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Chapter 57: attempts to reconcile the President and the senator.—ineligibility of the President for a second term.—the Civil-rights Bill.—sale of arms to France.—the liberal Republican party: Horace Greeley its candidate adopted by the Democrats.—Sumner's reserve.—his relations with Republican friends and his colleague.—speech against the President.—support of Greeley.—last journey to Europe.—a meeting with Motley.—a night with John Bright.—the President's re-election.—1871-1872.

The hope of reconciling the President and the senator was not given up by their common friends; and with that view Wilson, at the beginning of this session, made more than one visit to the White House, accompanied on one occasion by another senator. A similar controversy with Mr. Lincoln might readily have been adjusted; but the two Presidents were constituted differently.1 Wilson found his errand bootless; and when he gave up the effort he applied a term to the President which it is not worth while to perpetuate. He desired his colleague's restoration to the leadership of the foreign relations committee, now called for in public journals of large influence; but he encountered obstructions in the state department, as well as in the Executive Mansion, which could not be overcome.

With another type of public men the President was more easily reconciled. General Butler having been relieved (unjustly as he thought) by General Grant from command after the affair at Fort Fisher issued a farewell address to his troops which was almost mutinous; and in that address, and also in one made at Lowell shortly after, he charged, by certain implication, on his chief a wanton or wasteful sacrifice of human life. His conversations, guarded with no privacy, abounded in still more offensive imputations; and he went so far as to prepare a bulky manuscript [498] to exhibit the incapacity of the head of the army.2 He carried his resentment still further; and having intimated to Judge D. K. Cartter, a friend of General Grant, that an invitation to the general's party in Washington would be agreeable to him, after having received one he returned it to the sender. Nevertheless the two generals, now both in public life as civilians, were brought into friendly relations by the mediation of George Wilkes, the editor; and General Butler came to have an influence with the President, at least in appointments to office, greater than that of any public man, or indeed of all public men, in Massachusetts.3

Sumner renewed at this session his proposition, made in 1867,4 for an amendment to the Constitution, establishing the ineligibility of the President for a second term, expressly excepting, however, the next election.5 The President's special friends saw fit to regard the measure as aimed at him, and opposed it in a body. Conkling, calling it up while advocating the President's re-election, attempted some sarcasms on Sumner. The latter in a brief reply declined to follow ‘the insinuations and innuendoes which the senator had so freely strown in his path.’ Carpenter, in an elaborate speech against civil service reform6 (this speech showing to what class of public men he belonged), took occasion to dissent from the proposition. Later in the session Sumner introduced a resolution for substituting a popular vote for President in place of the electoral colleges.7 [499]

Sumner made at this session an earnest and determined effort to carry his civil-rights bill,—a measure securing equality of civil rights to the colored people, and prohibiting discriminations against them by common carriers of passengers, by proprietors of theatres and inns, managers of schools, of cemeteries, and of churches, or as to service as jurors in any courts, State or national. His association with the Democrats in opposing the San Domingo scheme-had not, as was observed, affected his loyalty to the colored people. He continued to present from the beginning of the session petitions for the bill, usually pressing them in brief remarks; and he endeavored to make action on the bill a condition of final adjournment.8 He sought to make the pressure for reconciliation serve his purpose. He moved his bill as an amendment to the amnesty bill which had come from the House, maintaining it at some length; but he encountered the objection that his bill, which required only a majority vote, could not be moved as an amendment to a bill which required a two-thirds vote.9 The Vice-President, however, sustained by the Senate, overruled the objection. Sumner doubtless obtained some votes for his proposition from senators who were opposed to the amnesty bill, and who were sure that the adoption of the amendment, by repelling the Democratic senators, would defeat it. He thought the two measures should be associated in history,—the one an act of justice, and the other an act, of generosity; and it was his opinion, not, however, justified by the result, that the desire for amnesty was so strong that when once his civil-rights measure had been incorporated in it the bill thus amended would pass by a two-thirds vote. His amendment was lost in committee of the whole by a single vote;10 and moving it again after the bill was reported, [500] he said: ‘I entreat senators over the way [the Democrats] who really seek reconciliation now to unite in this honest effort. Give me an opportunity to vote for this bill; I long to do it. Gladly would 1 reach out the olive branch; but I know no way in which that can be done unless you begin by justice to the colored race.’11 No further action was taken till after the holiday recess. The colored people held meetings to advance the measure; but beyond them and old Abolitionists there was no great popular interest in it.12

After the recess Sumner made his most elaborate speech on the subject, in which he reviewed the arguments against caste distinctions, and traversed ground already familiar to him.13 His final appeal was characteristic in style:—

I make this appeal also for the sake of peace, so that at last there shall be an end of slavery, and the rights of the citizen shall be everywhere under the equal safeguard of national law. There is beauty in art, in literature, in science, and in every triumph of intelligence, all of which I covet for my country; but there is a higher beauty still,—in relieving the poor, in elevating the down-trodden, and being a succor to the oppressed. There is true grandeur in an example of justice, making the rights of all the same as our own, and beating down prejudice, like Satan, under our feet. Humbly do I pray that the republic may not lose this great prize, or postpone its enjoyment.

When the debate was resumed, two days later, the senator read at length documents, letters, and extracts from newspapers, showing the necessity of his bill.14 The galleries were filled on the first day,—mostly with colored people,—but the subject did not interest the public generally. Letters of congratulation came from Gerrit Smith, Garrison, S. E. Sewall, Whittier, and D. H. Chamberlain, then attorney-general of South Carolina; but political leaders were silent. Whittier wrote: ‘Thanks for thy noble speech. Some of our politicians are half afraid to commend it, but depend upon it the heart of Massachusetts is with thee. Amnesty for rebels and a guaranty of safety to the freedmen should go together.’ Morrill of Maine and Ferry of Connecticut opposed Sumner's measure as attempting to deal [501] with matters which were purely of State concern. Schurz did not sympathize with his friend's pressure for national legislation imposing civil equality. He kept out of the debate, and his name rarely appeared in the votes. Sumner pushed his measure during the entire session, with all the persistency which was a part of his nature.15 Some senators became weary of the subject, and one of them (Hamlin) forgot his sense of propriety by rising, when Sumner was insisting on action before final adjournment, and asking, with a serious air, ‘if it would be in order to sing Old Hundred before voting.’16 Sumner rebuked him for his trifling.

The former controversy as to the force to be given to the Declaration of Independence in interpreting the Constitution was revived, and here Morrill was as far apart from Sumner as Carpenter had been. He refused to treat it as a source of power, although allowing it to be ‘an inspiration’ and ‘a pervading and all-powerful influence.’ He was a clear-sighted lawyer, and indeed anticipated in his positions the judgment of the Supreme Court. He complained, and had reason to complain, of Sumner's mode of handling a constitutional question,—his drawing on sublime doctrines of human rights rather than looking sharply at the written text. Sumner was disappointed at finding some Southern Republican senators who had been chosen by colored votes opposed to coupling his civil-rights bill with amnesty, and worried them by his remarks, which called the attention of their colored constituents to their action. Naturally they resented this mode of ‘cracking a whip over them.’ Carpenter nominally supported the measure, though in a way to leave a doubt whether he was really in favor of any part; but he objected strenuously to its interference with churches and juries as of doubtful constitutionality.17 The two senators renewed their contention over the Declaration, and Sumner went so far as to place the authority of that document higher than that of the Constitution itself, as ‘earlier in time, loftier, more majestic, more sublime in character and principle.’18 Sherman and [502] Frelinghuysen were on the whole with Sumner, though disagreeing on one or two points; and the Senate, on the latter's motion, exempted the churches. The Chinaman again appeared, as one section struck out the word ‘white’ from all statutes of the United States.

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