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The spring of 1856, he remarks, by way of preface, had opened gloomily. The Kansas-Nebraska legislation was bringing forth its [246] legitimate fruits. Emboldened by their success, the slavery propagandists pressed on with vigor, resolved that no obstacles should prevent the realization of their cherished purposes. In Kansas the friends of freedom found that the pretended proffer of popular sovereignty was a delusion, and they were at once precipitated into a hand-to-hand conflict. Treason was on many lips, and the cry of secession not only rung in the halls of Congress but resounded throughout the South. Distrusting, too, their ability to meet their opponents in the fair field of debate, the advocates of slavery resolved to resort to something more potent than words. If they could not rebut the speech they could intimidate and overpower the speaker, and the bludgeon be made to accomplish what fair argument could not effect. The border ruffian policy which was filling Kansas with alarm and bloodshed had its representatives in Washington, walking its streets, hanging around its hotels and stalking through the Capitol. To the extreme arrogance of embittered and aggressive words were added the menace and actual infliction of personal violence. Indeed, the course of these men assumed the form of a reckless and relentless audacity never before exhibited. Members of Congress went armed in the streets and sat with loaded revolvers in their desks.

It was in this state of popular feeling and during the debate on Kansas affairs that Mr. Sumner delivered, on the 19th and 20th of May, his speech on the ‘Crime against Kansas.’ It was marked by the usual characteristics of his more elaborate efforts, exhibiting great affluence of learning, faithful research and great rhetorical finish and force. It was, in the words of Whittier, ‘a grand and terrible philippic, worthy of the great occasion; the severe and awful truth, which the sharp agony of the national crisis demanded.’ The speech bore the marks of a determined purpose to make it exhaustive and complete; as impregnable in argument and cogent in rhetoric as it could be made by the materials at his command, and by the author's acknowledged ability to use them. He summoned largely to his aid the power of language, and his ‘words’ became ‘things.’

He divided his subject into ‘three different heads: the Crime against Kansas in its origin and extent; the Apologies for the Crime; and the true Remedy.’ Concerning the crime itself, he adduced the most incontrovertible proofs of its existence, and closed by comparing Kansas, to a ‘gallant ship, voyaging on a pleasant summer sea, assailed by a pirate crew.’ ‘Even now,’ he said, ‘the black flag [247] of the land pirates of Missouri waves at the masthead; in their laws you hear the pirate yell and see the flash of the pirate knife; while, incredible to relate, the President, gathering the slave power at his back, testifies a pirate sympathy.’ He said the apologies were four in number: the apology ‘tyrannical,’ the apology ‘imbecile,’ the apology ‘absurd,’ and the apology ‘infamous.’ ‘This is all,’ he said. ‘Tyranny, imbecility, absurdity and infamy all unite to dance, like the weird sisters, about this crime.’ Concerning the remedies, he said they, too, were ‘fourfold’: the remedy of ‘tyranny,’ of ‘folly,’ of ‘injustice and civil war,’ of ‘justice and peace.’ ‘These are the four caskets,’ he said, ‘and you are to determine which shall be opened by Senatorial votes.’ Having discussed these points with great fulness and cogency, he thus closed: ‘The contest, which, beginning in Kansas, reaches us, will be transferred soon from Congress to that broader stage where every citizen is not only spectator, but actor; and to their judgment I confidently turn. * * * In the name of the Constitution outraged, of the laws trampled down, of humanity degraded, of peace destroyed, of freedom crushed to earth, and in the name of the Heavenly Father, whose service is perfect freedom, I make this last appeal.’

Portraying the crime, he referred to the criminal, fitly spoke of the tyrant power who inspired it, and of the more prominent agents in its commission. Alluding to a fable of northern mythology, he said: ‘Even so the creature whose paws are fastened upon Kansas, whatever it may seem to be, constitutes in reality part of the slave power, which, with loathsome folds, is now coiled about the whole land.’

Of several of the agents of this power he had more than general reasons to speak severely. Among them were Mr. Butler and Mr. Douglas, who had singled him out for special attack. In this speech, therefore, he took occasion to repay them for their assaults, and proposed to say ‘something in reference to what has fallen from Senators who have raised themselves to eminence on this floor in championship of human wrongs. I mean the Senator from South Carolina and the Senator from Illinois, who though unlike as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, yet, like this couple, sally forth in the same adventure.’ Of the former he spoke as ‘one applying opprobrious epithets to those who differ from him on this floor, calling them “sectional” and “fanatical,” and their opposition to the usurpations in Kansas “an uncalculating [248] fanaticism!” ’ Of the latter he said: ‘The Senator dreams that he can subdue the North. He disclaims the open threat; but his conduct implies it. How little that Senator knows himself, or the strength of the cause he persecutes! He is but a mortal man; but against him is an immortal principle. With finite strength he wrestles with the infinite, and he must fail; against him are stronger battalions than any marshalled by mortal arm,—the inborn, ineradicable, and invincible sentiments of the human heart; against him is Nature in all its subtle forces; against him is God. Let him try to subdue these.’

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