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[289]

Sumner replied to Mr. Jay, July 8:—

I thank you for your watchful friendship. Had I imagined the impatience of friends, I would have anticipated their most sanguine desires. But, with the absolute mens conscia recti, knowing the completeness of my devotion to the cause, I have let time proceed in the full conviction that at last I shall he understood. I fear nothing. I am under no influences which can interfere with this great duty. From the time I first came here I determined to speak on slavery some time at the end of June or in July, and not before, unless pressed by some practical question. No such question has occurred, and I have been left to my original purposes. My time has now come. I wish I could speak this week; but I cannot. For some time I have not been well; I have lost strength, and owing to this circumstance I have not made the preparation necessary. I am now at work, and to this devote myself whenever out of the Senate. Amidst these heats I am doing as well as I can. Your appeal and the interest expressed by others in my speech fill me with a painful conviction of my utter inability to do what is expected. But I shall try to do my duty. As to the responsibilities of standing alone, and as to any answers to me, to all these I am absolutely indifferent,—of this be assured. But when I speak, I wish to speak completely.

As no bill or resolution upon which his speech would be in order was pending, Sumner was obliged to create his opportunity. He offered, July 27, a resolution instructing the committee on the judiciary to report a bill repealing the Fugitive Slave Act, and the next day during the morning hour moved to take it up. He gave briefly his reasons for not having made the attempt earlier,—his reluctance to speak while yet a newcomer and inexperienced in the scene, and lately ill health. His request, under the rule of courtesy prevailing in the Senate, would have been heeded on any other subject,1 and he had been assured by the leaders of the Senate, from the South as well as the North, of a general desire to hear his views on the subject. It is quite likely that they had no personal objections to hearing him, and might have granted him the opportunity but for the pending Presidential canvass, in which both parties had agreed upon the suppression of agitation against slavery. The motion being objected to on the ground of ‘want of time,’ ‘the lateness of the session,’ and ‘danger to the Union,’ was lost by a vote of ten yeas to thirty-two nays. The affirmative votes were those of Clarke of Rhode Island, Davis, Dodge,

1 Clemens of Alabama, who was so insulting when Sumner finally spoke, said when a similar request (in a debate on the Fisheries question) was made a few days later (August 12) that it was the uniform custom of the Senate to grant such a privilege. In the debate of August 26, Chase made the point that the usual courtesy was denied Sumner at this time; but Douglas maintained the contrary.

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