previous next
[164]

Chapter 10:

  • Mr. Sumner's Tribute to Mr. Downing.
  • -- his speech at Lowell. -- his speech respecting Armories. -- Mr. Sumner as a Correspondent. -- his Letters. -- the Pacific Railroad. -- Secret Sessions of the Senate. -- his election to Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, 1853. -- his speech on Military Affairs. -- on the basis of Representation. -- on the Bill of rights. -- “a finger point from Plymouth rock.” -- reply to Mr. Douglas. -- a day of trial. -- “Landmark of freedom.” -- importance of the question at issue. -- iniquity of the slave system. -- plea for the Missouri Compromise. -- the future of the anti-slavery cause. -- Commendatory Letters. -- speech on the final passage of the Kansas and Nebraska Bill. -- defence of the clergy. -- excitement in Boston. -- Mr. Sumner's life in Peril. -- his Fearlessness. -- Prediction of George Livermore.


Still groan the suffering millions in their chains;
Still is the arm of the oppressor strong;
Still Liberty doth bleed at all her veins;
And few are they who side not with the wrong:
Consider, then, your work as just begun,
Until the last decisive act be done.

If any man thinks that the interest of these nations and the interest of Christianity are two separate and distinct things, I wish my soul may never enter into his secret. --Oliver Cromwell.

Mr. Sumner steadily availed himself of every opportunity to alleviate human suffering, and to promote the cause of freedom. As the needle to the pole, his eye turned to the tear [165] of sorrow. On the twenty-fifth day of August, 1852, he made a touching appeal in the Senate on behalf of the widow of the accomplished landscape-gardener Andrew Jackson Downing, who was lost in his noble efforts to save the passengers of the ill-fated steamer “Henry Clay,” burned on the Hudson River on the twenty-eighth day of the month preceding. He closed his remarks by this just tribute to the memory of the lamented artist: “Few men in the public service have vindicated a title to regard above Mr. Downing. At the age of thirty-seven he has passed away, ‘dead ere his prime,’ like Lycidas, also, ‘stretched on a watery bier,’ leaving behind a reputation above that of any other citizen in the beautiful department of art to which he was devoted. His labors and his example cannot be forgotten. I know of no man among us, in any sphere of life, so young as he was at his death, who has been able to perform services of such true, simple, and lasting beneficence. By his wide and active superintendence of rural improvements, by his labors of the pen, and by the various exercise of his genius, he has contributed essentially to the sum of human happiness. And now, sir, by practical services here in Washington, rendered at the call of his country, he has earned, it seems to me, this small appropriation, not as a charity to this desolate widow, but as a compensation [166] for labor done. I hope the amendment will be agreed to.”

At the State Convention of the Free-soil party held in Lowell on the 15th of September following, Mr. Sumner was received with demonstrations of the heartiest enthusiasm, and delivered a thrilling speech on the necessity and practicability of that organization. Capt. Drayton, the “hero of ‘The Pearl,’ ” who, through the exertions of Mr. Sumner, had just been liberated from his long imprisonment, sat upon the platform. In the course of his remarks, the senator said, amidst tremendous cheering,--

“The rising public opinion against slavery cannot now flow in the old political channels. It is strangled, clogged, and dammed back. But, if not through the old parties, then over the old parties, this irresistible current shall find its way. It cannot be permanently stopped. If the old parties will not become its organ, they must become its victim. The party of freedom will certainly prevail. It may be by entering into and possessing one of the old parties, filling it with our strong life; or it may be by drawing from both to itself the good and true, who are unwilling to continue members of any political combination when it ceases to represent their convictions. But in one way or the other, its ultimate triumph is sure: of this let no man doubt.” [167]

Closing, he used these hopeful and prophetic words:--

“With such a cause and such candidates, let no man be disheartened. The tempest may blow; but ours is a life-boat, which cannot be harmed by wind or wave. The genius of Liberty sits at the helm. I hear her voice of cheer saying, ‘Whoso sails with me comes to shore.’ ”

He sat down amidst prolonged shouts of applause; and the people of this industrial city still speak with admiration of the splendor of his eloquence on that occasion.

In a brief speech in the Senate Feb. 23, 1853, in favor of appointing civil instead of military superintendence of our armories, he closed, contrary to his usual custom, with a humorous quotation which gave much point to his fine argument.

“The manufacture of arms,” said he, “is a mechanical pursuit; and for myself, I can see no reason why it should not be placed in charge of one bred to the business. Among the intelligent mechanics of Massachusetts, there are many fully fit to be at the head of the arsenal at Springfield; but all these by the existing law are austerely excluded from any such trust. The idea which has fallen from so many senators, that the superintendent of an armory ought to be a military man, that a military man only is [168] competent, or even that a military man is more competent than a civilian, seems to me as illogical as the jocular fallacy of Dr. Johnson, that ‘He who drives fat oxen must himself be fat.’ ”

Mr. Sumner was an admirable correspondent. He wrote his letters with rapidity, ease, and elegance. Sometimes he received as many as fifty communications in a day; and his replies, however brief, invariably contain some strong and elevating sentiment; as, for example, in a short letter to a Rhode-Island committee, dated March 26, 1853, he says,--

“It becomes all good citizens to unite in upholding freedom; nor should any one believe that his single vote may not exert an influence in the struggle.” So, again, in a letter to Lewis Tappan, dated Boston, May 17, 1853, encouraging the establishment of a German newspaper at Washington, he writes,--

“The German emigrant who is not against slavery here leads us to doubt the sincerity of his opposition to the tyranny he has left behind in his native land.” Also in a letter to the mayor of Boston, dated Boston, July 1, 1853, he presents this sentiment in respect to the Pacific Railroad,--

“Traversing a whole continent, and binding together two oceans, this mighty thoroughfare, when completed, will mark an epoch of human progress [169] second only to that of our Declaration of Independence. May the day soon come!”

His view of the secrecy of proceedings of the Senate may be seen from the following extract from his speech in the debate on that question, April 6, 1853: “The general rule will be publicity. The executive sessions with closed doors, shrouded from the public gaze and from public criticism, constitute an exceptional part of our system, too much in harmony with the proceedings of other governments less liberal in character. The genius of our institutions requires publicity. The ancient Roman who bade his architect so to construct his house that his guests and all that he did could be seen by the world is a fit model for the American people.”

Mr. Sumner was elected by the town of Marshfield to the convention for the revision of the constitution of the State, which assembled in the State House, Boston, on the fourth day of May, 1853. In this body, embracing many of the ablest men of the State, he took an active part, and made several speeches evincing a profound knowledge of constitutional law, as well as of our political history. In the debate on the powers of the State over the militia, on the 21st and 22d of June, he said, in opposition to conservative opinions,--

Massachusetts may proudly declare, that, in her [170] own volunteer military companies, marshalled under her own local laws, there shall be no distinction of color or race.”

In his speech, July 7, on the basis of the representative system, he ably advocated that arrangement which has since been adopted. “cannot doubt,” said he, “that the district-system, as it is generally called, whereby the representative power will be distributed in just proportion, according to the Rule of Three, among the voters of the Commonwealth, is the true system, destined at no distant clay to prevail; and gladly would I see this convention hasten the clay by presenting it to the people for adoption in the organic law.”

As chairman of the committee on the Bill of Rights, he addressed the convention on the 25th of July, and presented a very lucid exposition of the origin and nature of these instruments, which he thus concludes:--

The preamble, wherein the body politic is founded on the fiction of the social compact, was doubtless inspired by the writings of Sidney and Locke, and by the English discussions at the period of the revolution of 1688, when this questionable theory did good service in response to the assumptions of Filmer, and as a shield against arbitrary power. Of the different provisions in the Bill of [171] Rights, some are in the very words of Magna Charta: others are derived from the ancient common law, the Petition of Right, and the Bill of Rights of 1688, while no less than sixteen may be found substantially in the Virginia Bill of Rights; but these again are in great part derived from earlier fountains.

And now, sir, you have before you for revision and amendment, this early work of our fathers. I do not stop to consider its peculiar merits. With satisfaction I might point to special safeguards by which our rights have been protected against usurpations, whether executive, legislative, or judicial. With pride I might dwell on those words which banished slavery from our soil, and rendered the Declaration of Independence here with us a living letter. But the hour does not require or admit any such service. You have a practical duty which I seek to promote; and I now take leave of the whole subject, with the simple remark, that a document proceeding from such a pen, drawn from such sources, with such an origin in all respects, speaking so early for human rights, and now for more than threescore years and ten a household word to the people of Massachusetts, should be touched by the convention only with extreme care.

An ardent admirer of the stern virtues, and of the heroism, of the Pilgrim Fathers, Mr. Sumner [172] always referred to them with pleasure, as the grand leaders in the cause of civil and political freedom. In a speech at the festival held in Plymouth on the 1st of August, 1853, commemorating the embarkation of the fathers, he most eloquently eulogizes these invincible defenders of “a cherished principle” and “a lofty faith.” In reference to its covert bearing on the prominent question of the day (for he could not then speak openly), he entitled this address a “Finger-point from Plymouth rock.” He concluded it in this eloquent and suggestive strain:--

These outcasts, despised in their own day by the proud and great, are the men whom we have met in this goodly number to celebrate; not for any victory of war, not for any triumph of discovery, science, learning, or eloquence; not for worldly success of any kind. How poor are all these things by the side of that divine virtue which made them, amidst the reproach, the obloquy, and the hardness of the world, hold fast to freedom and truth Sir, if the honors of this day are not a mockery; if they do not expend themselves in selfish gratulation; if they are a sincere homage to the character of the Pilgrims (and I cannot suppose otherwise), then is it well for us to be here. Standing on Plymouth Rock, at their great anniversary, we cannot fail to be elevated by their example. We see clearly [173] what it has done for the world, and what it has done for their fame. No pusillanimous soul here to-day will declare their self-sacrifice, their deviation from received opinions, their unquenchable thirst for liberty, an error or illusion. From gushing multitudinous hearts we now thank these lowly men that they dared to be true and brave. Conformity or compromise might, perhaps, have purchased for them a profitable peace, but not peace of mind: it might have secured place and power, but not repose: it might have opened a present shelter, but not a home in history and in men's hearts till time shall be no more. All will confess the true grandeur of their example, while, in vindication of a cherished principle, they stood alone, against the madness of men, against the law of the land, against their king. Better be the despised pilgrim, a fugitive for freedom, than the halting politician forgetful of principle, “with a senate at his heels.”

Such, sir, is the voice from Plymouth Rock, as it salutes my ears. Others may not hear it; but to me it comes in tones I cannot mistake. I catch its noble words of cheer,--

New occasions teach new duties: time makes ancient good uncouth:
     They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth. [174]
Lo! before us gleam her camp-fires: we ourselves must pilgrims be,
     Launch our ‘Mayflower,’ and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea.

But a battle was impending. Encouraged by the timid servility of the Northern Congressmen, the advocates of slavery brought forward, in the famous Nebraska and Kansas Bill, the iniquitous scheme of abrogating the Missouri Compromise of 1820, prohibiting slavery, that State alone excepted, from all the territory ceded by France to the United States, lying north of 36° 30′ north latitude. After various modifications, the bill came before the Senate on the 30th of January, 1854, when Stephen A. Douglas made a violent attack on Mr. Chase of Ohio, and Mr. Sumner, for having signed a docuament, entitled “Shall slavery be permitted in Nebraska?” and appealing to the people to withstand the aggressions of the propagandists of the servile institution, Mr. Sumner replied to Mr. Douglas, characterizing the measure before the Senate as “not only subversive of an ancient landmark, but hostile to the peace, the harmony, and the best interests of the country.” The debate went on, bringing front to front the stern contestants, and assuming daily greater vehemence. Mr. Everett and other New-England senators, John P. Hale excepted, had yielded to the administration, [175] favoring the abrogation of the Missouri Compromise, and to the plan of what was termed the “squatter sovereignty” of Mr. Douglas. Before the confederated host, two or three senators only stood up fearless and unterrified for the defence of freedom. This was a day that tried men's souls; and seldom has a public body witnessed a scene of more sublimity than when Charles Sumner rose, almost single-handed and alone, on the twenty-first day of February, to pronounce, in front of a solid mass of frowning and malignant senators, his masterly defence of human right. Undaunted by the fearful odds against him, or by the menace of assassination, he, like an old hero of Thermopylae, sent home blow after blow into the dark columns bearing down upon him, and set up on that day a “landmark of freedom” that will serve to guide the coming generations. In clear, concise, and trenchant diction he depicted the wrongs of slavery, and with most persuasive tongue plead for the salvation to freedom of a range of virgin soil, of vast extent and of unsurpassed fertility. Never had he so exhibited the fire of liberty that burned within his breast: never had he so vindicated his title to the front rank of living orators. While the temporizing speeches even of an Everett are now forgotten, this “landmark,” founded on the eternal principles of right, still lives; for magna est veritas et praevelabit. [176]

After an eloquent introduction he said,--

The question presented for your consideration is not surpassed in grandeur by any which has occurred in our national history since the Declaration of Independence. In every aspect it assumes gigantic proportions, whether we simply consider the extent of territory it concerns, or the public faith and national policy which it assails, or that higher question — that question of questions, as far above others as liberty is above the common things of life — which it opens anew for judgment.

It concerns an immense region, larger than the original thirteen States, vieing in extent with all the existing free States, stretching over prairie, field, and forest, interlaced by silver streams, skirted by protecting mountains, and constituting the heart of the North-American continent; only a little smaller, let me add, than three great European countries combined,--Italy, Spain, and France,--each of which in succession has dominated over the globe. This territory has already been likened on this floor to the Garden of God. The similitude is found, not merely in its present pure and virgin character, but in its actual geographical situation, occupying central spaces on this hemisphere, which in their general relations may well compare with that early Asiatic home. We are told that

Southward through Eden went a river large;

so here a stream flows southward which is larger than the Euphrates. And here, too, amidst all the smiling products of nature lavished by the hand of God, is the lofty tree of Liberty, planted by our fathers, which, without exaggeration, or even imagination, may be likened to [177]
The tree of life,
High eminent, blooming ambrosial fruit
Of vegetable gold.

It is with regard to this territory that you are now called to exercise the grandest function of the lawgiver, by establishing those rules of polity which will determine its future character. As the twig is bent the tree inclines; and the influences impressed upon the early days of an empire, like those upon a child, are of inconceivable importance to its future weal or woe. The bill now before us proposes to organize and equip two new territorial establishments, with governors, secretaries, legislative councils, legislators, judges, marshals, and the whole machinery of civil society. Such a measure, at any time, would deserve the most careful attention; but at the present moment it justly excites a peculiar interest, from the effort made — on pretences unsustained by facts, in violation of solemn covenant and of the early principles of our fathers — to open this immense region to slavery.

He then proceeded to argue against the measure, first in the “name of public faith, as an infraction of solemn obligations, and secondly in the name of freedom, as a departure from the anti-slavery policy of our fathers.”

The iniquity of the slave-system he characterized in these strong words:--

Slavery is the forcible subjection of one human being, in person, labor, and property, to the will of another. In this simple statement is involved its whole injustice. There is no offence against religion, against morals, against humanity, [178] which may not, in the license of this institution, stalk “unwhipt of justice.” For the husband and wife there is no marriage; for the mother there is no assurance that her infant child will not be ravished from her breast; for all who bear the name of “slave” there is nothing that they can call their own. Without a father, without a mother, almost without a God, the slave has nothing but a master. It would be contrary to that rule of right which is ordained by God, if such a system, though mitigated often by a patriarchal kindness and by a plausible physical comfort, could be otherwise than pernicious in its influences. It is confessed that the master suffers not less than the slave. And this is not all: the whole social fabric is disorganized; labor loses its dignity; industry sickens; education finds no schools; and all the land of slavery is impoverished. And now, sir, when the conscience of mankind is at last aroused to these things; when throughout the civilized world a slave-dealer is a by-word and a reproach,--we, as a nation, are about to open a new market to the traffickers in flesh that haunt the shambles of the South.

In the course of his remarks he made this forcible appeal on behalf of the Missouri Compromise:--

The Missouri compact, in its unperformed obligations to freedom, stands at this day as impregnable as the Louisiana purchase.

I appeal to senators about me not to disturb it. I appeal to the senators from Virginia to keep inviolate the compact made in their behalf by James Barbour and Charles Fenton Mercer. I appeal to the senators from South Carolina to guard the work of John Gaillard and William Lowndes. I appeal to the senators from Maryland to uphold the compromise [179] which elicited the constant support of Samuel Smith, and was first triumphantly pressed by the unsurpassed eloquence of Pinkney. I appeal to the senators from Delaware to maintain the landmark of freedom in the Territory of Louisiana, early espoused by Louis McLane. I appeal to the senators from Kentucky not to repudiate the pledges of Henry Clay. I appeal to the senators from Alabama not to break the agreement sanctioned by the earliest votes in the Senate of their late most cherished fellow-citizen William Rufus King. Sir, I have heard of an honor that felt a stain like a wound. If there be any such in this chamber,--as surely there is,--it will hesitate to take upon itself the stain of this transaction.

In respect to the future of his cause he used this bold, prophetic language:--

I am not blind to the adverse signs; but this I see clearly: amidst all seeming discouragements, the great omens are with us. Art, literature, poetry, religion, every thing which elevates man,--all are on our side. The plough, the steam-engine, the railroad, the telegraph, the book, every human improvement, every generous word anywhere, every true pulsation of every heart which is not a mere muscle and nothing else, gives new encouragement to the warfare with slavery. The discussion will proceed. The devices of party can no longer stave it off. The subterfuges of the politician cannot escape it. The tricks of the office-seeker cannot dodge it. Wherever an election occurs, there this question will arise. Wherever men come together to speak of public affairs, there again will it be. No political Joshua now, with miraculous power, can stop the sun in his course through the heavens. It is even now rejoicing, [180] like a strong man, to run its race, and will yet send its beams into the most distant plantations,--ay, sir, and melt the chains of every slave.

The grandeur of his peroration well accords with the sublimity of his theme:--

The North and the South, sir, as I fondly trust, amidst all differences, will ever have a hand and heart for each other; and, believing in the sure prevalence of almighty truth, I confidently look forward to the good time when both will unite, according to the sentiments of the fathers and the true spirit of the constitution, in declaring freedom and not slavery national, to the end that the flag of the Republic, wherever it floats, on sea or land, within the national jurisdiction, may not cover a single slave. Then will be achieved that Union contemplated at the beginning, against which the storms of faction and the assaults of foreign power shall beat in vain, as upon the Rock of Ages; and liberty, seeking a firm foothold, will have at last Whereon to stand and move the world.

This speech was read by millions. It sunk deeply into the heart of the nation. It was the Sumter shot, that roused anew the spirit of freedom. It met with bitterest opposition. It stirred the embers of that fire that was to try and purify — as gold is tried and purified — the nation. “I am unused to flatter any one, least of all one whom I love and honor,” said John G. Whittier in a letter to Mr. Sumner; [181] “but I must say in all sincerity that there is no orator or statesman living in this country or in Europe, whose fame is so great as not to derive additional lustre from such a speech. It will live the full life of American history.” Prof. C. S. Henry characterized it as “in every quality of nobleness transcendently noble;” and Pierre Soule said, in a letter to the senator, “Que je profite de cette occasion pour vous dire combien j'ai éte heureux du succes, et pour mieux dire, du triomphe éclatant que vous avez obtenu à l'occasion de votre discours sur le Nebraska Bill. Courage! Sic itur ad astra.

On the night of the passage of the Kansas and Nebraska Bill, May 25, 1854, Mr. Sumner presented, in addition to memorials from the Society of Friends and other bodies, twenty-five separate remonstrances from clergymen of every Protestant denomination in the six New-England States, and said with solemn earnestness:--

Like them, sir, I do not hesitate to protest here against the bill yet pending before the Senate, as a great moral wrong, as a breach of public faith; as a measure full of danger to the peace and even existence of our Union. And, sir, believing in God as I profoundly do, I cannot doubt that the opening of an immense region to so great an enormity as slavery is calculated to draw down upon our country his righteous judgments.

“In the name of Almighty God, and in his presence,” these remonstrants protest against the Nebraska Bill. In this solemn [182] language, which has been strangely pronounced blasphemous on this floor, there is obviously no assumption of ecclesiastical power, as has been perversely charged, but simply a devout observance of the Scriptural injunction, “Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord.” Let me add, also, that these remonstrants, in this very language, have followed the example of the Senate, which at our present session has ratified at least one important treaty beginning with these precise words, “In the name of Almighty God.” Surely, if the Senate may thus assume to speak, the clergy may do likewise without imputation of blasphemy or any just criticism, at least in this body.

But I am unwilling, particularly at this time, to be betrayed into any thing that shall seem like a defence of the clergy. They need no such thing at my hands. There are men in this Senate, justly eminent for eloquence, learning, and ability; but there is no man here competent, except in his own conceit, to sit in judgment on the clergy of New England. Honorable senators who have been so swift with criticism and sarcasm might profit by their example. Perhaps the senator from South Carolina [Mr. Butler], who is not insensible to scholarship, might learn from them something of its graces. Perhaps the senator from Virginia [Mr. Mason], who finds no sanction under the constitution for any remonstrance from clergymen, might learn from them something of the privileges of an American citizen. And perhaps the senator from Illinois [Mr. Douglas], who precipitated this odious measure upon the country, might learn from them something of political wisdom. Sir, from the first settlement of these shores, from those early days of struggle and privation, through the trials of the Revolution, the clergy have been associated, not only [183] with the piety and the learning, but with the liberties, of the country. For a long time New England was governed by their prayers more than by any acts of the legislature; and, at a later day, their voices aided even the Declaration of Independence. The clergy of our time may speak, then, not only from their own virtues, but from the echoes which yet live in the pulpits of their fathers.

For myself, I desire to thank them for their generous interposition. They have already done much good in moving the country. They will not be idle. In the days of the Revolution, John Adams, yearning for independence, said, “Let the pulpits thunder against oppression!” and the pulpits thundered. The time has come for them to thunder again.

“Sir,” said he most pertinently in this midnight protest,

the bill which you are now about to pass is at once the worst and the best bill on which Congress ever acted. Yes, sir, Worst and best at the same time.

It is the worst bill, inasmuch as it is a present victory of slavery. In a Christian land, and in an age of civilization, a time-honored statute of freedom is struck down, opening the way to all the countless woes and wrongs of human bondage. Among the crimes of history another is about to be recorded, which no tears can blot out, and which, in better days, will be read with universal shame. Do not start. The tea tax and Stamp Act, which aroused the patriot rage of our fathers, were virtues by the side of your transgression; nor would it be easy to imagine, at this day, any measure which more openly and perversely defied every sentiment of justice, humanity, and Christianity. Am I not right, then, in calling it the worst bill on which Congress ever acted?

But there is another side to which I gladly turn. Sir, it is [184] the best bill on which Congress ever acted; for it prepares the way for that “All hail hereafter,” when slavery must disappear. It annuls all past compromises with slavery, and makes all future compromises impossible. Thus it puts freedom and slavery face to face, and bids them grapple. Who can doubt the result? It opens wide the door of the future, when, at last, there will really be a North, and the slave-power will be broken; when this wretched despotism will cease to dominate over our government, no longer impressing itself upon every thing at home and abroad; when the national government shall be divorced in every way from slavery, and, according to the true intention of our fathers, freedom shall be established by Congress everywhere, at least beyond the local limits of the States.

Slavery will then be driven from its usurped foothold here in the District of Columbia, in the national Territories, and elsewhere beneath the national flag; the Fugitive-Slave Bill, as vile as it is unconstitutional, will become a dead-letter; and the domestic slave-trade, so far as it can be reached, but especially on the high seas, will be blasted by Congressional prohibition. Everywhere within the sphere of Congress, the great northern hammer will descend to smite the wrong; and the irresistible cry will break forth, “No more slave States!”

Thus, sir, now standing at the very grave of freedom in Kansas and Nebraska, I lift myself to the vision of that happy resurrection by which freedom will be secured hereafter, not only in these Territories, but everywhere under the national government. More clearly than ever before, I now see “the beginning of the end” of slavery. Proudly I discern the flag of my country, as it ripples in every breeze, at last become in reality, as in name, the flag of freedom, undoubted, pure, [185] and irresistible. Am I not right, then, in calling this bill the best on which Congress ever acted?

Sorrowfully I bend before the wrong you are about to enact: joyfully I welcome all the promises of the future.

Such was the intense excitement of the country at this time, that these bold utterances, which expressed the sober sentiment of the people of the North, threw Mr. Sumner into great personal danger. This was heightened by a tragical event which then occurred in Boston. On the day preceding this midnight speech, Anthony Burns was arrested as a fugitive slave, and held a prisoner in the Court-House. Many of the citizens were fired with indignation; and on the evening of the 26th instant, after an excited meeting in Faneuil Hall, an attack was made upon the Court-House, during which James Batchelder, acting as a guard, was killed. This resistance to the iniquitous Fugitive-Slave Law was attributed to the late speech of Mr. Sumner, in which he had said, “In passing this bill, as is now threatened, you scatter from this dark midnight-hour no seeds of harmony and good-will, but broadcast through the land dragons' teeth, which haply may not spring up in direful crops of armed men; but yet I am assured, sir, will they fructify in civil strife and feud.”

“He is a murderer!” said the organs of the administration. “Down with this fanatical abolitionist!” [186] “Let Sumner and his infamous gang,” said “The star,” an official paper at Washington, “feel that he cannot outrage the fame of his country, counsel treason to its laws, incite the ignorant to bloodshed and murder, and still receive the support and countenance of the society of this city, which he has done so much to vilify.” The obnoxious speech of the “fanatical abolitionist” was not, however, read in Boston until the day after the émeute, and the death of James Batchelder; and this the partisans of slavery well knew. “Put a ball through his head!” cried the infuriated slaveholders of Alexandria. “A strenuous and systematized effort is making here and in Alexandria,” wrote a correspondent, May 31, to “The New-York times,” “to raise a mob against Senator Sumner, in retaliation for the Boston difficulty.” But, though menaced on every hand, and once threatened and insulted at a restaurant; though counselled by his friends to leave Washington,--Mr. Sumner continued to walk unattended and unarmed, as usual, through the streets. He knew no fear. “Let the minions of the administration and of the slaveocracy harm one hair of your head,” wrote to him his friend George Livermore of Cambridge, “and they will raise a whirlwind that will sweep them to destruction.”

This word was verified.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: