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Chapter 16:

  • Mr. Sumner's re-election to the Senate.
  • -- he Introduces various Bills into that body. -- the opinion of Mr. Hendricks. -- letter from Dr. R. H. Neale. -- Mr. Sumner's activity. -- his address at Cooper Institute on our Foreign Relations. -- extracts from the same. -- a poetical Tribute. -- death and character of George Sumner. -- senator Sumner's article on Franklin and Slidell in “the Atlantic Monthly.” -- his taste for literary Curiosities. -- his activity and foresight in Congress. -- his speech on the Constitutional Amendment. -- on the Freedmen's-bureau Bill. -- his friendly Relations with Mr. Lincoln. -- the success of the Union arms. -- death of Mr. Lincoln. -- Mr. Sumner's Eulogy. -- letter to Mr. Garfield.

Who is the Honest Man?
He who doth still and strongly good pursue,
To God, his neighbor, and himself most true.

In all things that hare beauty, there is nothing to men more comely than liberty. Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely, above all liberties. --John Milton.

Thy spirit, Independence, let me share,
Lord of the lion heart and eagle eye:
Thy steps I'll follow with my bosom bare,
Nor heed the storm that howls along the sky.

Although Mr. Sumner had labored with untiring assiduity for the advancement of the Union cause, and in the discussion of international questions had shown himself a master, strenuous [285] efforts were made to prevent his re-election to the Senate. A party opposed to emancipation held what was denominated the People's Convention, in Faneuil Hall, on the seventh day of October, and nominated State officers opposed to the policy of the Republicans. These nominations were adopted by the Democrats; and a bitter attack was made on Mr. Sumner. The old charge of fanaticism was reiterated; and it was asserted that next to Jefferson Davis he was worthy of the scaffold. To the strong good sense of the Commonwealth, however, it was clear that no man could so ably and so honestly as he represent her in the halls of Congress. On the fifteenth day of January, 1863, therefore, the Senate gave him thirty-three out of thirty-nine, and the house one hundred and ninety-four out of two hundred and thirty-five, votes for a third term of six years in the United-States Senate.

On the ninth day of February Mr. Sumner introduced into the Senate a bill for the employment of colored troops in the army, which in another form eventually prevailed; and, on the bill before the Senate for providing aid for emancipation in Missouri, he spoke earnestly in favor of immediate, instead of gradual liberation, as alone consistent with a sound war-policy. On the 16th of the same month, he advocated, in opposition to his colleague, the exemption [286] of clergymen from military conscription; and on the 27th he moved, as an amendment to the house bill to extend the charter of the Washington and Alexandria Railroad Company, that “No person shall be excluded from the cars on account of color.” The bill, thus amended, became a law on the 3d of March; and on the 16th of that month he proposed to amend the bill to incorporate the Metropolitan Railroad Company, by adding the words, “There shall be no regulation excluding persons from any car on account of color.” He also proposed a similar amendment to the bill respecting the Georgetown Railroad Company. These amendments were stoutly opposed by Mr. Saulsbury of Delaware, and others, but were, through the energy of Mr. Sumner, finally carried and enacted. Mr. Hendricks of Indiana said, in respect to Mr. Sumner's persistency in following up his amendments, that it was folly to attempt to oppose him when he had a point to gain. There is no doubt his very earnestness appeared to some as arrogance, and raised an opposition to some of his measures, which otherwise would have been at once accepted. Although he manifested such untiring zeal in respect to the grand question of the country, he was by no means inattentive to other issues, and especially to those pertaining to our relations with foreign powers. His course was generally [287] indorsed by thoughtful men in every section of the North. In a letter to Henry Wilson, dated Boston, March 4, 1863, the Rev. R. H. Neale, D. D., said, “I have followed your course with increasing admiration from the beginning of your public life, and think I see in you, and also in Mr. Sumner, unmixed and magnanimous regard for the right, and for the public good.”

Mr. Sumner's earnest recommendation of E. M. Stanton to Mr. Lincoln as secretary of war, and his equally persistent opposition to Gen. G. B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac, appeared in the issue to have been alike founded on a just appreciation of the character of the men and the real situation of the country.

During the memorable days of July, in the early part of which occurred the tremendous struggles and Union victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Port Hudson, he was at Washington, encouraging the president and his cabinet, and making provisions for the sufferings of the wounded. Always confident of ultimate success, he threw his own deep convictions into the hearts of those around him, and inspired the faltering with hope and confidence. Immediately after the battle of Gettysburg, he issued a new edition of “The barbarism of slavery,” c dedicating it to the young men of the United States as a [288] “token of heartfelt gratitude to them for brave and patriotic service rendered in the present war for civilization.”

Moved by various questionable motives, England and France assumed at the opening of the war, and persistently maintained, an unfriendly attitude towards the Union. They early acknowledged the Southern Confederacy as a belligerent power, Through her leading statesmen England sharply criticised the war-measures of Mr. Lincoln's administration, and, in disregard of international comity, permitted the piratical steamer “Alabama” and other vessels to be constructed in her ports, and to sail therefrom, to commit depredations on our commerce. This sympathy with States in rebellion, and the infringement of maritime rights, alarmed the public mind, and received the most profound consideration of our diplomats abroad. At a large meeting at Cooper Institute, New York, Sept. 10, 1863, Mr, Sumner, in a calm, dispassionate, and exhaustive speech, exhibiting profound historical research, as well as an exalted statesmanship, considered “Our Present Perils from England and France; the Nature and Conditions of Intervention by Mediation, and also by Recognition; the Impossibility of any Recognition of a New Power with Slavery as a Cornerstone; and the Wrongful Concession of Ocean [289] Belligerency.” “The New-York Tribune” characterized this speech as a “miracle of historical and statesmanlike erudition.” The questions at issue were met on the high ground of fact and right; and, while the tone of discussion was amicable, the aggravating course of France and England towards our government was most distinctly stated, and the false position of these neutral powers condemned. Perhaps no other American could have so ably treated this important subject; and it is justly esteemed as one of Mr. Sumner's finest efforts. It was, of course, criticised in England; but its effect was salutary to that nation. At the close of his address, the speaker tendered this advice, respecting our affairs at home, to the assembly:--

This is no time to stop. Forward! forward! Thus do I, who formerly pleaded so often for peace, now sound to arms; but it is because, in this terrible moment, there is no other way to that sincere and solid peace without which there will be endless war. Even on economic grounds, it were better that this war should proceed, rather than recognize any partition, which, beginning with humiliation, must involve the perpetuation of armaments, and break out again in blood. But there is something worse than waste of money: it is waste of character. Give me any peace but a liberticide peace. In other days the immense eloquence of Burke was stirred against a regicide peace. But a peace founded on the killing of a king is not so bad as a peace founded on the killing of liberty; [290] nor can the saddest scenes of such a peace be so sad as the daily life which is legalized by slavery. A queen on the scaffold is not so pitiful a sight as a woman on the auctionblock. Therefore I say again, forward! forward! . . . Thus far we have been known chiefly through that vital force which slavery could only degrade, but not subdue. Now at last, by the death of slavery, will the Republic begin to live; for what is life without liberty?

Stretching from ocean to ocean, teeming with population, bountiful in resources of all kinds, and thrice happy in universal enfranchisement, it will be more than conqueror,--nothing too vast for its power, nothing too minute for its care. Triumphant over the foulest wrong ever inflicted, after the bloodiest war ever waged, it will know the majesty of right and the beauty of peace; prepared always to uphold the one, and to cultivate the other. Strong in its own mighty stature, filled with all the fulness of a new life, and covered with a panoply of renown, it will confess that no dominion is of value which does not contribute to human happiness. Born in this latter day, and the child of its own struggles, without ancestral claims, but heir of all the ages, it will stand forth to assert the dignity of man; and, wherever any of the human family is to be succored, there its voice will reach, as the voice of Cromwell reached across France even to the persecuted mountaineers of the Alps. Such will be this republic,--upstart among the nations; ay, as the steam-engine, the telegraph, and chloroform are upstart. Comforter and helper like these, it can know no bounds to its empire over a willing world. But the first stage is the death of slavery.

The following tribute to Mr. Sumner for this great effort appeared in “The national Era.” [291]

Sumner's gerat speech.

Immortal utterance of a noble mind,
     Tasked to a purpose worthy all its powers,
By nature blest, and crowned by studious hours,
     To brighten history's page, and bless mankind!
Lo! our dear country's basis, there defined,
     Rests on truth's rock, though bearing falsehood's weight.
Her founders take the old heroic state,
     While sweep the clouds of calumny behind.
The nation's heart exults; and all man's race
     Hail their proud beacon, rising still toward heaven.
Thus, from the sunshine of our Maker's grace,
     In these earth's latter days, while passion-driven,
We love upon her sinless prime to brood,
     When her Creator's voice proclaimed that all was good!

Mr. Sumner was this autumn called to lament the death of his dearly-beloved brother George Sumner, who died in Boston, after a lingering illness, Oct. 6, 1863, in his forty-seventh year. He studied in Germany, travelled extensively in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and was an author and lecturer of marked ability. He resided long in Paris, and “had cone more,” said Baron Humboldt, “to raise the literary reputation of America abroad than any other American.” Among other works lie published “The progress of reform in France,” 1853; and delivered an oration before the authorities of the city of Boston, July 4, 1859. He was never married. [292]

Whether at Washington or at his home in Boston, Mr. Sumner never passed a day inactively. His portfolio was always open; and his friends almost always found him engaged in drafting bills, preparing speeches, carrying on his correspondence, or producing something for the public press. An elegant and learned article from his ready pen appeared in “The Atlantic Monthly” for November of this year, contrasting the diplomatic mission of Dr. Franklin with that of John Slidell at Paris, and ingeniously tracing the celebrated Latin epigram, “Eripuit Coelo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis,” which was inscribed. on the portrait of the great philosopher, to its origin. In this charming essay the writer's intimate acquaintance with the French literary and political history of that period appears to great advantage. The Latin verse, as Mr. Sumner clearly shows, was prepared by the celebrated statesman Turgot, who formed it from the line, “Eripuit fulmenque Jovi, Phoeboque saggittas,” of the “Anti-Lucretius,” by Cardinal Melchior de Polignac. The cardinal derived his idea from the “Astronomicon,” an ancient poem by M[arcus Manilius, where the verse appears under the following form, “Eripuitque Jovi fulmen, viresque tonandi,” which has been translated, “Unsceptred Jove,--the Thunderer disarmed.”

From the critical acumen displayed in this article, [293] it might be supposed that Mr. Sumner had spent his life as a bibliophile, amusing himself with antiquarian researches, and the amenities of literature. He had, indeed, a taste for rare and curious books and autographs; and, in exhibiting his literary treasures to his friends, he would point with great delight to the Bible which John Bunyan had in Bedford Jail while writing his immortal “Pilgrim's progress;” to a copy of “Pindar,” once the property of John Milton; to one of “Horace” which Philip Melancthon used; to a Testament of the dramatic poet Jean Racine; to some corrected proof-sheets of Pope's famous “Essay on man;” and especially to the original manuscript of Robert Burns's celebrated battle-song, “Scots wha hae wi‘ Wallace bled!”

On the opening of Congress in December, Mr. Sumner was in his seat, and again ready for action as a faithful friend and guardian of the colored race. By the Act of Emancipation, and the successive victories of the Union arms, the chains of servitude were gradually breaking; and the freedmen, until now denominated “contrabands,” were in need of personal protection, and the acknowledgment of political rights. First and foremost in their defence, Mr. Sumner continued to press upon the attention of the Senate, not yet exempt from the leaven of secession, measure after measure for the security of the freedom [294] of the colored people, of the slave-territory occupied or taken by our troops, from the bonds which still to some extent enfettered them. Early in January, 1864, he presented to the Senate a resolution for the appointment of a committee of seven, for the consideration of “all papers and propositions concerning slavery and the treatment of freedmen.” The resolution was adopted, and he himself appointed one of the committee. This was the initiatory step in that body to his grand Freedmen's Bureau Bill, which he most appropriately styled the “Bridge from slavery to freedom,” and which, after a long and arduous struggle, passed both houses, and received on the third day of March, 1865, the signature of the president. By this important measure the colored people were protected in their civil rights and privileges; and, for Mr. Sumner's efforts in carrying it through Congress, they will ever hold his name in grateful memory. On the 4th of February he spoke in favor of equal pay to colored soldiers, saying, “I wish to see our colored troops treated like white troops in every respect;” and on the 8th he introduced to the Senate a series of resolutions protesting against the restoration of any rebel States without guarantees in respect to freedmen. He thus early indicated a simple plan of reconstruction which after long debates and various modifications was [295] adopted. He also on the same day proposed an amendment to the constitution, declaring “that all persons are equal before the law.”

On the day following he presented to the Senate the petition of one hundred thousand men and women for universal emancipation by an act of Congress.

“Here they are,” said he, referring to the roll of names, “a mighty army, one hundred thousand. strong, without arms or banners,--the advanceguard of a larger army.”

On the 29th he laid before the Senate two elaborate reports, the one against the fugitive-slave acts, and the other against excluding witnesses on account of color. On the 23d of March he reported a bill prohibiting commerce in slaves among the several States, which on the second day of July received the signature of the president, and thus broke up the traffic in human flesh between the States.

On the 4th of April he made a long and able report on claims on France for spoliations made on our commerce prior to July 31, 1801; and on the 8th he delivered his great speech, entitled “No property in man,” on the Constitutional Amendment. In this speech he cites the following couplet from Voltaire as the origin of his favorite maxim, “equality before the law:” -- [296]

La lot dans tout état doit être universelle:
Les mortels, quels qu'ils soient, sont égaux devant elle.

With touching truthfulness he refers to distinguished persons who were called in former times to drink the bitter tears of human servitude.

How truly affecting are the words of Homer depicting the wife of Hector toiling as bondwoman at the looms of her Grecian master, or those other undying words which exhibit man in slavery as shorn of half his worth! The story of Joseph sold by his brothers has been repeated in every form, touching innumerable hearts. Borrowed from the Bible, it figured in the moralities of the middle ages, and in the later theatre of France. How genius triumphed over slavery is part of this testimony. Aesop the fabulist--one of the world's greatest teachers, if not lawgivers — was a slave; so also was Phaedrus the Roman fabulist, whose lessons are commended by purity and elegance; and so, too, was Aleman the lyric, who shed upon Sparta the grace of poesy. To these add Epictetus, sublime in morals; and Terence, incomparable in comedy, who gave to the world that immortal verse, which excited the applause of the Roman theatre, “I am a man; and nothing which concerns mankind is foreign to me.” Nor should it be forgotten that the life of Plato was checkered by slavery.

On the 27th he spoke in favor of a national currency; and on the 30th he opened the way to a great reform still needed, by the introduction of a bill “to provide for the greater efficiency of the civil service.” In June following he took an active part in [297] the debates on the Freedmen's Bureau Bill. In the course of his remarks he said: “The freedmen are not idlers. They desire work. But in their helpless condition they are not able to obtain it without assistance. They are alone, friendless, and uninformed. The curse of slavery is still upon them. Somebody must take them by the hand. . . . The intervention of the national government is necessary. Without such intervention, many of these poor people, freed by our acts in the exercise of a military necessity, will be left to perish. . . . Call it charity or duty, it is sacred as humanity.”

Yet in carrying his favorite measure he was met at every point by those who clung with fatal persistency to the tottering institution of human servitude. But the hour was coming. Following up the president's proclamation by Congressional action, the friends of freedom, after many struggles, hard almost as those upon the battle-field, had the happiness to see the principles for which they so long and strenuously contended introduced into the organic law.

By Mr. Sumner's senatorial labors above cited, some idea may be had of his incessant assiduity, and of the debt of gratitude which a nation, now exulting in the deliverance from its most tremendous evil, owes to his memory. [298]

The upright, honest heart of Mr. Lincoln could not but appreciate the straightforward and persistent course of Mr. Sumner; and hence, as above stated, the relations between them were most intimate and friendly. Though not himself a scholar, Mr. Lincoln held in great respect the learning of his friend, and heard attentively, though he did not always readily accept, his political suggestions. The president's reconstruction policy in respect to Louisiana, Mr. Sumner and his friends adroitly foiled, as not giving a sufficient guaranty to the freedmen. An estrangement naturally followed, which the public press proclaimed as very serious. But Mr. Lincoln knew the worth of Mr. Sumner; and, besides, vindictive feelings had no place in his great, loving heart. On the 6th of March, 1865, he sent the senator this card for the inauguration ball:--

Dear Mr. Sumner,--Unless you send me word to the contrary, I shall this evening call with my carriage at your house, to take you with me to the inauguration ball.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. Sumner accepted the invitation; the president called for him with his carriage, and on arriving at the ball-room desired him, greatly to the astonishment of those present, to take the arm of Mrs. [299] Lincoln, and the seat of honor. This was Mr. Lincoln's method of terminating personal animosities.

By the surrender of the rebel army, under Gen. Robert E. Lee, to Gen. Grant, April 9, Mr. Sumner saw with inexpressible delight the Union saved, and the chains of the bondmen rent asunder. But the hour of gladness often changes unexpectedly to the hour of sorrow. The joy attendant on the realization of his long-cherished hope of peace and freedom was on the evening of the 14th turned to the keenest agony, by the assassination of his noble and beloved friend the president of the United States.

Mr. Sumner attended the illustrious patriot in his dying hour; and none shed tears more freely at the sad announcement, “Abraham Lincoln is no more.”

“This is the only time,” said an intimate friend of the senator, “I ever saw him weep.”

On the first day of June Mr. Sumner delivered in the Music Hall, before the citizens of Boston, a most touching and appropriate eulogy on the martyred president, portraying his sterling virtues, and his services to the colored people and to the nation, in words of pathos and of power. His constant and high regard for the race whose wrong the nation was so tardy to redress is seen in the following letter, which he wrote to Thomas Garfield in respect to the [300] selection of clergymen for officiating on that occasion:--

Washlngton, May 6, 1865.
my dear sir,--Do as you please. The names you mention are excellent.

If I could choose one it would be Rev. Mr. Grimes, the colored preacher. It was for his race that President Lincoln died. If Boston adopted him as chaplain on the day when we mourn, it would be a truer homage to our departed president than music or speech. I can say nothing that could promise to be so effective on earth, or welcome in heaven. Think of this, and believe me, my dear sir,

Very faithfully yours,

His request was granted; and the Rev. Mr. Grimes assisted in the solemn services.

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