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[304] confirmed by pledges. Sumner's colleague, Davis,1 Foot of Vermont, Norris of New Hampshire, Dodge of Wisconsin, and, most marked of all, Seward2 dodged the vote. In the column of forty-seven compromisers and disunionists who answered in support of the Fugitive Slave law on that day were Hamilton Fish, and four senators from New England,—John H. Clarke, Hamlin, Truman Smith, and Upham. It is difficult at this distance of time to comprehend the degradation of American politics in the years 1850-1854.

In the popular interest it excited, the speech ranks with Corwin's on the Mexican War, in 1847, and with Webster's on the Compromise, in 1850.3 No speech on the slavery question is even now so readable. It was strong in its enunciation of the local and sectional character of slavery, in this respect appealing to the convictions of people whose sentiments were patriotic and national, and giving a watchword which was adopted,—‘Freedom national, slavery sectional.’ It put in a clear light the want of any power in Congress to legislate on the subject,4 and the inconsistency of the Fugitive Slave Act with the Constitution, particularly in its denial of the right of trial by jury, and relieved the consciences of those who had been constrained to yield it support under a sense of constitutional obligation.5

1 Mr. Davis left the Senate chamber at the close of Sumner's speech, and was absent for a considerable time,—sufficient, as he supposed, for the debate to have closed. He reached his seat, however, just as the call of the roll began; and rising, again went behind the Vice-President's chair.

2 Sumner says, in a note to his Works (vol. III. p. 93), ‘Seward was absent, probably constrained by his prominence as a supporter of General Scott.’

3 Among the various editions was one from the office of the ‘National Era,’ Washington, D. C., and one from that of the New York Evening Post, which was included among Democratic campaign documents. There was an Edinburgh edition, with a preface by P. Edward Dove; a London edition, with a preface by Sir George Stephen; and a Newcastle edition.

4 James C. Alvord, Sumner's teacher in the Law School, briefly argued against the existence of the power, in a report to the Massachusetts Senate in 1837. In 1846 Chase took the same view in an undelivered argument filed in the United States Supreme Court in the Van Zandt case, in which Seward was associated with him as counsel; and he made the same point in his speech in the Senate against the Compromise of 1850. Robert Rantoul, Jr., insisted on the want of power in Congress to legislate on the subject, in a speech at Lynn, April 3, 1851, and in Congress, June 11, 1852. As an original question this doctrine had the sanction of Webster in his ‘Seventh of March’ speech, of the learned jurist Joel Parker, Professor at the Law School in Cambridge, and even of Butler of South Carolina.

5 Horace Mann, in his speech in Congress, Feb. 28, 1851, treated at length this unconstitutional feature of the Act. Other points set up against the validity of the Act, which Sumner had not the time to enter upon, were ably discussed by others,—by Mann in the speech above referred to and in his speech at Lancaster, Mass., May 19, 1851, and by Rantoul and C. G, Loring on the trial of Thomas Sims, April 7-11, 1851.

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