It cost Mr. Sumner
no small sacrifice of personal feeling to address such a letter to one who had from boyhood
been among his intimate and most highly esteemed personal friends.
But while he could never allow his conscience to give way to personal considerations, we search in vain for any trace of personal animosity, or other sentiment than one of regret.
He tells Mr. Winthrop
that he had never failed to vote for him as a Whig, whenever he had an opportunity, and had on other occasions considered it proper to review his public course, and to express, as he sometimes had, the sorrow it had caused him. ‘Conscious,’ says he, ‘of no feeling towards yourself personally, except good-will, mingled with the recollection of pleasant social intercourse, I enter with pain upon the consideration of your vote, and of the apologies for it which you and others have set up. I am not a politician; and you will pardon me, therefore, if I decline to bring your conduct to any of the tests of party, or of numbers; to any sliding scale of expediency; to any standard except the golden rule of right and wrong.’
In speaking of the Act of Congress appropriating money and men for the Mexican
war, he says that he shall consider the Act in six different aspects:
It is six times wrong.
Six different and unanswerable reasons should have urged its rejection.
Six different appeals should have touched every Christian heart.
Let me consider them separately.
First. It is practically a Declaration of war against a sister Republic.
In Congress is vested, by the Constitution of the United States, the power of declaring war. Before this Act was passed, the Mexican War had no legislative sanction.
Without this Act, it would have no legislative sanction.
It is by virtue of this Act, that the present war is waged.
It is by virtue of this Act, that an American fleet, at immense cost of money, and without any gain of character, is now disturbing the commerce of Mexico, and of the civilized world, by the blockade of Vera Cruz.
It is by virtue of this Act, that a distant expedition
has seized, with pilfering rapacity, the defenceless province of California.
It is by virtue of this Act, that General Kearney has marched upon and captured Santa Fe. It is by virtue of this Act, that General Taylor has perpetrated the massacre at Monterey.
It is by virtue of this Act, that desolation has been carried into a thousand homes,—that mothers, sisters, daughters and wives have been plunged in the comfortless despair of bloody bereavement, while the uncoffined bodies of sons, brothers and husbands are consigned to premature graves.
Lastly, it is by virtue of this Act, that the army of the United States has been converted into a legalized band of brigands, marauders, and banditti, in violation of the sanctions of civilization, justice and humanity.
The American soldiers, who have died ignobly in the streets of a foreign city, in the attack upon a Bishop's palace, in contest with Christian fellow-men, who were defending fire-sides and altars, may claim the epitaph of Simonides: ‘Go, tell at Sparta, that we died here in obedience to her laws.’
It was in obedience to this Act of Congress that they laid down their lives in a barbarous war.
Second. This Act gives the sanction of Congress to an unjust war. War is barbarous and brutal; but this is unjust.
It grows out of aggression on our part, and is continued by aggression.
The statement of facts already made is sufficient to substantiate this point.
Third. It declares that war exists ‘by the act of the Republic of Mexico.’
This statement of brazen falsehood is inserted in the front of the Act. But it is now admitted by most, if not all of the Whigs, who unhappily voted for it, that it is not founded in fact.
It is a National lie.
Fourth. It provides for the prosecution of the war ‘to a speedy and successful termination,’ that is, for the successful prosecution of an unjust war. Surely no rule can be more firmly founded in morals, than that we should seek the establishment of right. Never strive for the triumph of wrong.
Fifth. The war has its origin in a series of measures to extend and perpetuate Slavery.
A wise and humane legislator should have discerned its source, and derived therefrom fresh impulses to oppose it.
Sixth. The war is dishonorable and cowardly, as being the attack of a rich, powerful, numerous and united Republic, upon a weak and defenceless neighbor, distracted by civil feuds.
Every consideration of true honor, manliness and Christian duty, prompted gentleness and forbearance towards our unfortunate Sister.
Such, Sir, is the Act of Congress, which received your sanction.
will hardly yield in importance to any measure of our Government since the adoption of the Federal Constitution.
It is certainly the most wicked in our history, as it is one of the most wicked in all history.
The recording Muse will drop a tear over its turpitude and injustice, while she gibbets it for the disgust and reprobation of mankind.
Such, Sir, is the Act of Congress to which, by your affirmative vote, the people of Boston have been made parties.
Through you, they have been made to declare an unjust and cowardly war, with falsehood, in the cause of slavery. Through you, they have been made partakers in the blockade of Vera Cruz, in the seizure of California, in the capture of Santa Fe, in the bloodshed of Monterey.
It were idle to suppose that the poor soldier, or officer only, is stained by this guilt.
It reaches far back, and incarnadines the Halls of Congress; nay more, through you, it reddens the hands of your constituents in Boston.
Pardon this language.
Strong as it may seem, it is weak to express the aggravation of your act, in joining in the declaration of an unjust war. Oh!
Mr. Winthrop, rather than lend your vote to this wickedness, you should have suffered the army of the United States to pass submissively through the Caudine Forks of Mexican power—to perish, it might be, irretrievably, like the legions of Varus.
Their bleached bones, in the distant valleys where they were waging an unjust war, would not tell to posterity such a tale of ignominy as this lying Act of Congress.
Another apology, suggested by yourself, and vouchsafed by your defenders, is founded on the alleged duty of voting succors to General Taylor's troops, and the impossibility of doing this, without voting also for the Bill, after it had been converted into a Declaration of Falsehood and of War. It is said that patriotism required this vote.
Patriotism! is not thy name profaned by this apology!
Let one of your honored predecessors, Sir, a representative of Boston on the floor of Congress, Mr. Quincy, give the reply to this apology.
On an occasion of trial not unlike that through which you have passed, and in the same place, he gave utterance to these noble words:—
But it is said this resolution must be taken ‘as a test of patriotism.’
To this I have but one answer.
If patriotism ask me to assert a falsehood, I have no hesitation in telling patriotism, ‘I am not prepared to make that sacrifice.’
The duty we owe to our country is indeed among the most solemn and impressive of all obligations.
But, high as it may be, it is nevertheless subordinate to that, which we owe to that Being, with whose name and character truth is identified.
In this respect, I deem myself acting, upon this resolution, under a higher responsibility than either to this House, or this people.
Another apology, which is often supplied by your defenders, is, that the majority of the Whig party joined with you, or, as it has been expressed, that ‘Mr. Winthrop voted with all the rest of the weight of moral character in Congress, from the Free States, belonging to the Whig party, not included in the Massachusetts delegation;’ and suggestions have been made in disparagement of the fourteen, who remained unshaken in their loyalty to Truth and Peace.
In the question of Right or Wrong, it can be of little importance, that a few fallible men, constituting what is called a majority, were all of one mind.
In every age supple or insane majorities have been found to sanction injustice.
It was a majority which passed the Stamp Act, and Tea Tax; which smiled upon the persecution of Galileo; which stood about the stake of Servetus; which administered the hemlock to Socrates; which called for the crucifixion of our Lord.
But these majorities cannot make us withhold condemnation from the partakers in these acts.
Let me add that, in other respects, your course has been in disagreeable harmony with your vote on the Mexican War Bill.
I cannot forget—for I sat by your side at the time—that on the 4th of July, 1845, in Faneuil Hall, you extended the hand of fellowship to Texas; although she had not yet been received among the States of the Union.
I cannot forget the toast, which you uttered on the same occasion, by which you have connected your name with an epigram of dishonest patriotism.
I cannot forget your apathy at a later day, when many of your constituents entered upon holy and constitutional efforts to oppose the admission of Texas, with a slaveholding constitution—conduct strangely inconsistent with your recent avowal of ‘uncompromising hostility to all measures for introducing new slave States and new slave Territories into the Union.’
Nor can I forget the ardor with which you devoted yourself to the less important question of the Tariff—indicating the relative position of the two questions in your mind.
As I review your course, the vote on the Mexican War Bill seems to be the dark comsummation.
And now let me ask you, when you resume your seat in Congress, to bear your testimony at once, without hesitation or delay, against the further prosecution of this war. Forget for a while the Sub-Treasury, the Veto, even the Tariff; and remember this wicked war. With the eloquence which you command so easily, and which is your pride, call for the instant cessation of hostilities.
Let your cry be that of Falkland in the civil wars, ‘Peace!
Think not of what you have called, in your speeches, ‘An honorable peace.’
There can be no peace with
Mexico which will not be more honorable than this war. Every fresh victory is a fresh dishonor.
‘Unquestionably,’ you have strangely said, ‘We must not forget that Mexico must be willing to negotiate!’
No! No! Mr. Winthrop. We are not to wait for Mexico.
Her consent is not needed; nor is it to be asked, by a Christian statesman, while our armies are defiling her soil by their aggressive footsteps.
She is passive. We alone are active. Stop the war. Withdraw our forces.
In the words of Colonel Washington, retreat!
Retreat! By so doing, we shall cease from further wrong; and peace will ensue.
Let me ask you, Sir, to remember in your public course the rules of Right, which you obey in your private capacity.
The principles of morals are the same for nations and for individuals.
Pardon me, if I suggest that you do not appear to have acted invariably in accordance with this truth.
You would not, in your private capacity, set your name to a falsehood; but you have done so, as a Representative in Congress.
You would not, in your private capacity, countenance wrong, even in your friend or your child; but, as a Representative, you have pledged yourself ‘not to withhold your vote from any reasonable supplies which may be called for’ in the prosecution of this wicked war. Do by your country as by your child.
You would not furnish to him means of offence against his neighbors; do not furnish them to your country.
Do not vote for any supplies to sustain this unrighteous purpose.
Again, you would not hold slaves.
I doubt not you would join with Mr. Palfrey, in emancipating any who should become yours by inheritance or otherwise.
But I have never heard of your joining in efforts, or sympathy, with those who seek to carry into our institutions that practical conscience, which declares it to be equally wrong in individuals and in States to sanction Slavery.
Let me ask you still further—and you will know if there is any reason to justify this request—to bear your testimony against the Mexican War, and all supplies for its prosecution, regardless of the minority in which you may be placed.
Think, Sir, of the cause, and not of your associates.
Forget for a while the tactics of party, and all its subtle combinations.
Emancipate yourself from its close-woven web, spun as from a spider's belly, and walk in the luminous pathway of Right.
Remember that you represent the conscience of Boston, the churches of the Puritans, the city of Channing.
Meanwhile a fresh election is at hand, and you are again a candidate for the suffrages of your fellow-citizens.
I shall not anticipate their verdict.
Your blameless private life, and your respectable attainments,
cannot fail to receive the approbation of all; but more than one of your neighbors will be obliged to say,
Cassio, I love thee,
But never more be officer of mine.