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Chapter 13:

Heed not what may be your fate;
Count it gain when worldlings hate;
Naught of hope or heart abate:

Victory's before.
Ask not that your toils be o'err
Till all slavery is no more,
No more, no more, no more!

If our arms at this distance cannot defend him from assassins, we confide the defence of a life so precious to all honorable men and true patriots, to the Almighty Maker of men. --Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Boston deeply felt the blow received by Mr. Sumner; and his reception by the city, on the third day of November, was a triumph. A cavalcade numbering about eight hundred horsemen, [234] together with a long line of carriages and an immense throng of people, with enlivening strains of music, attended him from Roxbury to the Capitol.

Many of the buildings along the line of the procession were decorated with festoons, banners, and appropriate mottoes, such as, “Welcome, freedom's defender;” “Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God;” “Massachusetts loves, honors, will sustain and defend, her noble Sumner.”

At one point in the route, a large company of elegantly-dressed young ladies with bouquets and waving handkerchiefs bade him welcome. A vast concourse of people awaited him in front of the Capitol, where he was received on a platform erected for the purpose, and presented in an eloquent speech by Prof. F. D. Huntington to Gov. Henry J. Gardner and his staff.

To words of generous welcome extended to him by the governor, he made a touching and appropriate reply, in the course of which he said, “My soul overflows, especially to the young men of Boston, out of whose hearts, as from an exuberant fountain, this broad hospitality took its rise.” In referring to his colleague, Mr. Wilson, he said, “It is my special happiness to recognize his unfailing sympathies for myself, and his manly assumption of all [235] the responsibilities of honor.” His encomium on Massachusetts was remarkable for its truth and beauty. “My filial love does not claim too much,” said he, “when it exhibits her as approaching the pattern of a Christian commonwealth, which, according to the great English republican, John Milton, ‘ought to be but as one huge Christian personage, one mighty growth and stature of an honest man, as big and compact in virtue as in body.’ Not through any worldly triumphs, not through the vaults of State Street, the spindles of Lowell, or even the learned endowments of Cambridge, is Massachusetts thus; but because, seeking to extend everywhere within the sphere of her influence the benign civilization which she cultivates at home, she stands forth the faithful, unseduced supporter of human nature.”

“Terrestrial place,” he beautifully said in closing, “is determined by celestial observation. Only by watching the stars can the mariner safely pursue his course; and it is only by obeying these lofty principles which are above men and human passion, that we can make our way safely through the duties of life. In such obedience I hope to live, while, as a servant of Massachusetts, I avoid no labor, shrink from no exposure, and complain of no hardship.”

Mr. Sumner was then escorted to his home in Hancock Street, which was surrounded by a dense crowd [236] of people, who rent the air with enthusiastic acclamations. With his widowed mother he appeared at the parlor window, and was again received with cheers of parting, when the multitude retired, and he himself sought that repose which his feeble system, after the demonstrations of the day, demanded.

His injuries from the assault of Mr. Brooks were much more serious than he at first anticipated. For several months he remained at home, under the treatment of Dr. Marshall S. Perry, and the unremitting care of his affectionate mother. He found, however, strength to dictate several letters, referring mostly to the interests of the Republican party and of suffering Kansas. On the 17th of November, for instance, he wrote a letter to M. F. Conway, to the effect that State legislatures should contribute to sustain the cause of liberty in Kansas, which, with a letter from Mr. Wilson to the governor of Vermont, was in a great measure instrumental in securing an appropriation of twenty thousand dollars from that State. On the 24th of the same month, to a committee in Worcester, and in reference to the recent Republican victories, he said, “All New England, with New York, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, constitute an irresistible phalanx for freedom, while our seeming reverse in our Presidential election is only another Bunker Hill.” In a letter, dated Hancock [237] Street, Jan. 10, 1857, to his friend James Redpath, Esq., who was heroically laboring on behalf of freedom in Kansas, he said, “I cannot believe that Massachusetts will hesitate. Her people have already opened their hearts to Kansas; and the public treasury should be opened as wide as their hearts.”

On the thirteenth day of January, 1857, he was almost unanimously re-elected to another six-years term of office; the Senate casting for him every vote; the house having already given him 333 out of the 345 votes thrown.

“It is not too much to say,” justly remarked “The New-York Tribune,” “that Mr. Sumner is at this moment the most popular man in the State, the opinions of which he so truly represents.” In his acceptance of the trust, Jan. 22, Mr. Sumner said, “Alike by sympathy with the slave, and by determination to save ourselves from wretched thraldom, we are all summoned to the effort now organized for the emancipation of the national government from a degrading influence, hostile to civilization, which, whenever it shows itself even at a distance, is brutal, vulgar, and mean; an unnatural tyranny, calculated to arouse the generous indignation of good men. Of course no person, unless ready to say in his heart that there is no God, can doubt the certain result.” His health continuing to decline, he was advised by his physicians [238] to seek relief abroad; and early in March following he took passage in the steamship “Fulton,” at New York, for Havre. His last word before sailing was on behalf of that fair territory where the friends and the foes of the freedom of the colored race were in conflict.

In a letter to Mr. Redpath, dated on board “The Fulton,” March 7, 1857, he said, “Do any sigh for a Thermopylae? They have it in Kansas; for there is to be fought the great battle between freedom and slavery, by the ballot-box I trust; but I do not forget that all who destroy the ballot-box madly invoke the cartridge-box. With a farewell to my country as I seek a foreign land for health long deferred, I give my best thoughts to suffering Kansas, with devout prayers that the usurpation which now treads her down may be proudly overthrown, and that she may be lifted into the enjoyment of freedom and repose.”

Soon after his arrival at Paris, a public dinner was tendered him (April 28) by the American merchants residing in that city; and in his letter deciding, on account of the state of his health, not to accept the honor, occurs this elegant paragraph:--

“Pardon the allusion, when I add that you are the daily industrious workmen in that mighty loom whose frame stands on the coasts of opposite continents, [239] whose threads are Atlantic voyages, whose colors are the various enterprises and activities of a beneficent commerce, and whose well-wrought product is a radiant, speaking tissue — more beautiful to the mind's eye than any fabric of rarest French skill, more marvellous than any tapestry woven for kings — where every color mingles with every thread, in completed harmony and on the grandest scale, to display the triumphs and the blessings of peace.”

Still battling manfully with his disease, Mr. Sumner visited various parts of Europe during the summer. His line of travel may be seen by the following letter, dated Heidelberg, Sept. 11, 1857.

I have been ransacking Switzerland: I have visited most of its lakes, and crossed several of its mountains, mule-back. My strength has not allowed me to venture upon any of those foot expeditions, the charm of Swiss travel, by which you reach places out of the way; but I have seen much, and have gained health constantly.

I have crossed the Alps by the St. Gothard, and then recrossed by the grand St. Bernard, passing a night with the monks and dogs. I have spent a day at the foot of Mont Blanc, and another on the wonderful Lake Leman. I have been in the Pyrenees, in the Alps, in the Channel Isles. You will next hear of me in the Highlands of Scotland.


While in Edinburgh he made the acquaintance of George Combe, Esq., the distinguished phrenologist, who endeavored to dissuade him from an early return to public duties. Yet his anxiety to lend his aid to that heroic band of patriots who were struggling to resist the encroachments of the slave propagandists, induced him to return to his seat in Congress, which he resumed at the opening of the session in December. His health was, however, so much impaired, that he could only attend to some minor points of business, and vote on important questions coming before the Senate. Finding no permanent relief, he was constrained again to leave the country; and on the twenty-second day of May, 1858, he took passage at New York, by the steamship “Vanderbilt” for Havre. In a letter, dated on board “The Vanderbilt,” May 22, 1858, to the people of Massachusetts, who deeply sympathized with him in his continued sufferings, he made this touching allusion: “I was often assured and encouraged to feel that to every sincere lover of civilization my vacant chair was a perpetual speech.” It was a perpetual speech, which moved, as no words could have done, the national heart to sympathize with those in bondage.

In Paris he came under the treatment of the eminent physician Dr. Brown-Sequard, who, when his patient asked what was to be the remedy, replied, [241] “Fire.” “When can you apply it?” said Mr. Sumner. “To-morrow, if you please,” answered the doctor. “Why not this afternoon?” continued the other; and that afternoon it was done by the moxa,1 and afterwards repeated, without the use of chloroform. The diagnosis and the treatment of this case are, on account of their unusual interest, here given in the words of this distinguished physiologist and practitioner as presented by him in a public lecture:--

When, in 1857, I saw Mr. Charles Sumner for the first time, he presented to me at once symptoms which I could not but recognize as dependent upon an irritation of some fibres of a sympathetic nerve, and a paralysis of others. As you know, he received a terrible blow upon the head. His spine as he was sitting had been bent in two places, the cranium fortunately resisting. This bending of the spine in two places had produced there the effects of a sprain. When I saw him in Paris he had recovered altogether from the first effects of the blow. He suffered only from the two sprains of the spine, and perhaps a slight irritation of the spinal cord itself. He had two troubles at that time. One was that he could not make use of his brain at all. He could not read a newspaper, could not write a letter. He was in a frightful state as regards the activity of the mind, as every effort there was most painful to him. It seemed to him at times as if his head would burst: there seemed to be some great force within pushing the pieces [242] away from one another. Any emotion was painful to him. Even in conversation, any thing that called for depth of thought or feeling caused him suffering, so that we had to be very careful with him. He had another trouble, resulting from the sprain which was at the level of the lowest dorsal vertebra. The irritation produced was intense, and the result very painful. When he tried to move forward, he was compelled to push one foot slowly and gently forward but a few inches, and then drag the other foot to a level with the first, holding his back at the same time to diminish the pain that he had there. It had been thought that he was paralyzed in the lower limbs, and that he had disease of the brain; and the disease of the brain was construed as being the cause of this paralysis of the lower limbs.

Fortunately, the discovery made of what we call the vasamotor nervous system led me at once to the conclusion that he had no disease of the brain, and had no paralysis: he had only an irritation of those vasa-motor nerves, resulting from the upper sprain in the spine. That irritation was the cause of the whole mischief as regards the function of the brain. The other sprain caused the pain which gave the appearance of paralysis. When I asked him if he was conscious of any weakness in his lower limbs, he said, “Certainly not: I have never understood that my physicians considered me paralyzed. I only cannot walk on account of the pain.”

What was to be done was to apply counter-irritants to those two sprains. That was done. I told him that the best plan of treatment would consist in the application of moxas, and that they produced the most painful kind of irritation of the skin that we knew. I urged him then to allow me to give him chloroform, to diminish the pain, if not take it away altogether. [243] I well remember his impressive accent when he replied, “If you can say positively that I shall derive as much benefit if I take chloroform as if I do not, then of course I will take it; but if there is to be any degree whatever of amelioration in case I do not take it, then I shall not take it.”

I did not find courage enough to deceive him. I told him the truth,--that there would be more effect, as I thought, if he did not take chloroform; and so I had to submit him to the martyrdom of the greatest suffering that can be inflicted on mortal man. I burned him with the first moxa. I had the hope that after the first application he would submit to the use of chloroform; but for five times after that he was burned in the same way, and refused to take chloroform. I have never seen a patient who submitted to such treatment in that way.

I cannot conceive that it was from mere heroism that he did it. The real explanation was this: Heaps of abuse had been thrown upon him. He was considered as amusing himself in Paris, as pretending to be ill. In fact, he wanted to get well and go home as quickly as possible. A few days were of great importance to him. And so he passed through that terrible suffering, the greatest that I have ever inflicted upon any being, be it man or animal.

I mention this only to show what the man was; and I shall only add, that, since that, I have always found him ready to submit to any thing for the sake of what he thought to be right; and in other spheres you know that such was his character.


At this point Dr. Brown-Sequard was so much affected, that he found himself unable to proceed, and [244] so stopped the lecture, after having spoken one-half of the usual time.

While undergoing the painful treatment of his physicians, Mr. Sumner found some alleviation to his sufferings by continuing the study of engravings in the cabinets of Paris. In the latter part of August he visited Aix in Savoy, long noted for its thermal waters and healthful atmosphere. In a letter to a friend, dated at this place, Sept. 11, 1858, he describes his mode of life and his anxieties:--

My life is devoted to health. I wish that I could say that I am not still an invalid; yet, except when attacked by the pain on my chest, I am now comfortable, and enjoy my baths, my walks, and the repose and incognito which I find here. I begin the day with douches hot and cold, and when thoroughly exhausted am wrapped in sheet and blanket, and conveyed to my hotel, and laid on my bed. After my walk, I find myself obliged again to take to my bed for two hours before dinner. But this whole treatment is in pleasant contrast with the protracted suffering from fire which made the summer a torment; and yet I fear that I must return to that treatment.

It is with a pang unspeakable, that I find myself thus arrested in the labors of life and in the duties of my position. This is harder to bear than the fire. [245] I do not hear of friends engaged in active service,--like Trumbull in Illinois,--without a feeling of envy.

From Savoy he went through Switzerland via Milan to Venice, but was too great an invalid to derive much pleasure from visiting the Ducal Palace or the far-famed Rialto. He returned to Paris in November by the way of Vienna, Berlin, and Munich. By the advice of Dr. Brown-Sequard, he now abandoned his cherished purpose of returning home, and repaired to the ancient city of Montpellier, near the Mediterranean Sea, distinguished alike for the brilliancy of its atmosphere, and the richness of its scenery. Here he passed the winter months in reading, in attending the lectures at the college, and in using means for the restoration of his health. These were so far effectual, that he was able again to visit Italy in the spring. Returning thence to Paris, he still found the state of his health improving. Here he had the pleasure of meeting his friend Theodore Parker, an invalid on his way to Italy (where he died May 10, 1860), and of learning that the degree of Ll.D. had been conferred on him by Harvard University.

Spending the month of August in Havre for the benefit of sea-bathing, Mr. Sumner returned to Paris in the autumn almost entirely well; and with exquisite [246] pleasure visited La Grange, the country home of Lafayette, whose noble character and public services he held in great admiration. In his grand address on “Lafayette, the faithful one,” at Cooper Institute, New York, Nov. 30, 1860, he thus spoke of his excursion and the place:--

“On a clear and lovely day of October, in company with a friend, I visited this famous seat, which at once reminded me of the prints of it so common at shop-windows in my childhood. It is a picturesque and venerable castle,--with five round towers, a moat, a drawbridge, an arched gateway, ivy-clad walls, and a large court-yard within,--embosomed in trees, except on one side, where a beautiful lawn spreads its verdure. Every thing speaks to us. The castle itself is of immemorial antiquity,--supposed to have been built in the earliest days of the French monarchy, as far back as Louis le Gros. It had been tenanted by princes of Lorraine, and been battered by the cannon of Turenne, one of whose balls penetrated its thick masonry. The ivy, so luxuriantly mantling the gate with the tower by its side, was planted by the eminent British statesman Charles Fox, on a visit during the brief peace of Amiens. The park owed much of its beauty to Lafayette himself. The situation harmonized with the retired habits which found shelter there from the storms of fortune.” [247]

During his long absence from the Senate and the country, the impending crisis to which he had so distinctly and so often pointed was steadily approaching. Under the timid and imbecile administration of James Buchanan (inaugurated March 4, 1857), the South continued to make desperate efforts to extend the realm of human servitude; and Northern politicians, fearful of the dismemberment of the Union, but too often tamely yielded to the arrogant assumptions of the slaveholding congressmen. But more and more enlightened by the eloquent speeches of such advocates of freedom as Wendell Phillips, Henry Wilson, William H. Seward, and Joshua R. Giddings; by the pulpit, which now spoke out fearlessly; and by the public press, especially by “The Liberator” and “The New-York Tribune,” --the people came to entertain profounder convictions of the inhumanity of the servile system, of its antagonism to free labor, free speech, to social and civil progress, and also of the tremendous interests at stake. The Republican party had therefore steadily increased in strength, and now, embracing every anti-slavery element, presented an unbroken front in opposition to the Southern domination. In various sections, North and West, it had elected senators and representatives to Congress, in whose halls debates on almost every question still continued to assume a [248] more decided partisan character. Freedom and slavery had come to the death-grapple. “Let us call our system an unmixed good,” exclaimed a Southern member, “and stake our money and our lives in its defence!” “It is an unmitigated evil,” replied the North: “thus far shall it come, no farther.” As the advocates of slavery saw the strength of the Republican party (which now had nearly twenty members in the Senate) rising, it held with more tenacity its ground, and more obstinately strove to render the administrative, the judicial, and the legislative power subservient to its control. With less parade, less demonstration, than upon the field of action afterwards, but with no less intrepidity and decision, the war was raging, and the battle for dominion rolling on.

The raid of Capt. John Brown,2 which was an attempt, [249] made in the autumn of 1859, to liberate the slaves of Virginia, had greatly exasperated the South; and on the day in which Mr. Sumner again took his seat in the Senate (December 5), a committee was appointed “to inquire into the facts attending the late invasion.” This committee introduced a resolution compelling Thaddeus Hyatt to testify in regard to this affair before the Senate; and on the question of its passage, March 12, 1860, Mr. Sumner made a brief but able speech, in which he clearly showed that that body had no power to imprison a citizen. The resolutions, however, were adopted on the 12th of March, when Mr. Hyatt was committed to jail. During his imprisonment he was frequently visited by Mr. Sumner, who found the jail “neither more nor less,” as he observed, “than a mere human sty;” and this led to a resolution “to improve the condition of the common jail of the city of Washington.” On the 10th of April he presented the memorial of Frank B. Sanborn, a teacher of Concord, Mass., whom certain agents of the slaveocracy, under the pretence that he had been in complicity with John Brown, had on the 3d of April attempted to kidnap, but who was rescued by his neighbors and the deputy sheriff with a writ of habeas corpus. On the 16th of April, Mr. Mason of Virginia moved that [250] the memorial be rejected; and in his remarks thereon Mr. Sumner made use of this severe comparison:--

“I feel it my duty to establish a precedent also in this case, by entering an open, unequivocal protest against such an attempt. Sir, an ancient poet said of a judge in hell, that he punished first, and heard afterwards (castigatque auditque); and permit me to say, the senator from Virginia on this occasion takes a precedent from that court.”

Mr. Sumner undoubtedly sympathized with John Brown in respect to the ends he had in view, but did not agree with him as to the means employed for securing them. “I once,” says James Redpath, “visited Senator Sumner in the company of John Brown. We spoke of the assault of P. S. Brooks, under which Mr. Sumner was suffering. Capt. Brown then suddenly said, ‘Have you still the coat?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Mr. Sumner: ‘it is in that closet. Would you like to see it?’ ‘Very much indeed,’ returned the captain. Mr. Sumner then, rising slowly and painfully from his bed, opened a closet-door, and handed the garment to the old hero. The scene was striking. Mr. Sumner was bending slightly, and supporting himself by resting his hand upon the bed, while Capt. Brown stood erect as a [251] pillar, holding up the blood-besmeared coat, and intently scanning it. The old man said nothing; but his lips were compressed, and his eyes shone like polished steel.”

1 A substance used as a counter-irritant by gradual combustion on the skin.

2 John Brown, with about twenty followers, under the impression that the slaves would unite in the movement, surprised Harper's Ferry on the night of the 20th of October, 1859, and took the arsenal, armory, and about forty prisoners. On the day following, two sons and nearly all his men were killed, and he himself, after receiving several wounds, was captured. He was tried in November, sentenced to death, and executed. He acted conscientiously, and evinced the heroism of an old martyr. His life was written by James Redpath, 1860. John Brown, as well as Mr. Sumner, was remarkable for his height; and, on being asked by the latter if he ever intended to live in Kansas, he replied, “No, unless I happened to find my last home there.” “In that case,” returned Mr. Sumner, “yours, like mine, would be a long home.”

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