
as the only way of defeating their old opponents, the Democrats.
Others of conservative temper thought it would irritate Southern men without converting them, and perhaps drive them to unite their distracted voters or to resist the government in case of Republican success.
Some who doubted the policy of the speech admitted Sumner
's right to make it, in view of what he had suffered from the barbarism of