to lament that his position had taken from him the freedom which he had enjoyed in private life.
His constituency— meaning by that term in this connection the antislavery people in Massachusetts
and elsewhere, who had been profoundly interested in his election, and had marked it as an epoch— comprised in large proportion persons of strong individuality, exacting by temperament, calling no man master, distrustful of any line of conduct or act which suggested by any construction hesitancy or weakness.
They believed in agitation, perpetual agitation, as the only way to contend against slavery; but right as they were in this, they took little account of the considerations which in public office limit it to seasonableness of time and occasion.
So often deceived by fair professions, they had lost confidence in public men,—all the more so since Webster
They had put faith in Sumner
as of all men best fitted by his personal force, his burning rhetoric, and his forensic power, to agitate in the Senate, directly in front of the organized slaveholding interest, and with the country for his audience.
They believed that whatever gifts Chase
might have, Sumner
stood before all others in the power to denounce slavery, its wrongs and its progress; and from the first day he took his seat they were intent on the exhibition of that power.
Their horizon might be narrow; they could not in their intensity of conviction give weight to the considerations which govern statesmen; but they were profoundly sincere in their aims and methods, and they grew more and more impatient with their senator's delay from month to month, while he, conscious of the rectitude of his intentions, and never for a moment faltering in heart or purpose, could not comprehend their disappointment and suspicions.
There was some expectation that Sumner
would speak on Foote
's resolution, but his failure to do so did not draw out any particular comment.
The Free Soilers would, if let alone, have been content to allow him his own way for a long time, but they were first made uneasy by taunts from two opposite quarters,— the Compromise Whigs
on the one side, and the non-voting Abolitionists on the other; the former bitterly opposed to him, and the latter standing aloof from the movement which put him in the Senate, but now as always ‘nothing if not critical,’ and assuming the direction of his public conduct.
The first allusion to his silence was made late in February in the Massachusetts