preparation on all points was essential.
His habits of thought, always methodical, were such that he could not discuss a subject without exhausting it, and putting his argument in a welldeveloped and permanent shape; and his chosen theme—the constitutional, legal, and moral aspects of the Fugitive Slave Act
—required laborious research, and a most careful and critical treatment.
He would be assailed at all points, and must be ready at all points.
The Senate, though wanting in men of generous erudition, numbered acute lawyers, who were sharpest of all on points involving the rights of slaveholders.
Circumstances at home, presently to be referred to, made it desirable for Sumner
to indicate publicly his purpose to speak on the slavery question at some time during the session.
He presented, May 26, a memorial from the Society of Friends in New England
, asking for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act
, and while explaining its purport was interrupted by the president, who was not accustomed to check senators making such explanations on other subjects; but by general consent he was allowed to proceed.
He contented himself with saying that he had been disinclined to interfere with the discussion of Foote
's Compromise resolutions, which had been with a single exception carried on between the senators from the slave States; but he announced his purpose at some fitting time to set forth fully his views in support of the proposition that, ‘according to the true spirit of the Constitution
, and according to the sentiments of the fathers, freedom, and not slavery, is national; while slavery, and not freedom, is sectional.’1
His preparation, which he had expected to complete late in June (the time he had fixed for speaking when the session began), was interrupted by an illness, not serious enough to prevent his attendance on the sessions, but disabling him from work, and enjoining abstinence from special effort and excitement.
By the middle of July, seven weeks before the session was to end, he was ready and anxious for an opportunity, and shortly after sought it by a formal appeal to the Senate.
In selecting his own time to speak Sumner
was to expose himself to harsh criticism, and even distrust; and he had occasion