Appendix II: a senator's fidelity vindicated.1
The defeated attempt to annex San Domingo
to the United States
, the recall of Mr. Motley
from the mission to England
, the removal of Mr. Sumner
from the head of the committee on foreign relations, on which he had long served, the rupture of friendly intercourse subsisting between him and Mr. Fish
, are likely, both in their public and personal aspects, to prove matters of permanent interest.
While many contributions have been made to the discussion, the more elaborate are the letter of Mr. Fish
, Oct. 29, 1877, printed in the Boston Evening Transcript, the reply of one of Mr. Sumner
's literary executors through the same journal, November 28, and a paper by Mr. J. C. Bancroft Davis
, in support of Mr. Fish
, dated Jan. 3, 1878, and appearing in the New York Herald.
Various persons have at times had relations to the controversy, but lately it has been treated as one which chiefly concerned Mr. Fish
and Mr. Sumner
Their respective claims, however, to the public esteem are not the pending question.
, in 1870, resisted in the Senate with all his power the annexation of San Domingo
as fraught with evil to the colored race, and as promoted by measures which violated international law, while Mr. Fish
strenuously supported it in the Cabinet
Whether, in this or other measures on which they may have differed or agreed, one or the other is entitled to the higher rank as a statesman, is not now in dispute.
The issue is a narrower one, involving chiefly the validity of the reasons alleged at different times for Mr. Sumner
's removal, which the public has quite generally attributed largely to the intervention of the President
, and of his Secretary of State Mr. Fish
The discussion sweeps a wider field, but it begins and ends at this point of contention.
In an interview with a reporter at Boston
, Oct. 19, 1877, Mr. Fish
stated that ‘with regard to the alleged negligence of Mr. Sumner
while chairman of the committee on foreign relations, it was a fact, susceptible of proof from the Senate records, that drafts of treaties [meaning treaties], from eight to eleven in number, remained in the hands of the committee for several months, some of them, as near as Mr. Fish
could remember, for more than two years.’
In reply to a written request for a list of the treaties referred to, he answered by letter, October 29, printed in the Boston Transcript, enumerating nine, —one each with Mexico
, and Great Britain
, and two with Peru
,—as ‘transmitted to the Senate for its action, and referred by that body to the committee on foreign relations, while Mr. Sumner
was its chairman, and which remained unacted upon at the time when he ceased to be such chairman;’ and later in the same letter he referred to the nine treaties as having ‘failed to receive the consideration of
at the time when Mr. Sumner
's appointment as its chairman expired.’
By note of November 7, merely correcting a date, Mr. Fish
appeared a third time before the public.
In an interview held at Garrison
's November 10, with a reporter of the New York Herald, he treated with ridicule the suggestion ascribed to Wendell Phillips
that Mr. Sumner
had ‘prepared and digested’ the treaties referred to, which thus made final action only a formality, and replied, ‘with a certain bland smile of contempt,’ that ‘on the contrary he had pigeon-holed those treaties; he would pay no attention to them whatever.’
Again, by letter to the ‘Herald,’ November 10, evening, he supplemented with further statements what he had said to the reporter in the afternoon; thus, in the brief period of three weeks, coming before the public five times to make and support charges against Mr. Sumner
, and each time with no appearance of being a reluctant witness,—certainly without being governed by any self-imposed rule of silence or reserve.
Before October, 1877, Mr. Fish
seems to have been, not publicly but privately, making the same charge against Mr. Sumner
In an interview held early in September, en route
, General Grant
stated that he had said to George William Curtis
, at Long Branch
, in 1871, that ‘Mr. Sumner
had not done his duty as chairman of the committee, because he had hampered the business of the state department by pigeon-holing treaties for months;’ and the Ex-President
added: ‘I told Mr. Curtis
that there were nine or eleven treaties before the Senate from the state department that had been there several months, and had been in Mr. Sumner
's hands, but had never been laid before the committee.
I wrote from the spot—Long Branch
—to the state department, and to my own surprise there proved to be more treaties than I had said that had been in Mr. Sumner
's own hands for a longer time than I expected. . . . The work of that committee when Mr. Cameron
took charge was in a most deplorable state, due entirely to Mr. Sumner
's obstruc-tiveness and dilatoriness.’
thus indicated the state department as the source of his information, and from it he obtained a formal list of the ‘pigeon-holed’ treaties.
, at its head, being the only officer connected with it who was brought into constant communication with the President
, and having six years afterwards been quick to support a renewal of the charge, appears as the author of the original charge which General Grant
repeated with so much emphasis in his interview.
The charge of suppressing important public business, thus authorized by Mr. Fish
, and many times repeated by himself and others who relied on him as authority, is assuredly a very grave one.
It implied official unfaithfulness, and even moral delinquency.
Whether a statesman, living or dead, was able, wise, or far-sighted is always a fair question for discussion; but the charge of moral delinquency, such as Mr. Fish
originated and spread, and that too against one who could no longer speak for himself, could only be justified by indubitable evidence.
Stated so positively and in such a quarter, it was likely to obtain general credence; and but for a fortunate suggestion that the Senate records should be searched and made known, this calumny might have remained forever attached to an eminent senator.2
On November 21 the injunction of secrecy was removed from the Senate proceedings, on the motion of Senator Hoar
, and Mr. Fish
's repeated charge found to be untrue.
's chairmanship ended March 3, 1871.
It was found that he reported the Mexican
protocol (referred Dec. 8, 1869) on Jan. 11, 1870; the Darien Canal
treaty with Colombia
(referred April 1, 1870), on July 13, 1870; two treaties with Peru
, and one each with Guatemala
(all four referred Dec. 8, 1870), on Jan. 12, 1871; one with Salvador
(referred January, 1871), on March 1, 1871; one with Great Britain
(referred Feb. 28, 1871), on March 1, 1871; leaving only the Austro-Hungary
treaty (referred Dec. 14, 1870) unreported,—eight of the nine treaties being thus reported by Mr. Sumner
, which Mr. Fish
charged he had ‘pigeonholed’ in his committee.
Not only did he report them, but he reported them with more than the despatch customary with committees.
Five of the nine were kept with the committee only about a month, and that month a broken one, which included the holiday recess; and a sixth was reported the very next day after it was received.
The treaty with Salvador
was with the committee seven weeks, the last fortnight of which Mr. Sumner
was prostrated with a severe illness which kept him from the Senate.
The Darien Canal
treaty remained with the committee only three months, although it. is still pending in the Senate, which has not been able to come to a conclusion upon its merits for the period of nearly eight years since it was reported.3
When we consider the deliberation and obstructions to which public business is subjected, particularly in Congress, Mr. Sumner
will be regarded by all who study these dates as having dealt with his share of it with extraordinary despatch.
, recently in this Review, recorded his amazement at the proof of diligence which this record gives, all the more impressive because of the various duties pressing on Mr. Sumner
, and his belief that no other committee could show such a record.
Eleven days after Mr. Fish
had appeared by letter in the ‘Herald,’ his charge against Mr. Sumner
was shown to be untrue by the solemn record of the Senate.
What, then, was his duty?
He had made the charge to Ex-President Grant
, who was spreading it in Europe
and the United States
He had repeated it by letters and interviews.
He had made it, not against a, living rival, but against a dead senator, one with whom he had often held sweet counsel.
The code of honor, the Christian
canons, the instincts of human nature, commanded an instant retraction and apology under his own hand.
The case did not admit of a vicarious defence.
There are some duties which cannot be delegated, and one is that of recalling a, false imputation against the character of another, and most of all when cast at the speechless dead.
But all at once Mr. Fish
One who had five times in three weeks come before the public, and chiefly as a volunteer, all at once stopped writing letters and meeting interviewers; and from Nov. 21, 1877, when his accusations were shown to be untrue by the publication of the Senate journal, he has maintained an impenetrable reserve.
Withdrawing at this interesting stage of the discussion, he seems to have obtained a substitute to take his place.
Mr. J. C. B. Davis
, his former assistant secretary of state, spares time from new duties on the Court of Claims to write a paper for the ‘Herald’ in his behalf.
mode of justifying by proxy has two advantages: it relieves Mr. Fish
of the unpleasant necessity of stating at the outset how he came to make such untrue charges against a dead senator, and further enables him to avoid responsibility for new positions taken in his defence, which may be found as unsubstantial as his original charge of ‘pigeon-holing’ treaties.
It is even better for the purpose than ‘interviewing,’ in which the interviewed, when his statements have been shown to be contrary to the fact, with great facility changes his positions, coolly throwing on the interviewer the responsibility of misapprehending him. Not, however, from Mr. Davis
or any other substitute, but from Mr. Fish
himself, under his own hand, an explanation is required by every law of moral duty.
's method of narration is certainly unique.
He relates some conversations where plainly he was not present, others in a way that leaves the reader in doubt whether he is reciting another's story or his own; talks of the thoughts, anxieties, remembrances, and states of mind of Mr. Fish
, as if the two were one; and recounts frequent and long interviews at Mr. Fish
's house (matters concerning which Mr. Fish
is the only competent witness), and in some instances he differs radically from Mr. Fish
He undertakes to say, giving no authority, what took place between Mr. Sumner
and Mr. Fish
, Jan. 13, 1871, at Mr. Sumner
's house, when they two were alone together, and what Mr. Fish
said to senators when he (Mr. Davis
) does not claim to have been present.
The paper abounds in vague phrases, as, ‘it was said;’ ‘it was no secret;’ one Republican senator went so far; ‘the President
and Mr. Fish
stated to more than one senator;’ ‘there appeared on the part of leading Republican members,’—in all which the generality of allegation and suppression of names make any attempt to test the truth of the statements impossible.
If he is a witness, let him qualify by showing presence and opportunity; and if he is only acting as amanuensis of Mr. Fish
, let him say so. A paper of such a character as he has given carries no weight as evidence.
One part—and a large part it is—of Mr. Fish
's as well as of Mr. Davis
's statements ought to be eliminated from the discussion.
They write with facility of the conversations
of Mr. Sumner
which are not now subject to his denial, or the different version he might give; and they undertake to put in testimony of this kind which they did not give in his lifetime.
Recent statutes deny to a party the right to testify to the conversations of a deceased adversary, for manifest reasons of public policy.
The rule is justly applicable to other than legal controversies, and should be applied more stringently against parties whose previous allegations against the deceased have proved untrue.
Folsus in uno, falsus in omnibus
, is a maxim which, though subject to limitations, holds a legitimate place in the law of evidence.
The public will require better proof of Mr. Sumner
's conversations, manner, and thoughts than such testimony from such a source.
in his paper jumps the charge of ‘pigeon-holing’ with an acrobat's dexterity.
He says that ‘at or about the time the change [Mr. Sumner
's removal] took place, the President
and Mr. Fish
stated to more than one senator that the current business of the department of state had been neglected in the Senate during the present session, and particularly that no treaty which had been sent to the Senate during the session which followed Motley
had been acted on
This shifting of positions is adroit, but it will not answer its purpose.
's uniform charge, as given to the public and to General Grant
, is ‘pigeon-holing’ in committee, not inaction in the Senate; and the list of nine treaties which he gave was one which he alleged had not been reported
,—not a list of treaties reported, which were not pressed
in the Senate.
If Mr. Fish
told senators what Mr. Davis
asserts, then he gave them a different account from what he has given in letters and interviews.
very quietly slips in this new charge in place of the old one, without calling the reader's attention to the substitution.
Let it be noted, too, that he associates the Ex-President
with Mr. Fish
in the making of charges to senators, while the former in his interview denied any participation in the removal, though pleased to hear that it had taken place.
says: ‘The unrevealed records of the Senate in executive session will show whether Mr. Sumner
made any attempt during that winter [1870-1871] to secure the action of the Senate on these treaties.’
They might, or they might not. Mr. Sumner
might have appealed urgently to senators to take up the treaties, and the general expression might have been against his appeal, and there the matter have ended without a record.
If Mr. Davis
can find anything in the Senate journals to impeach Mr. Sumner
's fidelity, let him produce it, and not darkly hint at points against him which do not exist.
On the assailant rests the burden of proving his charges.
There is a presumption in favor of the right-doing of public business which has passed into a maxim.
Reputations are to be assailed only by proved facts, not by cunning insinuations.
's friends have no occasion to fear records which have already so well exposed the calumnies industriously circulated against him.
The charge which Mr. Davis
now substitutes for the original one is, that Mr. Sumner
‘did not move forward the treaties and secure the Senate's action upon them.’
No such intimation was made in the caucus or in the Senate when Mr. Sumner
's removal was debated, March 10, 1871; nor by President Grant
, when giving reasons for it in the summer of 1871; nor by Mr. Conkling
, July 23, 1872, when at the Cooper Institute he defended with much elaboration the removal, stating instead, what is now disproved, that Mr. Sumner
did not report ‘six or seven treaties;’ nor by Mr. Howe
, Mr. Hamlin
, Mr. Cameron
, and Mr. Anthony
, when they explained in the Senate the cause of the removal, April 28, 1874; nor by General Grant
, in his interviews in 1877– 1878, in Scotland
or in Egypt
; nor by Mr. Fish
, in his five appearances before the public in October, November, and December, 1877.
But it is, for the first time, made by Mr. Davis
, Jan. 3, 1878, nearly seven years after Mr. Sumner
's removal, and almost four years after his death, and only when Mr. Fish
's repeated accusation has been completely disproved by the record.
's assertion that the President
and secretary at that time informed senators of Mr. Sumner
's neglect of public business is disproved by the facts.
Such a statement, if believed, would have inevitably been used in the caucus and in the Senate.
The senators who promoted the removal were sorely pressed for reasons which should be distinct from the San Domingo
issue, and they would have seized upon an argument calculated to carry public opinion with them.
Not one, however, even in that hour of bitterness, saw fit to accept Mr. Sumner
's challenge to an inspection of his record as chairman, or to deny his fidelity.
and Mr. Nye
expressly admitted it, and the
silence of others was an implied assent.
If any one of all those who voted for the removal had received the information which Mr. Davis
says that some had received from the President
and secretary, he could have met Mr. Sumner
with a positive denial of his fidelity, and vindicated the propriety of his removal before the country.
That no senator received the communication, as stated by Mr. Davis
, is shown by the fact that no senator reported Mr. Sumner
's alleged neglect to the caucus or the Senate, and that the positive assertions of his fidelity were left unquestioned.
The substitute charge, however, is as unfounded as the original one.
No affirmative evidence is given of its truth, and Mr. Sumner
's friends might rest content with challenging the assailant to supply his proofs.
But they can well advance beyond mere negation, and bring his surviving colleagues on the committee and in the Senate as witnesses to his character and fidelity.
No legislator, it may be remarked, can be held responsible for the refusal of the legislative body to act when he has duly reported a measure and brought it properly to its attention.
The body may insist on its own order of business, or be averse to the consideration of the measure.
The Darien Canal
treaty, the French
claims, the ‘Alabma’ claims, and the civil-rights measures are all instances of dilatory action, which neither chairmen nor committees could prevent.
Some of these Mr. Sumner
urged, as is well known, with untiring effort, but without success.
If, prima facie
, a chairman is to be deemed culpable for the non-action of the legislative body, no chairman could stand the test.
It is for Mr. Davis
to show, before he can sustain his charge, an occasion when Mr. Sumner
should have urged a treaty and did not, and what treaties he so neglected; when, if ever, any senator upon his committee, or not upon it, asked in the Senate for the consideration of a treaty, and found him obstructive or indifferent; or when, if ever, Mr. Fish
solicited Mr. Sumner
's attention for the purpose, and it was not given.
Many notes of Mr. Fish
to Mr. Sumner
are preserved, mostly of a very familiar character, mingling public and social affairs, and in not one of them is there a suggestion that any treaty has been neglected; not one speaks of delay or calls for action.
The testimony of senators who were serving with Mr. Sumner
at the time of his removal in March, 1871, is here given.
, and Casserly
were members of the committee on foreign relations at that time.
, and Bayard
were his political opponents; and with some of the others, for instance Mr. Trumbull
, he had at times strong antagonisms on public questions.
But whatever their differences, political or personal, they have cheerfully borne their emphatic testimony to the remarkable fidelity of their deceased colleague.
of New Hampshire
, a member of the committee with Mr. Sumner
, writes, Feb. 25, 1878:—
Mr. Sumner's fidelity in the discharge of his senatorial duties was so generally recognized that I could not have believed that any person would be found to question it, if I had not seen it. I am glad to be able to say, in response to your question, that I think he was exceptionally faithful and prompt in pressing the consideration of all matters referred to his committee, and in urging action upon the same, after they had been reported to the Senate; and my own belief is that Mr. Sumner never exhibited greater activity or ability, and never manifested a stronger desire to expedite the business of his committee, than during his last term of service as its chairman.
I never saw or heard an intimation that he was either slack or obstructive in the discharge of his duties as chairman until I read the paper lately published by Ex-Secretary Fish in response to Mr. Phillips's strictures upon the utterances of President Grant relative to Mr. Sumner.
It so happened that I was absent from Washington, attending the annual election in New Hampshire at the time Mr. Sumner was dropped from his committee, and so did not hear the discussions upon that subject, either in the caucus or the Senate.
It was, however, a matter of frequent conversation after my return; and I do not remember to have heard any one give, as a reason for his being dropped, a premeditated and wilful holding back of treaties which had been referred to the committee, or even a careless neglect of foreign affairs.
It was rare, if ever, that the files of our committee were cumbered with unconsidered business.
It was Mr. Sumner's habit to drive his work, and not to be driven by it. He kept the table of the committee clear, and ready for new matter as it came to hand.
It certainly never occurred to me—and I have no reason to suppose it did to any of my associates upon the committee—that our chairman's zeal in the discharge of his official duties flagged during his last term of service, or that personal feelings toward the Secretary of State influenced his action as a senator in the slightest degree.
The charge that Mr. Sumner, simply to gratify personal spite, designedly and maliciously delayed action, either in the committee or the Senate, upon pending treaties, is something worse than an after-thought.
The record shows it to be untrue, and a wrong done to the memory of a statesman whose name will be revered and honored in spite of this violation of the rest of the grave.
Mr. Sumner undoubtedly had great confidence in his own judgment of public affairs, and perhaps was liable through the strength of his feelings to do injustice to the motives and opinions of others; but he was not suspicious or malignant, and his patriotism was too constant and strong ever to have allowed him to gratify his personal dislikes to the sacrifice of a public duty.
All the treaties mentioned by Mr. Fish in the article already alluded to, when referred to the committee, were taken up and acted upon with the usual promptness, and were reported back to the Senate by our chairman with no more than the ordinary and necessary delay.
Nor did Mr. Sumner's activity stop there.
More than once, as I well remember, he reminded the Senate that those treaties were on its table, and waiting its action; but as no one of them was of such a character as to demand immediate action, and as no real interest of the country would be sacrificed by delay, the Senate preferred to go on with the legislative business upon its crowded calendar during the short term, and so declined to go into executive session for the consideration of the treaties.
Two out of the nine treaties spoken of by Ex-Secretary Fish, it is true, could not be classed among what are called “stock treaties.”
They did not relate to the general questions of international intercourse, but yet were of such a character as would allow them to be held in abeyance without detriment to any public interest.
That relating to the Mexican commissioners, it was understood, would meet with serious opposition, and could only be ratified, if at all, after long debate.
The Darien Canal treaty had such wide and far-reaching relations, and was to inaugurate expensive and protracted operations in a locality so distant and little understood, that it demanded time for investigation, both in the committee and the Senate.
It was therefore thought best that these should go over with the others to the extra session, when there would be ample time to consider them.
It is not an unusual thing—indeed I think I may say it is the common practice of the Senate—to allow executive business pending near the close of a session, if it does not press for immediate action, to go over to the extra or special session, if it is understood there is to be one.
This gives time for the consideration of legislative business, which always crowds, and necessitates hasty action in the closing days of Congress.
, of Missouri
, another member of the committee with Mr. Sumner
, now Secretary of the Interior
, writes, May 15, 1878:—
I was a member of the Senate committee on foreign relations during the last two years of Mr. Sumner's chairmanship, and I have never heard his diligence in preparing and pressing forward the business of that committee questioned by any one until now, after his death.
I was personally on intimate terms with Mr. Sumner, and know from my own observation that his official duties, especially those connected with foreign affairs, were constantly occupying his mind and engaging his energies.
If the charge of negligence had been brought against him while he was at the head of the committee on foreign relations, it would have been unanimously put down as utterly absurd by all those who had any knowledge of the business of that committee.
Mr. Sumner never hesitated, neglected, or ceased to press the business of the committee upon the attention of the Senate on every available occasion.
As to the list of treaties recently mentioned by Mr. Fish in his letter to The Boston Transcript, I do not pretend to have any specific recollection; but I feel warranted in saying that if those treaties, or any of them, went over from the regular session of Congress to the extra session of The Senate immediately following it and called especially for the transaction of executive business, it was by no means an unusual but a very common and a very proper thing.
It is notorious that toward the close of a session of Congress there is a vast accumulation of legislative matter to be disposed of in a hurry; that there is scarcely time for the calm consideration of anything; that the Senate at that period devotes most of its time in executive sessions to the confirmation or rejection of the nominations still on the calendar; and that extra sessions of the Senate, immediately following the adjournment of Congress, are called for the special purpose of transacting business which requires consideration and could not be sufficiently considered amid the turmoil of a closing Congress.
To cast blame upon Mr. Sumner, or any one else, for permitting important business to go over to the extra session of the Senate under such circumstances, if in the instance mentioned by Mr. Fish it did go over, seems entirely gratuitous.
The reasons for which Mr. Sumner was dropped from the chairmanship of the committee on foreign relations were discussed in open Senate, and even the debate which had taken place in the caucus of Republican senators on the subject was drawn into that discussion.
No senator who favored the removal of Mr. Sumner ventured to hint at remissness in the conduct of public business on the part of Mr. Sumner, or at a difference of opinion between him and the Secretary of State concerning the acquisition of Canada, as forming part of those reasons.
The record in the Congressional Globe speaks for itself.
Neither have I ever, until now, heard these two things privately mentioned by any one as making the retirement of Mr. Sumner front the chairmanship desirable.
To put his retirement from a post which he had held so long, and so honorably upon such grounds appears very much like an after-thought; and to accuse a man like Mr. Sumner, whose highest pride was in his fidelity to public duty, of negligence or obstructiveness in the discharge of those duties, now that he is in his grave, is, to say the least of it, very ungracious business.
, of California
, another member of the committee with Mr. Sumner
, writes, Feb. 19, 1878:—
During the two years, from 1869 to 1871, while I was on the committee with Mr. Sumner, I can say that in the committee, as its chairman, he was faithful and diligent in reporting and pressing treaties.
He was equally so in the Senate, where he was apt to be rather persistent with treaties of importance.
It is my recollection
that treaties sent in to the Senate during the session ending March 4 were, unless the emergency was great, usually laid over for the special session of the Senate immediately following.
The Mexican Claims treaty encountered from the first much opposition.
I do not recall the circumstances connected with the Austro-Hungarian treaty, or the Darien Canal treaty.
Generally speaking, I should say that the delays, whatever they were, in disposing of important treaties were imputable to the Senate rather than to Mr. Sumner.
I refer more especially now to the session ending March 4, 1871, when he was excluded from the committee.
Whatever specious pretexts for this proceeding may have been given then, or may be given now, I cannot doubt that the controlling motive for it is to be found in Mr. Sumner's unflinching opposition to the San Domingo job. This was the understanding at the time among all of us Democrats in the Senate, and not a few Republicans.
writes, Jan. 24, 1878:--“I cannot pretend any other than a general impression touching the manner of Mr. Sumner
in the discharge of his duties as chairman of the committee on foreign relations; and that impression was and is that he was remarkably attentive to all subjects referred to the committee, and I never noticed that he was dilatory in pressing them upon the attention of the Senate.
To the very last he seemed to me especially ambitious not to shirk his senatorial labors.
I was also frequently at his room, and there always found him a hard worker.”
writes, Jan. 25, 1878 :--
I am amazed that there should be any controversy as to the fidelity with which the late Mr. Sumner performed his duties as chairman of the committee on foreign relations.
During the eighteen years I served with him in the Senate, no member of the body was more prompt in his attendance or more attentive to business than he, saving only the period while he was physically disabled by the brutal assault of 1856.
In 1871, when Mr. Sumner, after a service of ten years, was displaced as chairman of the committee on foreign relations, no one intimated that it was because of any delay or neglect in the discharge of duty either in the committee-room or as a member of the Senate.
So far from it, his fidelity was admitted by all; and though my personal relations with him were not at that time of the most agreeable character, I was so well satisfied that the good of the public service required his retention as chairman of the committee on foreign relations, that I did not hesitate to protest against his removal.
I regard the accusation that Mr. Sumner, either during the last year of his service as chairman of the committee on foreign relations, or at any other time, failed or neglected properly to bring forward and press upon the consideration of the Senate treaties or any other matter referred to his committee, as cruelly unjust and wholly unwarranted by the facts.
of New York writes, Jan. 29, 1878:--
I know of no senator more faithful and efficient in pressing committee-business committed to him than was Mr. Sumner.
During the years I served with him in the Senate I never heard it charged or intimated, nor did I ever for a moment think, that he was careless or remiss in the discharge of duty, whether relating to treaties or other matters before his committee or the Senate.
His views relative to the acquisition of Canada, whatever they may have been at the time of his disconnection with the committee on foreign relations, were not urged or referred to privately or publicly, to my knowledge, as a reason for his displacement.
writes, May 24, 1878:--
I never heard, until after his death, any suggestion that Senator Sumner was remiss in the discharge of his duties as chairman of that committee.
The suggestion greatly surprised me, for he was very remarkable for his punctual attendance in the Senate, and I had always supposed that he was equally diligent in the discharge of his committee duties.
I cannot but think that those who have intimated the contrary are very greatly mistaken.
writes, Feb. 18, 1878:--
In reply to your inquiry as to the fidelity of the late Senator Sumner in conducting the business of the committee on foreign relations , while he was the chairman I will say that not having been a member of that committee I can speak only of its business as presented to the Senate; and there I can well attest Mr. Sumner's remarkable assiduity in attending to all the duties of his position.
In this he was conspicuous, and I never knew his steady fidelity to fail or flag even when ill-health and suffering would have given him ample excuse.
I cannot imagine a more frivolous pretext for his removal from the chairmanship he had held so many years than an alleged lack of attention to its duties.
In his lifetime I never heard such a suggestion, for it would have been considered absurd.
When he was deprived of the chairmanship, there was no man in the Senate so well equipped as he for the place, and not one more assiduous in his devotion to what he believed to be his duty; and in this there was no abatement until death relieved him.
Similar testimonies have been received from other associates of Mr. Sumner
in the Senate, as ex-Senators Morrill
, and Senators Anthony
, and Spencer
; but there is not space to insert them here.
, now Secretary of the Treasury
, in the debate on Mr. Sumner
's removal, March 10, 1871, while considering himself bound by the action of the caucus, declared the change “unjustifiable, impolitic, and unnecessary,” and after Mr. Sumner
's death, in a tribute to his memory, bore testimony to his remarkable fidelity.
The leading promoters of the removal admitted in the debate his perfect fidelity, and no senator alleged or hinted the slightest default either in the committee or in the Senate, whether arising from inattention, obstructiveness, or any other cause.
That was left for the fertile imaginations of Mr. Fish
and Mr. Davis
The breach of personal (not official) relations between the secretary and the senator was assigned as the cause of the removal by its advocates in the Senate debate of March 10, 1871.
But it was shown at the time that Mr. Sumner
was always ready to confer freely with Mr. Fish
on public business, and indeed had done so but a few weeks previous, and that the breach of personal relations was caused by “a gross insult,” so called in debate, which Mr. Fish
had given Mr. Sumner
in the despatch to Mr. Moran
of Dec. 30, 1870, previous to which they had been engaged in friendly intercourse and correspondence.
This “flimsy pretext” of non-intercourse, as it was termed by Senator Schurz
, did not avail at the time to mislead the public.
The debates in the caucus and in the Senate, and the public journals in their leaders, paragraphs, and correspondence, pointed to Mr. Sumner
's determined opposition to the San Domingo
scheme and his exposure of the proceedings of its leading promoters as the motive or justification of his displacement.
The reasons for Mr. Sumner
's removal heretofore given having failed, Mr.
has attempted a new one, which no assailant of Mr. Sumner
hitherto has ventured to suggest; namely, that the senator, by a memorandum of Jan. 17, 1871, sent by him to Mr. Fish
, in answer to a call for his advice as to the negotiations with Great Britain
for the settlement of the ‘Alabama
’ claims and other questions, proposed that ‘the withdrawal of the British
flag from Canada
cannot be abandoned as a condition or preliminary of such a settlement.’
This, according to Mr. Davis
, was communicated by Mr. Fish
to ‘leading Republican senators,’ who were governed in their votes by the communication, making them, as he says, ‘their practical answer’ to the memorandum; and he then states that for diplomatic purposes this reason was not given to the public, but only the reason ‘that Mr. Sumner
was not on speaking terms with the President
and with Mr. Fish
The presumption is against senators having been influenced by such an argument, if it had been used.
It is not customary, on account of a difference on a single measure involving no party passions, to dismiss a chairman from a post he has held with universal approval for a long period, but it is found easier and more consistent with the proprieties to vote him down on that question than to remove him altogether from his place.
A few considerations show this newly-devised explanation of Mr. Sumner
's removal to be absurd.
No such reason was given at the time of the removal, either in the caucus on March 9, 1871, or in the Senate on March 10, 1871, or in the public journals of the time.
The ‘non-speaking’ reason, and that alone, was insisted on by senators who advocated the removal.
If the embarrassment of negotiations had been a reason, it would have been given at once.
intimates that it would have been ‘the height of indiscretion’ to give the reason while negotiations were pending; but why so?
The removal of a chairman who was making exorbitant demands against Great Britain
would have shown our friendly disposition, and made negotiations easier.
But no attempt to conceal a reason operating on the minds of senators could have succeeded.
In some way the reporters would have discovered it. Nothing is more easy to detect than the considerations governing the action of public men who are co-operating in the support of a measure.
's explanation why this reason remained a profound secret will not stand a moment's scrutiny.
If reasons of state required senators to keep this cause for the removal a secret, the secret would have come out when those reasons of state ceased to operate; and they ceased entirely to operate when the Treaty
had been concluded and ratified in June, 1871.
The fact that this alleged cause for removal was not made public then, or whenever after the causes of the removal were canvassed by senators, proves that it never existed, that it never had any place in their minds, that it was never communicated to them.
It was not mentioned by Mr. Conkling
when he defended the removal in his speech at Cooper Institute, July 23, 1872; nor in the debate in the Senate, April 28, 1874, when it was explained or defended by Howe
, and Cameron
; nor by Mr. Fish
himself in his interviews and letters of October 19, October 29, and November 10, 1877; nor by any one except Mr. Davis
, and by him only after the pretext of unreported treaties had been disproved.
, writing so recently as in the last number of the North American Review, gives only the non-intercourse reason, thus lending no
sanction to Mr. Davis
's latest invention.
The memorandum, as a justification of the removal, was thus an after-thought, taking the place of another afterthought, which had failed.
The statement, then, that any position of Mr. Sumner
in relation to the acquisition of Canada
was in the mind of any senator when voting for his removal, or was ever communicated to any senator as a reason for removal, may fairly take its place with the charge that he never reported the nine treaties.
But who are ‘The leading senators’ with whom Mr. Fish
is said to have conferred?
Were not The two Messrs. Morrill
, Messrs. Schurz
, and Wilson
as ‘leading’ senators as any who favored Mr. Sumner
These all, however, sustained him in caucus.
Either, then, Mr. Fish
did not communicate this argument to them or to any of the twenty-one who voted in Mr. Sumner
's favor in the caucus, or if he did they placed no reliance upon it. If he withheld it from the twenty-one, but communicated it to some of the twenty-six who voted for the removal in the caucus, upon what principle of selection did he proceed?
Were the senators who voted for removal any more pacific in disposition toward England
than those who voted against it?
Among the former was Mr. Chandler
, who was most zealous against Mr. Sumner
; but it was he who made in April, 1869, the most aggressive speech against England
ever made in Congress, and who then proposed to obtain by negotiation a surrender of all the British
possessions in North America
as the basis for a settlement of our claims, and who in the same speech recited the offensive propositions he had from time to time made, such as the withdrawal of our minister from the court of St. James, the repeal of the neutrality laws, the declaration of our neutrality between England
, and who said that ‘the sixty thousand veteran soldiers of Michigan
will take the contract to take possession of the Canadas in thirty days.’
Indeed, Mr. Chandler
, who proposed to seize Canada
by force, voting to remove Mr. Sumner
for desiring only a peaceful acquisition, with full consent of England
and of Canada
also, would be an interesting spectacle!
Surely, he was not, one of ‘the leading senators’!
Nor could there have been among then, for reasons already given, Messrs. Conkling
, or Anthony
Who, then, were the nameless, undesignated ‘leading senators’ to whom Mr. Fish
made known the memorandum which, as now alleged , he then thought a fatal obstruction to an important negotiation,—a secret, kept so well for seven years, and now first revealed by Mr. Davis
If it were true that Mr. Fish
ever made the communication to senators which Mr. Davis
now alleges, such communication would also have been made first of all to the President
, before even it was mentioned to a senator.
But General Grant
, in all his justifications of Mr. Sumner
's removal, puts forth two only,—‘the pigeon-holing’ and ‘the non-speaking’ ones, as in his conversation with Mr. Curtis
in the summer of 1871 at Long Branch
, and in his interviews in Scotland
in September, 1877, and at Cairo
in January, 1878, without ever making the remotest allusion to the reason which Mr. Davis
now resorts to when the others have failed.
Again, and finally, as showing that no views of Mr. Sumner
ever prompted a vote for his removal, it should be remembered that the removal
was attempted at the beginning of the session in December, 1870, and threatened in debate on December 21, some weeks before the memorandum of Jan. 17, 1871, about Canada
assumes to give the terms of Mr. Sumner
's memorandum of Jan. 17, 1871.
Taking it as given, Mr. Sumner
appears to have thought the proximity to us of the British
possessions a cause of irritation and disturbance, by furnishing a basis of operations for Fenianism; and in order to make the settlement complete, and prevent all controversy in the future, he proposed the peaceful and voluntary withdrawal of the British
flag from this continent.
This proposition was neither dishonorable nor unstatesmanlike, and it is in harmony with the best opinions of our time.
The single sentence of the memorandum already given alone invites criticism: but by those words, written not in a formal paper, and signed only with initials, he meant merely to say, as the event showed, that the cession of British America should be our first request in order to reach, as a final consummation, perpetual peace between the two nations.
That this was his thought is shown by other expressions in the memorandum, as where, cordially accepting Sir John Rose
's idea that all causes of irritation should be removed, he added: ‘Nothing could be better than this initial idea; it should be the starting-point.’
That he laid no greater stress on this part of his memorandum appears clearly enough from a letter he wrote the day after to George Bemis
, in which, mentioning the fact of his memorandum, he refers to the clause in it concerning the depredations of the different cruisers, but without any reference to the clause concerning Canada
But as demonstrating that he held no impracticable, no obstructive position about Canada
this fact alone is sufficient, that he supported in the Senate the Treaty
; and while he criticised some omissions, and moved certain amendments, and spoke at length upon its various provisions, he made no complaint that it did not provide for the cession of Canada
, and indeed made no reference to the matter whatever.
This was not the first occasion on which Mr. Sumner
had shown his desire for the acquisition of British America, as he had already supported that of Russian America
Always, however, he insisted that it should be made by peaceful annexation, by the voluntary act of England
, and with the cordial assent of the colonists.
This view appears in his speech at the Republican
State convention at Worcester
, Sept. 22, 1869, where here called the aspirations of our fathers for the union of all Englishmen in America
, and their invitation to Canada
to join our new nation at its birth; suggested that reciprocity of trade was prophetic of political unity, and pictured our country as hereafter destined to cover the continent ‘from the frozen sea to the tepid waters of the Mexican Gulf
;’ but referring to the whispers of territorial compensation for our claims against England
with territory as the consideration, he rejected such a solution altogether, except with the full concurrence of Canada
herself, declaring with emphasis, ‘Territory may be conveyed, but not a people.’
Is there anything in this aspiration unworthy, visionary, or impracticable?
Rather is there not something in it lofty and inspiring?
Everywhere races of common origin and speech are gravitating to oneness and solidarity.
Such is the lesson of history, and such also is the spectacle of our era. This generation has seen Italy
rise from a geographical expression
to a national entity,—her various kingdoms, duchies, pontifical states
, provinces of a foreign dynasty, all becoming one country, which stretches the length of the historic peninsula.
It has seen likewise Germany
, no longer a mere dream of patriots and idealists, at last consolidated as one people, and realizing the fatherland of patriotism and of song.
At this hour it sees in the far East
the Greek race, in whose language mankind has found its culture, its philosophy, and its religion, yearning for a nationality commensurate with the common speech, and centred in a renowned capital on the Aegean or the Bosphorus.
Such a generation will respond with sympathy to Sumner
's thought of Canada
joining speedily the sisterhood of American States, even if with a seer's instinct he anticipated, as he often did, the fulness of time.
In the final week of his life, even on the very day he left the Senate for the last time, at whose close he was smitten with mortal agony, he was finishing his ‘Prophetic Voices concerning America
,’ in which he had gathered what from age to age had been foretold of her greatness and destiny; and among these he placed his friend Cobden
's contemplation of the coining union of Canada
with us. What nobler epitaph can be written of an American statesman than this,—that after an illustrious career of devotion to universal liberty, carrying into age the fresh hopes of youth, he died, cherishing fondly the vision that the country he had loved and served was to grow in peace to an empire wide as the domains of the English-speaking race on this continent!