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Chapter 9.

  • Mr. Sumner's election to the United-States Senate.
  • -- he makes no Pledges. -- the turning vote. -- opinion of the press. -- letter to Mr. Wilson. -- letter of Mr. Whittier. -- Mr. Sumner's Acceptance of his office. -- Description of his person. -- Letters to Theodore Parker. -- entrance to the Senate. -- his Rooms and Company. -- the Ordeal before him. -- his speech on Kossuth. -- on the Iowa Railroad Bill. -- letter to Theodore Parker. -- cheap ocean Postage. -- a memorial of the Society of friends. -- remarks thereon. -- Tribute to Robert Rantoul, jun. -- speech on the Fugitive-slave Bill. -- his course defined. -- the freedom of speech. -- slavery sectional, freedom national. -- the spirit of our literature against slavery. -- review of the argument. -- a beautiful peroration.

Oh great design,
Ye sons of mercy! Oh! complete your work;
Wrench from Oppression's hand the iron rod,
And bid the cruel feel the wounds they give.
Man knows no master save creating Heaven,
Or those whom choice and common good ordains.

Liberty, by James Thomson.

Hear him, ye senates! Hear this truth sublime,--
He who allows oppression shares the crime.

Botanic Garden, by Erasmus Darwin.

By a famous coalition of the Free-soil and Democratic parties, effected mainly through the agency of Henry Wilson in the legislature, 1851, Mr. Sumner was elected, over Robert C. [139] Winthrop, the Whig candidate, to the Senate of the United States. The contest, commencing on the 16th day of January, was long and acrimonious. Mr. Winthrop had much experience in public affairs, and was an intimate friend of Daniel Webster. Mr. Sumner would make no pledges: he had never held, nor did he desire to hold, any political office.1 He was deemed an idealist, and, as such, unsuited to the practical duties of a senatorial career. It was, at any rate, too long a step from his private student-life to the Senate-chamber of the United States.

But the sense of Massachusetts had been outraged by the recreant course of Mr. Webster; and the farsighted saw that the aggressions of the slave-power must be squarely met. Mr. Sumner had shown himself an orator of no mean order, a statesman qualified to discuss constitutional questions from the highest stand-point, and, more than all, an invincible defender of the colored race. Accordingly, on the 24th day of April he was elected, for six years from the 4th of March following, as the successor of Mr. [140] Webster to the senatorial chair; having had, on the twenty-fifth and last ballot in the House, a hundred and. ninety-three votes, the exact number necessary to a choice. It is said that the turning vote was cast by the late Capt. Israel Haynes of Sudbury, a lifelong Democrat, who voted for Mr. Sumner only on the day of his election, and then simply, as he affirmed, “on principle, and because he believed him to be the better man.” The votes used at this twenty-fifth ballot were preserved by the Hon. Otis Clapp, who, in April, 1873, presented them to the New-England Historic-Genealogical Society, where they now remain.

Although some thought this triumph of the progressive party would carry with it serious disaster to the Union, “The evening Transcript” very sensibly remarked:--

We are not prepared to proclaim the country ruined in consequence of this event. Mr. Sumner is a forcible and eloquent speaker, an apt scholar, a man of superior abilities, of polished address, and extensive acquaintance with the men and events of his times; and he may become a statesman of mark in the political arena. He will probably act and work with the Whig party on all questions but one,--a vital and momentous one, it is true, as he will find when he gets to Washington. Massachusetts might have [141] seated in the Senate a man far more objectionable than Charles Sumner. Vive la Republique!

The world swung forward by this victory; and unusual demonstrations signalized the joy of the triumphant party. On the next day Mr. Sumner frankly avowed his indebtedness for his success to Henry Wilson.

Craigie House, Cambridge, April 25, 1851.
My dear Wilson
I have this moment read your remarks of last night, which I think peculiarly happy. You touched the right chord. I hope not to seem cold or churlish in thus withdrawing from all the public manifestations of triumph to which our friends are prompted. In doing so, I follow the line of reserve which you know I have kept to throughout the contest; and my best judgment at this moment satisfies me that I am right. You, who have seen me familiarly and daily from the beginning to the end, will understand me, and, if need be, can satisfy those who, taking counsel of their exultation, would have me mingle in the display. But I shrink from imposing any thing more upon you. To your ability, energy, determination, and fidelity, our cause owes its present success. For weal or woe, you must take the responsibility of having placed me in the Senate of the United States. I am prompted also to add, that, while you have done all this, I have never heard from you a single suggestion of a selfish character, looking in any way to any good to yourself: your labors have been as disinterested as they have been effective. This consideration increases my personal esteem and gratitude. I trust that you will see that Mr. B.'s resolves are passed at [142] once as they are, and the bill as soon as possible. Delay will be the tactics of the enemy.

Sincerely yours,

In a letter to me dated Amesbury, 8th month. 1874, John G. Whittier, in reference to Mr. Sumner's election, says, “I am inclined to believe that I was the first to suggest to him, in the summer of 1850, the possibility of his election to the Senate. He thought it impracticable, and stated with emphasis, that he desired no office, that his plans of life did not contemplate any thing of the kind, and that he greatly doubted his natural fitness for political life. He made no pledges nor explanations of any kind to insure his election when it took place. His statement in the exordium of his speech against the Fugitive-Slave Law is, to my knowledge, true to the letter.”

In his letter of acceptance Mr. Sumner thus indicates the broad national policy which he intended to pursue:--

Acknowledging the right of my country to the service of her sons wherever she chooses to place them, and with a heart full of gratitude that a sacred cause has been permitted to triumph through me, I now accept the post as senator.

I accept it as the servant of Massachusetts; mindful of the sentiments uttered by her successive legislatures, of the genius [143] which inspires her history, and of the men, her perpetual pride and ornament, who breathed into her that breath of liberty which early made her an example to her sister States. In such a service, the way, though new to my footsteps, will be illumined by lights which cannot be missed.

I accept it as a servant of the Union; bound to study and maintain, with equal patriotic care, the interests of all parts of our country; to discountenance every effort to loosen any of those ties by which our fellowship of States is held in fraternal company; and to oppose all sectionalism, whether it appears in unconstitutional efforts by the North to carry so great a boon as freedom into the slave States, or in unconstitutional efforts by the South (aided by Northern allies) to carry the sectional evil of slavery into the free States, or in whatsoever efforts it may make to extend the sectional domination of slavery over the national government. With me the Union is twice blessed: first, as the powerful guardian of the repose and happiness of thirty-one sovereign States clasped by the endearing name of “country;” and next, as the model and beginning of that all-embracing federation of States, by which unity, peace, and concord will finally be organized among the nations. Nor do I believe it possible, whatever may be the delusion of the hour, that any part thereof can be permanently lost from its wellcompacted bulk. E Pluribus Unum is stamped upon the national coin, the national territory, and the national heart. Though composed of many parts united into one, the Union is separable only by a crash which shall destroy the whole.

His closing words are as follows:--

Let me borrow, in conclusion, the language of another: “I see my duty,--that of standing up for the liberties of my [144] country; and, whatever difficulties and discouragements lie in my way, I dare not shrink from it; and I rely on that Being who has not left us the choice of duties, that, whilst I shall conscientiously discharge mine, I shall not finally lose my reward.” These are the words of Washington, uttered in the early darkness of the American Revolution. The rule of duty is the same for the lowly and the great; and I hope it may not seem presumptuous in one so humble as myself to adopt his determination, and to avow his confidence.

I have the honor to be, fellow-citizens,

With sincere regard,

Your faithful friend and servant,

Charles Sumner. Boston, May 14, 1851.

Massachusetts had found her man, He had now arrived at that period which Dante calls

Mezzo del cammin di nostra vita,
and was in person tall, dignified, and commanding. His frame was solid and compact; his features were strongly marked; and his clear, dark eye, deeply set beneath his heavy brow and massive forehead, shone when he was engaged in speaking, with peculiar brilliancy. His voice was strong and musical, his gesticulation unconstrained and graceful. Nature had set on him her imperial seal of greatness, which a generous and untiring culture had developed. Few men of the day possessed a broader scholarship, [145] and none a loftier patriotism, or a profounder sympathy for the sufferings of humanity. In the strength and beauty of manhood, he came to public office as a splendid representative of the advanced ideas of his time. A battle was before him,--hailstones and coals of fire; but well could he affirm,--

What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted?
Thrice is he armed who hath his quarrel just;
And he but naked, though locked up in steel,
Whose conscience with unjustice is corrupted.

Though unpractised in debate, he had studied his subject à profond: his integrity was unimpeachable, his armor closely welded, and his position the impregnable rock of truth. What, then, had he to fear?

The arrest of Thomas Sims as a fugitive slave, in Boston, April 3 of this year, and his mock trial, with the decision of the court remanding him to slavery, threw the city into an intense excitement. On receiving Theodore Parker's Fast-Day sermon, which in no measured terms rebuked this outrage, Mr. Sumner addressed to him the following letter:--

Court Street, Boston, April 19, 1851.
May you live a thousand years, always preaching the truth of Fast Day! That sermon is a noble effort. It stirred me to the bottom of my heart, at times softening me almost to [146] tears, and then again filling me with rage. I wish it could be read everywhere throughout the land. . . .

I have had no confidence from the beginning, as I believe you know, in our courts. I was persuaded that with solemn form they would sanction the great enormity: therefore I am not disappointed. My appeal is to the people; and my hope is to create in Massachusetts such a public opinion as will render the law a dead-letter. It is in vain to expect its repeal by Congress till the slave-power is overthrown.

It is, however, with a rare dementia that this power has staked itself on a position which is so offensive, and which cannot for any length of time be tenable. In enacting that law, it has given to the free States a sphere of discussion which they would otherwise have missed. No other form of the slavery question, not even the Wilmot Proviso, would have afforded equal advantages.

Very truly yours,

In another letter written to Mr. Parker, Mr. Sumner declares his disinclination to office, and that his election is to be regarded not by any means as a reward, but as a call to duty and to labor for the welfare of his country:--

Court Street, July 9, 1851.
Your last speech in “The Liberator” I have read with the interest and instruction with which I read all that you say; but pardon me if I criticise one point.

You speak of me as having “an early reward for good deeds.” This language remainds me of “The Atlas,” which did not see what I had done “to be thus rewarded.” [147]

Now, I am not conscious of doing any thing to deserve “reward” nor am I conscious of receiving any “reward.” The office recently conferred upon me, and to which you probably refer, I regard as any thing but a reward. In my view, it is an imposition of new duties and labors, in a field which I never selected, and to which I do not in the least incline. . . .

Ever yours,

Mr. Sumner entered the United-States Senate on Monday, the first day of December, 1851; and, in the absence of John Davis, Gen. Lewis Cass rose, and said, “I have been requested to present the credentials of Charles Sumner, a senator elect from the State of Massachusetts.” The credentials having been read, William R. King of Alabama administered the oath of office. On the same day Henry Clay, after a brief speech, made his final retirement from that hall in which his eloquent voice had so many times been heard in the defence of constitutional liberty. In his own language, used a few years previously, he departed as “a wounded stag, pursued by the hunters on a long chase, scarred by their spears, and worried by their wounds, who had at last escaped to drag his mutilated body to his lair, and lie down and die.” Mr. Sumner occupied the seat that had just been vacated by Jefferson Davis, and formerly occupied by John C. Calhoun, and which was [148] thus associated with the most daring arrogance and effrontery of the slaveholding power. His rooms at Gardner's, on New-York Avenue, were soon stored with books from the Congressional Library, and honored by visits from Mr. Crampton, the British minister, Don Calderon de la Barca, minister from Spain, and other foreign celebrities, in whose society he received instruction and delight. “I remember, that winter,” says an agreeable writer, “meeting Messrs. Chase and Sumner at a dinner-party given by Mr. Crampton; and, as they entered the parlor together, I was struck by their manlike appearance, as I was subsequently charmed by their dinner-table chat.”

By the Southern members the anti-slavery agitator who had succeeded Daniel Webster was viewed with supercilious contempt: he was placed at the foot of the unimportant committees on revolutionary claims and on roads and canals; and no one then discerned in him the grand and fearless leader of a slowly-rising power that was to change the political destiny of the nation, and establish, over the ruins of a tyrannous and cruel servile system, the freedom of the slave from shore to shore. Few now can fully understand the ordeal of fire then opening before him. With the exception of the dauntless John P. Hale and the indomitable Joshua R. Giddings, he stood almost alone in front of the [149] gigantic force combined for the support of slavery; and, as the latter said, it took “more courage to stand up in one's seat in Congress and say the right thing, than to walk up to the cannon's mouth.” This courage Mr. Sumner had. On Wednesday, Jan. 10, he delivered his maiden speech on a resolution introduced by Senator H. S. Foote, tendering a welcome to the exiled patriot, Gov. Louis Kossuth, during which he used the celebrated expression, “equality before the law.”

“I would join in this welcome, not merely because it is essential to complete and crown the work of the last Congress, but because our guest deserves it at our hands. The distinction is great, I know; but it is not so great as his deserts. He deserves it as the early, constant, and incorruptible champion of the liberal cause in Hungary, who, yet while young, with unconscious power girded himself for the contest, and, by a series of masterly labors, with voice and pen, in parliamentary debates, and in the discussions of the press, breathed into his country the breath of life. He deserves it by the great principles of true democracy which he caused to be recognized,--representation of the people without distinction of rank or birth, and equality before the law. He deserves it by the trials he has undergone in prison and in exile. He deserves it by the precious truth, which he [150] now so eloquently proclaims, of the fraternity of nations.”

The speaker also beautifully said, “Such a character, thus grandly historic, a living Wallace, a living Tell, I had almost said a living Washington, deserves our homage. Nor am I tempted to ask if there be any precedent for the resolution now under consideration. There is a time for all things; and the time has come for us to make precedent in harmony with his unprecedented career. The occasion is fit: the hero is near: let us speak our welcome. It is true, that, unlike Lafayette, he has never directly served our country; but I cannot admit that on this account he is less worthy. Like Lafayette, he has done penance in an Austrian dungeon: like Lafayette, he has served the cause of freedom; and whosoever serves this cause, wheresoever he may be, in whatever land, is entitled, according to his works, to the gratitude of every true American bosom, of every true lover of mankind.”

For this eloquent speech Mr. Sumner received the hearty commendation of Rufus Choate and other gentlemen. In his next speech (on the Iowa Railroad Bill, taken up in the senate Jan. 27 and after wards) occurs this elegant passage: “By roads, religion and knowledge are diffused; intercourse of all kinds is promoted; the producer, the manufacturer, [151] and the consumer are all brought nearer together; commerce is quickened; markets are opened; property, wherever touched by these lines, is changed as by a magic rod into new values; and the great current of travel, like that stream of classic fable, or one of the rivers of our own California, hurries in a channel of golden sand. The roads, together with the laws, of ancient Rome, are now better remembered than her victories. The Flaminian and Appian Ways, once trod by returning proconsuls and tributary kings, still remain as beneficent representatives of her departed grandeur. Under God, the road and the schoolmaster are the two chief agents of human improvement. The education begun by the schoolmaster is expanded, liberalized, and completed by intercourse with the world; and this intercourse finds new opportunities and inducements in every road that is built. . . . The true Golden Age is before us, not behind us; and one of its tokens will be the completion of those long ways, by which villages, towns, counties, states, provinces, nations, are all to be associated and knit together in a fellowship that can never be broken.”

Read my speech [says he in a letter to Theodore Parker, dated Senate-Chamber, Feb. 6, 1852] on Lands. The Whig press is aroused; but I challenge [152] it. I have the satisfaction of knowing that my argument has been received as original and unanswerable. The attack of “The Advertiser” attests its importance. I shall always be glad to hear from you, and shall value your counsels.

Ever yours,

On the 8th of March he made a brief speech on cheap ocean-postage, which he declared would be a bond of peace among the nations of the earth, and which would extend peace and good — will among men.

On the 14th of May following he submitted an able argument, on the pardoning-power, to President Fillmore; and on the 26th of the same month he presented a memorial from the Society of Friends (a body noted for their active sympathy for the suffering of the colored race) against the Fugitive-Slave Bill, respecting which the Southern members steadily endeavored to prevent discussion. He succeeded, however, in gaining the floor to offer the following remarks, in which his future course regarding slavery was clearly indicated:--

I desire simply to say, that I shall deem it my duty on some proper occasion hereafter to express myself at length on the matter to which it relates. Thus far, during this session, I [153] have forborne. With the exception of an able speech from my colleague (Mr. Davis), the discussion of this all-absorbing question has been mainly left with senators from another quarter of the country, by whose mutual difference it has been complicated, and between whom I have not cared to interfere. But there is a time for all things. Justice, also, requires that both sides should be heard; and I trust not to expect too much when at some fit moment I bespeak the clear and candid attention of the Senate, while I undertake to set forth frankly and fully, and with entire respect for this body, convictions deeply cherished in my own State, though disregarded here, to which I am bound by every sentiment of the heart, by every fibre of my being, by all my devotion to country, by my love of God and man. But upon these I do not now enter. Suffice it for the present to say, that when I shall undertake that service, I believe I shall utter nothing which, in any just sense can be called sectional, unless the constitution is sectional, and unless the sentiments of the fathers were sectional. It is my happiness to believe, and my hope to be able to show, that, according to the true spirit of the constitution, and according to the sentiments of the fathers, freedom, and not slavery, is national; while slavery, and not freedom, is sectional. In duty to the petitioners, and with the hope of promoting their prayer, I move the reference of their petition to the Committee on the Judiciary.

On the 9th of August he paid a fitting tribute to Robert Rantoul, jun., characterizing him as “a reformative conservative, and a conservative reformer.”

“As a debater,” said Mr. Sumner, “he rarely met [154] his peer. Fluent, earnest, rapid, sharp, incisive, his words came forth like a flashing cimeter. Few could stand against him. He always understood his subject; and then, clear, logical, and determined, seeing his point before him, pressed forward with unrelenting power.”

To the complaint of some of his supporters, that he too long delayed the discussion of the mighty question of the day, he replied, that his time was occupied in making himself acquainted with the business coming before the Senate; but at the proper moment he should not fail to fulfil his duty as a representative of the anti-slavery sentiment of the nation. That moment on the twenty-sixth day of August came. By adroitly introducing an amendment that the Fugitive-Slave Bill should be repealed, on Mr. Hunter's amendment to the Civil and Diplomatic Appropriation Bill, then under consideration, he at length succeeded in gaining the unwilling ear of the Senate.

Taking for his theme, “Freedom national, and slavery sectional,” he went into the question with gigantic force, unfolding the principles of liberty as if the whole heart of the North were throbbing in his breast alone, and nerving his arm to bring the great “Northern hammer” down with terrific blows upon the iniquitous institution of the South. He [155] argued that slavery and the Fugitive-Slave Bill had no support whatever under the constitution, which does not recognize the right of property in man; that it was contrary to the wishes of the framers of that instrument, to the acts of the early Congress, to the decisions of the courts, to the spirit of the Church, of the colleges, of literature, to the right of trial by jury, to the natural law of man, and to the progress of the nation. “It was,” remarks a vigorous writer, “a perfect land-slide of history and argument, an avalanche under which the opposing party were logically buried; and it has been a magazine from which catapults have been taken to beat down their fortresses.”

Referring to himself, in his exordium, he says,--

Sir, I have never been a politician. The slave of principles, I call no party master. By sentiment, education, and conviction, a friend of human rights in their utmost expansion, I have ever most sincerely embraced the democratic idea; not, indeed, as represented or professed by any party, but according to its real significance, as transfigured in the Declaration of Independence and in the inspiration of Christianity. In this idea I saw no narrow advantages merely for individuals or classes, but the sovereignty of the people, and the greatest happiness of all secured by equal laws. Amidst the vicissitudes of public affairs, I trust always to hold fast to this idea, and to any political party which truly embraces it.

Party does not constrain me; nor is my independence lessened [156] by any relations to the office which gives me a title to be heard on this floor. And here, sir, I may speak proudly. By no effort, by no desire, of my own, I find myself a senator of the United States. Never before have I held public office of any kind. With the ample opportunities of private life I was content. No tombstone for me could bear a fairer inscription than this: “Here lies one who, without the honors or emoluments of public station, did something for his fellow-man.” From such simple aspirations I was taken away by the free choice of my native Commonwealth, and placed in this responsible post of duty, without personal obligation of any kind beyond what was implied in my life and published words. The earnest friends by whose confidence I was first designated asked nothing from me, and, throughout the long conflict which ended in my election, rejoiced in the position which I most carefully guarded. To all my language was uniform, that I did not desire to be brought forward; that I would do nothing to promote the result; that I had no pledges or promises to offer; that the office should seek me, and not I the office; and that it should find me in all respects an independent man, bound to no party and to no human being, but only, according to my best judgment, to act for the good of all. Again, sir, I speak with pride, both for myself and others, when I add, that these avowals found a sympathizing response. In this spirit I have come here; and in this spirit I shall speak to-day.

Rejoicing in my independence, and claiming nothing from party ties, I throw myself upon the candor and magnanimity of the Senate. I now ask your attention; but I trust not to abuse it. I may speak strongly; for I shall speak openly, and from the strength of my convictions. I may speak warmly; [157] for I shall speak from the heart. But in no event can I forget the amenities which belong to debate, and which especially become this body. Slavery I must condemn with my whole soul; but here I need only borrow the language of slaveholders themselves; nor would it accord with my habits or my sense of justice to exhibit them as the impersonation of the institution (Jefferson calls it the “enormity” ) which they cherish. Of them I do not speak; but without fear and without favor, as without impeachment of any person, I assail this wrong. Again, sir, I may err; but it will be with the fathers. I plant myself on the ancient ways of the Republic; with its grandest names, its surest landmarks, and all its original altar-fires about me.

On, the freedom of speech he makes this bold assertion,--

To sustain slavery, it is now proposed to trample on free speech. In any country this would be grievous; but here, where the constitution expressly provides against abridging freedom of speech, it is a special outrage. In vain do we condemn the despotisms of Europe, while we borrow the rigors with which they repress liberty, and guard their own uncertain power. For myself, in no factious spirit, but solemnly, and in loyalty to the constitution, as a senator of Massachusetts, I protest against this wrong. On slavery, as on every other subject, I claim the right to be heard. That right I cannot, I will not, abandon. “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely, above all liberties:” these are the glowing words which flashed from the soul of John Milton, in his struggles with English tyranny. With equal fervor they should be echoed now by every American not already a slave. [158]

But, sir, this effort is impotent as tyrannical. The convictions of the heart cannot be repressed. The utterances of conscience must be heard. They break forth with irrepressible might. As well attempt to check the tides of ocean, the currents of the Mississippi, or the rushing waters of Niagara. The discussion of slavery will proceed wherever two or three are gathered together,--by the fireside, on the highway, at the public meeting, in the church. The movement against slavery is from the Everlasting Arm. Even now it is gathering its forces, soon to be confessed everywhere. It may not yet be felt in the high places of office and power; but all who can put their ears humbly to the ground will hear and comprehend its incessant and advancing tread.

His main proposition he thus announces,--

The relations of the Government of the United States (I speak of the national government) to slavery, though plain and obvious, are constantly misunderstood. A popular belief at this moment makes slavery a national institution, and, of course, renders its support a national duty. The extravagance of this error can hardly be surpassed. An institution which our fathers most carefully omitted to name in the constitution; which, according to the debates in the convention, they refused to cover with any “sanction;” and which, at the original organization of the government, was merely sectional, existing nowhere on the national territory,--is now, above all other things, emblazoned as national. Its supporters plume themselves as national. The old political parties, while upholding it, claim to be national. A national Whig is simply a slavery Whig; and a national Democrat is simply a slavery Democrat,--in contradistinction to all who regard slavery as a sectional institution, [159] within the exclusive control of the States, and with which the nation has nothing to do. As slavery assumes to be national, so, by an equally strange perversion, freedom is degraded to be sectional; and all who uphold it under the national constitution share the same epithet. The honest efforts to secure its blessings everywhere within the jurisdiction of Congress are scouted as sectional; and this cause which the founders of our national government had so much at heart is called “sectionalism.” These terms, now belonging to the commonplaces of political speech, are adopted and misapplied by most persons without reflection. But herein is the power of slavery. According to a curious tradition of the French language, Louis XIV., the Grand Monarch, by an accidental error of speech, among supple courtiers, changed the gender of a noun. But slavery has done more than this: it has changed word for word. It has taught many to say “national” instead of “sectional,” and “sectional” instead of “national.” Slavery national! Sir, this is all a mistake and absurdity, fit to take a place in some new collection of vulgar errors by some other Sir Thomas Browne, with the ancient but exploded stories that the toad has a stone in its head, and that ostriches digest iron. According to the true spirit of the constitution, and the sentiments of the fathers slavery and not freedom is sectional, while freedom and not slavery is national. On this unanswerable proposition I take my stand.

To the free spirit of our literature he makes this reference:--

The literature of the land, such as then existed, agreed with the nation, the church, and the college. Franklin, in the last literary labor of his life; Jefferson, in his “Notes on Virginia;” [160] Barlow, in his measured verse; Rush, in a work which inspired the praise of Clarkson; the ingenious author of “The Algerine captive” (the earliest American novel, and, though now but little known, one of the earliest American books republished in London), were all moved by the contemplation of slavery. “If our fellow-citizens of the Southern States are deaf to the pleadings of nature,” the latter exclaims in his work, “I will conjure them, for the sake of consistency, to cease to deprive their fellow-creatures of freedom, which their writers, their orators, representatives, and senators, and even their constitution of government, have declared to be the inalienable birthright of man.”

In an admirable review of the course of argument, he says,--

And now, sir, let us review the field over which we have passed. We have seen that any compromise, finally closing the discussion of slavery under the constitution, is tyrannical, absurd, and impotent; that, as slavery can exist only by virtue of positive law, and as it has no such positive support in the constitution, it cannot exist within the national jurisdiction; that the constitution nowhere recognizes property in man; and that, according to its true interpretation, freedom and not slavery is national, while slavery and not freedom is sectional; that in this spirit the national government was first organized under Washington, himself an abolitionist, surrounded by abolitionists, while the whole country, by its church, its colleges, its literature, and all its best voices, was united against slavery, and the national flag at that time nowhere within the national territory covered a single slave; still further, that the national [161] government is a government of delegated powers; and, as among these there is no power to support slavery, this institution cannot be national, nor can Congress in any way legislate in its behalf; and, finally, that the establishment of this principle is the true way of peace and safety for the republic. Considering next the provision for the surrender of fugitives from labor, we have seen that it was not one of the original compromises of the constitution; that it was introduced tardily and with hesitation, and adopted with little discussion, and then and for a long period after was regarded with comparative indiference; that the recent Slave Act, though many times unconstitutional, is especially so on two grounds,--first as a usurpation by Congress of powers not granted by the constitution, and an infraction of rights secured to the States; and secondly as a denial of trial by jury in a question of personal liberty and a suit at common law; that its glaring unconstitutionality finds a prototype in the British Stamp Act, which our fathers refused to obey as unconstitutional on two parallel grounds,--first because it was a usurpation by parliament of powers not belonging to it under the British constitution, and an infraction of rights belonging to the colonies; and secondly because it was a denial of trial by jury in certain cases of property; that, as liberty is far above property, so is the outrage perpetrated by the American Congress far above that perpetrated by the British Parliament; and, finally, that the Slave Act has not that support in the public sentiment of the States where it is to be executed, which is the life of all law, and which prudence and the precept of Washington require.

He closes his great speech by this effective peroration:-- [162]

Finally, sir, for the sake of peace and tranquillity, cease to shock the public conscience; for the sake of the constitution, cease to exercise a power which is nowhere granted, and which violates inviolable rights expressly secured. Leave this question where it was left by our fathers at the formation of our national government,--in the absolute control of the States, the appointed guardians of personal liberty. Repeal this enactment. Let its terrors no longer rage through the land. Mindful of the lowly whom it pursues, mindful of the good men perplexed by its requirements, in the name of charity, in the name of the constitution, repeal this enactment totally and without delay. Be inspired by the example of Washington. Be admonished by those words of Oriental piety--“Beware of the groans of the wounded souls. Oppress not to the utmost a single heart; for a solitary sigh has power to overset a whole world.”

In reply to a letter from Dr. Horatio Stebbins thanking him for this speech, Mr. Sumner thus wrote from Newport, R. I., Oct. 12, 1852:--

My dear sir,--I cannot receive the overflowing sympathy of your letter without response. . . . I went to the Senate determined to do my duty, but in my own way. Anxious for the cause, having it always in mind, I knew that I could not fail in loyalty, though I might err in judgment. All my instincts prompted delay. But meanwhile I was taunted and attacked at home. Had I been less conscious of the rectitude of my course, I might have sunk under these words; but I persevered in my own way.

As I delivered the part to which you refer, I remember well [163] the intent looks of the Senate, and particularly of Mr. King [president pro tem of the senate]. It was already dinner-time, but all were silent and attentive; and Hale [John P. Hale, of N. H.] tells me that Mr. Underwood of Kentucky, by his side, was in tears.

From many leading Southern men I have received the strongest expressions of interest awakened in our cause, and a confession that they did not know before the strength of the argument on our side. Polk of Tennessee said to me, “If you should make that speech in Tennessee you would compel me to emancipate my niggers.” But enough of this. I have been tempted to it by the generosity of your letter.

Thankfully and truly yours,

1 Mr. Sumner said in a conversation with James Redpath, written at the time, that committee after committee waited on him during the election, to get even verbal promises relative to tariff, and to “ease off on the slave question;” but he uniformly declined to satisfy them, saying that the office must seek him, and that he would not walk across the room to secure the election.

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