I know no figure in history which commands more of my admiration than that of Charles Sumner in the Senate of the United States, from the hour when Douglas presented his ill-omened measure for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise until the blow of the assassin laid him low. Here was the perfection of moral constancy and daring.
Here was sleepless vigilance, unwearying labor, hopefulness born only of deepest faith, buoyant resolution, caring nothing for human odds, but serenely abiding in the perfect peace which the unselfish service of truth alone can bring. --Hon. Robert B. Elliott.
Strike, but hear! --Greek Proverb.
By the Kansas
and Nebraska Act, passed in May, 1854, a vast extent of virgin territory, in the heart of this continent, was laid open both to free and servile labor; and immigration at once began to set in from the North and South, thus
bringing freedom and slavery hand to hand and face to face.
The field was broad enough for a mighty kingdom.
Which party now shall have the mastery?
The Northern Emigrant Aid Society, under the direction of the Hon. Eli Thayer
, encouraged hardy men to take possession of the country in the name of liberty, and to plant the institutions of the Pilgrim Fathers
on those fertile plains.
The South sent forward lawless bands of marauding slave-holders, to establish there its inhuman system.
Although the Northern
emigrant went with peaceful intentions only, it was natural to suppose that collisions would ensue, since it is impossible that free and servile industry should harmoniously co-exist; and then commenced indeed a struggle, especially for ascendency in political affairs, which was marked by most revolting scenes of violence and bloodshed.
“The first ballot-box that was opened upon our virgin soil, Nov. 29, 1854,” wrote Gen. Pomeroy
, “was closed to us by overpowering numbers and impending force.”
At the first election of the legislature, March 30, 1855, organized bands of armed and lawless men from Missouri
, entering the territory, exercised complete control over the ballot-box; and in the autumn of the same year gross outrages were perpetrated
by the border ruffians at Lawrence
, and several unoffending citizens murdered.
“Crush them out!”
said Gen. Stringfellow
: “let them vote at the point of the bowie-knife and revolver.”
The whole country was aroused.
“Down with the Black Republicans
were the Southern
, “No more slave territory!”
were the Northern
To quell the outrages in Kansas
, the advocates of freedom demanded of the administration immediate and decisive action; but, subservient to the slave oligarchy, it steadily fanned the flame of the aggressive party.
The contest deepened in the halls of Congress.
Front to front the defenders of the two opposing systems stood, with crimination and recrimination, taunt, invective, and defiance, on their tongues.
Intrenched in principle, calm and unterrified as a Roman gladiator, Mr. Sumner
met the shafts of hatred, and dealt with stalwart arm his deadly blows against the servile institution.
He was then the best representative of freedom living.
During the winter he said to Mr. Waldo Higginson
, “The session will not pass without the Senate-chamber
's becoming the scene of some unparalleled outrage;” but he had no fears except that he might not fulfil his duty to his country.
Respecting the reports of Mr. Douglas
and Mr. Collamer
on affairs in Kansas
, presented in the Senate March 13, 1856, Mr. Sumner
said, “In the report of the majority (by Mr. Douglas
) the true issue is smothered: in that of the minority (signed by Mr. Collamer
alone) the true issue stands forth as a pillar of fire to guide the country.
I have no desire,” continued he, “to precipitate the debate on this important question, under which the country already shakes from side to side, and which threatens to scatter from its folds civil war.”
A short time afterwards Mr. Seward
presented “A Bill for the Admission of Kansas
into the Union
,” on which an acrimonious debate ensued.
In the course of the discussion Mr. Sumner
, on the 19th and 20th of May, made his celebrated speech entitled “The crime against Kansas
His positions were, first, the crime against Kansas
in its origin and extent; secondly, the apologies for the crime; and, thirdly, the true remedy.
In this masterly philippic, he disclosed the atrocities of slavery with the vigor of an intellectual athlete.
He laid under contribution for this attack on slavery the acquisitions of a ripe scholar, the wisdom of an enlightened statesman, the eloquence of an accomplished orator, and the courage of an invincible champion of liberty.
He sent with steadiest aim shot
after shot into the intrenchments of the arrogant defenders of the servile institution, and triumphantly vindicated the policy of the friends of free men, free labor, and free speech.
In his exordium he thus boldly sets forth the crime, and foreshadows the great events to come:--
But the wickedness which I now begin to expose is immeasurably aggravated by the motive which prompted it. Not in any common lust for power did this uncommon tragedy have its origin.
It is the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery; and it may be clearly traced to a depraved longing for a new slave State, the hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of slavery in the national government.
Yes, sir; when the whole world, alike Christian and Turk, is rising up to condemn this wrong, and to make it a hissing to the nations, here in our Republic, force--ay, sir, force — has been openly employed in compelling Kansas to this pollution, and all for the sake of political power.
There is the simple fact, which you will vainly attempt to deny, but which in itself presents an essential wickedness that makes other public crimes seem like public virtues.
But this enormity, vast beyond comparison, swells to dimensions of wickedness which the imagination toils in vain to grasp, when it is understood that for this purpose are hazarded the horrors of intestine feud, not only in this distant Territory, but everywhere throughout the country.
Already the muster has begun.
The strife is no longer local, but national.
Even now, while I speak, portents hang on all the arches of the horizon, threatening to darken the broad land, which already
yawns with the mutterings of civil war. The fury of the propagandists of slavery, and the calm determination of their opponents, are now diffused from the distant Territory over wide-spread communities, and the whole country in all its extent; marshalling hostile divisions, and foreshadowing a strife, which, unless happily averted by the triumph of freedom, will become war,--fratricidal, parricidal war,--with an accumulated wickedness beyond the wickedness of any war in human annals; justly provoking the avenging judgment of Providence and the avenging pen of history; and constituting a strife, in the language of the ancient writer, more than foreign, more than social, more than civil, but something compounded of all these strifes, and in itself more than war: sed potius commune quoddam ex omnibus, et plus quam bellum.
He thus refers to Mr. Douglas
, who, in subservience to the South
, was moving on that fatal course in which Daniel Webster ignominiously fell:--
The senator dreams that he can subdue the North.
He disclaims the open threat; but his conduct still implies it. How little that senator knows himself, or the strength of the cause which he persecutes!
He is but a mortal man: against him is an immortal principle.
With finite power he wrestles with the infinite; and he must fall.
Against him are stronger battalions than any marshalled by mortal arm,--the inborn, ineradicable, invincible sentiments of the human heart: against him is Nature in all her subtle forces: against him is God.
Let him try to subdue these!
The act which opened Kansas
to the rule of
slavery, he characterizes in the following trenchant language:--
Sir, the Nebraska Bill was in every respect a swindle.
It was a swindle by the South of the North.
It was, on the part of those who had already completely enjoyed their share of the Missouri Compromise, a swindle of those whose share was yet absolutely untouched; and the plea of unconstitutionality set up — like the plea of usury after the borrowed money has been enjoyed — did not make it less a swindle.
Urged as a bill of peace, it was a swindle of the whole country.
Urged as opening the doors to slave-masters with their slaves, it was a swindle of the asserted doctrine of popular sovereignty.
Urged as sanctioning popular sovereignty, it was a swindle of the asserted rights of slave-masters.
It was a swindle of a broad Territory, thus cheated of protection against slavery.
It was a swindle of a great cause, early espoused by Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson, surrounded by the best fathers of the republic.
Sir, it was a swindle of God-given, inalienable rights.
Turn it over, look at it on all sides,--and it is everywhere a swindle; and, if the word I now employ has not the authority of classical usage, it has on this occasion the indubitable authority of fitness.
No other word will adequately express the mingled meanness and wickedness of the cheat.
Of the State of Massachusetts
he thus grandly speaks:--
God be praised!
Massachusetts, honored Commonwealth that gives me the privilege to plead for Kansas on this floor, knows her rights, and will maintain them firmly to the end.
This is not the first time in history that her public acts have been arraigned, and that her public men have been exposed to contumely.
Thus was it when, in the olden time, she began the great battle whose fruits you all enjoy.
But never yet has she occupied a position so lofty as at this hour.
By the intelligence of her population; by the resources of her industry; by her commerce, cleaving every wave; by her manufactures, various as human skill; by her institutions of education, various as human knowledge; by her institutions of benevolence, various as human suffering; by the pages of her scholars and historians; by the voice of her poets and orators,--she is now exerting an influence more subtle and commanding than ever before; shooting her far-darting rays wherever ignorance, wretchedness, or wrong prevail; and flashing light even upon those who travel far to persecute her. Such is Massachusetts; and I am proud to believe that you may as well attempt, with puny arm, to topple down the earth-rooted, heaven-kissing granite which crowns the historic sod of Bunker Hill, as to change her fixed resolves for freedom everywhere, and especially now for freedom in Kansas.
I exult, too, that in this battle, which surpasses far in moral grandeur the whole war of the Revolution, she is able to preserve her just eminence.
To the first she contributed a larger number of troops than any other State in the Union, and larger than all the slave States together; and now to the second, which is not of contending armies, but of contending opinions, on whose issue hangs trembling the advancing civilization of the country, she contributes, through the manifold and endless intellectual activity of her children, more of that divine spark by which opinions are quickened into life than is contributed by any other State, or by all the slave States together; while her
annual productive industry excels in value three times the whole vaunted cotton-crop of the whole South.
Sir, to men on earth it belongs only to deserve success, not to secure it; and I know not how soon the efforts of Massachusetts will wear the crown of triumph.
But it cannot be that she acts wrong for herself or children, when in this cause she thus encounters reproach.
No: by the generous souls who were exposed at Lexington; by those who stood arrayed at Bunker Hill; by the many from her bosom who, on all the fields of the first great struggle, lent their vigorous arms to the cause of all; by the children she has borne whose names alone are national trophies,--is Massachusetts now vowed irrevocably to this work.
What belongs to the faithful servant she will do in all things; and Providence shall determine the result.
The closing words are worthy of the speaker and the occasion:--
In just regard for free labor in that Territory which it is sought to blast by unwelcome association with slave-labor; in Christian sympathy with the slave, whom it is proposed to task and to sell there; in stern condemnation of the crime which has been consummated on that beautiful soil; in rescue of fellow-citizens now subjugated to a tyrannical usurpation; in dutiful respect for the early fathers whose aspirations are now ignobly thwarted; in the name of the constitution, which has been outraged, of the laws trampled down, of justice banished, of humanity degraded, of peace destroyed, of freedom crushed to earth; and in the name of the heavenly Father, whose service is perfect freedom,--I make this last appeal.1
Never had the slaveholding power received a deadlier blow.
In the course of his remarks, he had spoken somewhat freely of the chivalry of Mr. Butler
, and of the sectionalism of South Carolina
It must be remembered, however, that for four long years he had patiently borne the systematic assaults of this senator, and that there is a time when “forbearance ceases to be a virtue.”
“The senator from South Carolina
has applied to my colleague,” said Mr. Wilson
, in his strong defence of Mr. Sumner
delivered in the senate on the thirteenth day of June, “every expression calculated to wound the sensibilities of an honorable man, and to draw down upon him sneers, obloquy, and hatred, in and out of the senate.
In my place here, I now pronounce these continued assaults upon my colleague unparalleled in the history of the senate. . . . The speech was indeed severe,--severe as truth,--but in all respects parliamentary.
It is true that it handles the senator from South Carolina
freely; but that senator had spoken repeatedly in the course of the Kansas
debate, once at length and elaborately, and
at other times more briefly foisting himself into the speeches of other senators, and identifying himself completely with the crime which my colleague felt it his duty to arraign.
It was natural, therefore, that his course in the debate, and his position, should be particularly considered.
And in this work Mr. Sumner
had no reason to hold back, when he thought of the constant, systematic, and ruthless attacks which, utterly without cause, he had received from that senator.
The only objection which the senator from South Carolina
can reasonably make to Mr. Sumner
is, that he struck a strong blow.”
That strong blow hit the mark.
“Now what is to be done with the Black Republican
said the knights of Southern chivalry.
“His words are damaging.
He has the audacity of a Danton.
He must be silenced.
Shall we challenge him?
but he will not fight.
What, then, is to be done with him?”
A fiendish plot was laid.
Two days subsequent to the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Sumner
was sitting at his narrow desk in the Senate-chamber
with his head bent forward, earnestly engaged in writing.
The Senate had adjourned sooner that day than usual; and several senators, as Messrs. Douglas
, and Crittenden
, together with some strangers, were conversing near him.
Preston S. Brooks
, a nephew of Mr. Butler
, and member of the House
from South Carolina
, then entered the chamber, and remained until the friends of Mr. Sumner
He had with him a gold-headed, hollow, gutta-percha cane.
Coming directly up in front of Mr. Sumner
's desk, and addressing to him a short remark, he suddenly struck him with his heavy cane, opening a long and fearful gash upon the back part of his head.
In quick succession Brooks
repeated his murderous blows until Mr. Sumner
, rising, wrenched the desk from the floor, to which it was firmly screwed, and, under the fiendish pounding, which continued until the cane was shivered in pieces, fell forward, bleeding and insensible as a dead man, on the floor now covered with his blood.
“Do you want the pieces of your cane, Mr. Brooks
said a page of the Senate, picking up the bloody fragments.
“Only the gold head,” replied the assailant, deliberately thrusting it into his coat-pocket.
“The next time, kill him, Brooks
,” said Keitt
, who stood in the doorway with a pistol.
“Come, let us go and take a drink.”
They did so; and Bright, Douglas
, leaving the wounded man weltering in blood, immediately followed them.
Of the senators present, John J. Crittenden
only proffered aid, and condemned the
of New York supported the bleeding head of Mr. Sumner
, and assisted in removing him to a sofa in the lobby of the Senate-chamber
. Mr. Wilson
, who was in the room of Mr. Banks
at the time of the attack, came immediately to the aid of his colleague, and with others raised him, after his wounds had been dressed, into a carriage,--attended him to his lodgings, placed him upon his couch, and alleviated his pain.
During the night he lay pale and bewildered, and could scarcely speak to the few persons standing by his bedside.
His brother George Sumner
soon came to Washington
, and, in conversation with Senator Charles T. James
, said, “What ought I to do?”
“If it were my brother,” replied the Congressman
, “I would take a short, double-barrelled shot-gun, put it under my cloak, walk up to the house of representatives, and right in his chair, as he attacked my brother, I would blow him to pieces.”
“I shall do no such thing,” returned the brother of the wounded senator.
As soon as Mr. Sumner
was able, he gave, while lying in his bed, the following testimony in respect to the assault:--
I attended the Senate as usual on Thursday, the 22d of May.
After some formal business, a message was received from the louse of Representatives, announcing the death of a member of that body from Missouri.
This was followed by a
brief tribute to the deceased from Mr. Geyer of Missouri, when, according to usage and out of respect to the deceased, the Senate adjourned at once.
Instead of leaving the Senate-chamber with the rest of the senators, on the adjournment, I continued in my seat occupied with my pen; and while thus intent, in order to be in season for the mail, which was soon to close, I was approached by several persons who desired to converse with me; but I answered them promptly and briefly, excusing myself for the reason that I was engaged.
When the last of these persons left me, I drew my arm-chair close to my desk, and with my legs under the desk continued writing.
My attention at this time was so entirely drawn from all other objects, that, although there must have been many persons in the Senate, I saw nobody.
While thus intent, with my head bent over my writing, I was addressed by a person who approached the front of my desk.
I was so entirely absorbed, that I was not aware of his presence until I heard my name pronounced.
As I looked up with pen in hand, I saw a tall man, whose countenance was not familiar, standing directly over me, and at the same moment caught these words, “I have read your speech twice over carefully: it is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.”
While these words were still passing from his lips, he commenced a succession of blows with a heavy cane on my bare head, by the first of which I was stunned so as to lose my sight.
I saw no longer my assailant, nor any other person or object in the room.
What I did afterwards was done almost unconsciously, acting under the instincts of self-defence.
With head already bent down, I rose from my seat, wrenching up my desk, which was screwed to the floor, and then pressing forward, while my assailant continued his blows.
I had no
other consciousness until I found myself ten feet forward in front of my desk, lying on the floor of the Senate, with my bleeding head supported on the knee of a gentleman whom I soon recognized, by voice and manner, as Mr. Morgan of New York.
Other persons there were about me, offering me friendly assistance; but I did not recognize any of them.
Others there were at a distance, looking on and offering no assistance, of whom I recognized only Mr. Douglas of Illinois, Mr. Toombs of Georgia, and I thought also my assailant standing between them.
I was helped from the floor, and conducted into the lobby of the Senate, where I was placed upon a sofa.
Of those who helped me here I have no recollection.
As I entered the lobby, I recognized Mr. Slidell of Louisiana, who retreated; but I recognized no one else until I felt a friendly grasp of the hand, which seemed to come from Mr. Campbell of Ohio.
I have a vague impression that Mr. Bright, president of the Senate, spoke to me while I was on the floor of the lobby.
I make this statement in answer to the interrogatory of the committee, and offer it as presenting completely all my recollections of the assault and of the attending circumstances, whether immediately before or immediately after.
I desire to add, that, besides the words which I have given as uttered by my assailant, I have an indistinct recollection of the words “old man;” but these are so enveloped in the mist which ensued from the first blow, that I am not sure whether they were uttered or not.
On the cross-examination of Mr. Sumner, he stated that he was entirely without arms of any kind, and that he had no notice or warning of any kind, direct or indirect, of this assault.
In answer to a cross-question, Mr. Sumner replied that
what he had said of Mr. Butler was strictly responsive to Mr. Butler's speeches, and according to the usages of parliamentary debate.
In this dastardly assault, Preston S. Brooks
struck the heart of every slave and every friend of freedom on this continent.
In his mad attempt to crush one champion of humanity, he called forth millions.
In his barbarous effort to stay the fountain of liberty, he unloosed the gates; for, as Kossuth
most nobly said, “Its waters will flow: every new drop of martyr-blood will increase the tide.
Despots may dam its flood, but never stop it. The higher its dam, the higher the tide: it will overflow or break through.”
The news of the outrage on Mr. Sumner
was borne with lightning speed to every section of the country; and at the North
speakers and resolutions in popular assemblies, the pulpit and the press, in earnest words, declared the public indignation.
At a large meeting in Faneuil Hall, Gov. Henry J. Gardner
said, “We must stand by him who is the representative of Massachusetts
, under all circumstances.”
Peleg W. Chandler
remarked that “Every drop of blood shed by him in this disgraceful affair has raised up ten thousand armed men.”
At the dinner of the Massachusetts
Medical Society, at the Revere House
, Dr. O. W. Holmes
gave this characteristic toast: “To the surgeons of the city of Washington
. God grant them wisdom!
for they are dressing the wounds of a mighty empire, and of uncounted generations.”
At a great indignation-meeting in Albany
, held on the 6th of June, the Rev. Dr. Halley
said, “We are slaves if we permit these atrocities to go on unchallenged.”
At a mass-meeting in New-York City, Henry Ward Beecher
truly said, “Mr. Sumner
had no other weapon in his hand than his pen. Ah!
gentlemen, here we have it. The symbol of the North
is the pen: the symbol of the South
is the bludgeon.”
The voice of the slaveholders at the South
was of course in approval of the atrocious deed.
“The Richmond Enquirer” of June 12 said, “In the main the press of the South
applaud the conduct of Mr. Brooks
without condition or limitation.
, in particular, ought to have nine and thirty early every morning.”
“The Charleston standard” said of Mr. Brooks
, “He will be recognized as one of the first who struck for the vindication of the South
On one of the banners in a procession at Washington
, these brutal words were inscribed, “Sumner
: let them bleed!”
On the day subsequent to the assault, Mr. Wilson
called the attention of the Senate to the circumstance;
and, a committee having been appointed, he, on the morning of the 27th, while the floor and galleries were crowded with anxious listeners, rose, and characterized the attack on Mr. Sumner
as “brutal, murderous, and cowardly.”
interrupted him; and cries of “Order!
rang through the assembly.
Two days later Mr Wilson
received a challenge from Mr. Brooks
, and in reply made use of these memorable words: “I have always regarded duelling as the lingering relic of a barbarous civilization, which the law of the country has branded as a crime.”
A resolution was introduced into the House
, “that Preston S. Brooks
be, and he is, forth — with expelled from this House
as a representative from the State of South Carolina
This resolution was lost by a vote of 121 to 95.
immediately addressed the House
; and on closing said, “I went to work very deliberately, as I am charged,--and this is admitted,--and speculated somewhat as to whether I should employ a horsewhip or a cowhide; but, knowing that the senator was my superior in strength, it occurred to me that he might wrest it from my hand, and then — for I never attempt anything I do not perform — I might have been compelled to do that which I would have regretted the balance of my natural life” [a voice was heard, “He would have killed
him!” ]. “And now, Mr. Speaker
, I announce to you and to this House, that I am no longer a member of the Thirty-fourth Congress.”
On the 21st of June Mr. Burlingame
made a manly speech in the House
, during which, in reference to the assault he said, “I denounce it in the name of the sovereignty of Massachusetts
, which was stricken down by the blow; I denounce it in the name of humanity; I denounce it in the name of civilization, which it outraged; I denounce it in the; name of that fair play which even bullies and prizefighters respect.
What! strike a man when he is pinioned,--when he cannot respond to a blow!
Call you that chivalry?
In what code of honor did you get your authority for that?”
sent him a challenge, which he accepted, and insisted on these terms: “weapons, rifles; distance, twenty paces; place, District of Columbia; time of meeting, the next morning.”
, acting for Mr. Burlingame
, substituted the Clifton House
, for the place designated; and thus the duel was prevented.
The damage done to Mr. Sumner
's system was most serious and alarming; and, had not
his frame and constitution been very strong and vigorous, he could not have survived the assault.
As soon as he was able to sit up, he was removed to the house of his friend Francis P. Blair
, at Silver Spring
, near Washington
, where he received the most assiduous attention.
He declined to take any part in the action brought against Mr. Brooks
for the assault by the District of Columbia, and is not known to have used any revengeful word respecting his assailant.
On the 6th of June he was able to dictate a telegram to Boston
, in regard to a recommendation made by Gov. Gardner
to the General Court to assume the expense of his illness.
can give,” said he, “let it all go to suffering Kansas
“That letter, and Mr. Wilson
's answer to the challenge,” wrote Mrs. L. M. Child
, “have revived my early faith in human nature.”
also, on the 13th, wrote a letter to Carlos Pierce
, declining to receive a testimonial from his friends in Boston
, in approval of his Kansas
speech, for which subscriptions to the amount of one thousand dollars had been made, and said in closing, “I express a desire that the contributions intended for the testimonial to me may be applied at once, and without abatement of any kind, to the recovery and security of freedom in Kansas
On the 21st of June, he found strength sufficient to write an encouraging letter to the Republican committee at Boston
in respect to the nomination of J. C. Fremont
and W. L. Dayton
at the Republican National Convention held at Philadelphia
on the 17th of the same month.
“In this contest,” said he, “there is every motive to union, and also every motive to exertion.
‘Now or never!
now and forever
!’ --such was the ancient war-cry, which, embroidered on the Irish flag, streamed from the Castle of Dublin
, and resounded through the whole island, arousing a generous people to a new struggle for ancient rights; and this war-cry may be fitly inscribed on our standard now. Arise now, or an inexorable, slave-driving tyranny will be fastened upon you. Arise now, and liberty will be secured forever
went to Philadelphia
July 9, and thence to Cape May
for the benefit of the sea-breeze; but, continuing very feeble, he was advised by his
physician, Dr. Caspar Wistar
, to repair to Cresson
on the Alleghany Mountains
, in Pennsylvania
, where he arrived on the 3d of August, and resided in the family, and had the medical advice, of Dr. R. M. Jackson
In the beginning of September he became again the guest of his friend J. T. Furness
, in Philadelphia
, where he remained till November, received many consolatory letters, and also dictated several brief communications, in which he often expressed his earnest solicitude for recovery, that he might resume his public duties, and also for the wrongs of Kansas
, and the success of the Republican party.
But the wound which he received was deep.