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Chapter 31: the prison—discipline debates in Tremont Temple.—1846-1847.

During the period 1825-1850 there was an earnest contention in this country on prison discipline, between the partisans of the separate or Pennsylvania system—which enforced the absolute separation of convicts from one another by day as well as at night—and those of the congregate or Auburn system, which, while requiring solitary confinement at night, allowed the convicts, under restrictions, to work side by side, and during religious exercises to sit together. The comparative advantages of the two systems in promoting the prisoner's reformation, keeping him in good physical and mental condition, and giving him useful industrial training, were contested points. The separate system, first tried in Pennsylvania, drew the attention of European philanthropists and publicists, and their reports after personal inspection were uniformly in its favor.1 It was established in Belgium, where it is still continued in full vigor; but elsewhere in Europe the congregate or some mixed system now prevails. In this country the separate system survives only at Philadelphia.

The Boston Prison Discipline Society was founded in 1825, at a time when the discussion as to the merits of the two systems had begun. Early in its existence its reports, prepared by its secretary, Rev. Louis Dwight,2 declared a positive preference for the Auburn method, and treated the rival one in an unfriendly and captious spirit.3 The board of managers rendered little more than a nominal service, and Mr. Dwight, the only salaried officer, became practically the Society. He had been educated for the ministry, but did not assume the charge of a parish. His natural ability was moderate and his culture limited; he was better [80] fitted to serve prisoners as a chaplain than to deal with the complex questions of prison discipline.4 He took a certain interest in prisoners, but lacked industry and any large comprehension of his subject. The foreign advocates of the separate system sometimes accused him of wilful perversion. They however exaggerated his offences, which seem to have been those only of narrow partisanship, indolence, and a slovenly way of writing.

Dr. Samuel G. Howe, who always took kindly to new ideas and schemes, had become a convert to the Pennsylvania system, and was irritated by Dwight's mode of treating it in the successive reports of the Society. It was through pressure from Howe that Sumner was drawn into a controversy where he became the principal antagonist against Dwight and his party; and it was under his friend's inspiration that he assumed the aggressive style which marked some of his addresses.

The treasurer of the Society, who appears to have been in full sympathy with its secretary, was Samuel A. Eliot, who has already been mentioned,—one of the representative men of the city, connected by blood and marriage with several of its best known families, a merchant, treasurer of Harvard College, and interested in charities and education. His temperament was not suited to public discussion; nor Was he familiar enough with the subject to be able to cope with Sumner and Howe. He was of a type of men, then dominant in the society and politics of the city, which has been described in the opening chapter of this volume. Looking at things from his point of view, it is not strange that one of his character and associations should have resented Sumner's and Howe's intrusion into the formal proceedings of the Society, and have met them in an impatient and offensive way; or that when thus met, Sumner and Howe should have been more personal and aggressive with him than the narrow question at issue seemed to justify. It will be seen that Eliot's set came quickly to his support, even without the slightest interest in the question, whenever they were needed to checkmate the two radicals. the contest, which was kept up for three years in Park Street Church and Tremont Temple, has been well remembered by all who witnessed it; and it remains an episode in the history of the city [81] which, both in the combatants and the audience, illustrates well what its people and society were at that time.

The Prison Discipline Society was accustomed to hold an annual private business meeting, which was followed on a later day by a public meeting, where addresses were made for the purpose of stimulating a general interest in the subject. These were held on the last week in May, known as ‘Anniversary Week,’ when, according to ancient custom, the people of Massachusetts gather in Boston to attend various meetings in behalf of religious and benevolent objects. Crowds at such a season go from church to church, from hall to hall, to listen to addresses.—some doubtless having a genuine interest in the subject to be discussed, but large numbers drawn only by the social instinct and the attractions of well-known speakers. The Anniversary Week still remains; but with the more varied excitements of modern life, it no longer bears in interest the same relation to the community that it did at the period to which this chapter relates.

The Society's annual meeting in Park Street Church in May, 1845, has already been referred to.5 Dr. Wayland, who had been persuaded to retain the presidency after his removal to Providence, was in the chair. George T. Bigelow,6 a member of the bar, rising, according to previous arrangement, to move the acceptance of the secretary's annual report, expressed his approval of its treatment of the Pennsylvania system, and accused the managers of the Philadelphia prison of wilful misrepresentation, made for the purpose of upholding an inhuman system. Sumner and Howe, who were on hand, anticipating the course of things, at once rebuked the secretary's persistency in his vicious method of treating that system, and repelled Mr. Bigelow's imputation. The interruption was disagreeable to the managers, but Sumner's motion for a committee to revise the report, and to visit Philadelphia, was carried without dissent.7 An eye-witness thus describes the scene from memory:—

There was a platform, on which sat a large number of persons, more or less notable,—officers of the Society and friends of its object. President Wayland, then at the top of his strength and his renown, imposing with the massive dignity of his best years, was in the chair. The secretary, Mr. Dwight, a [82] stout person, with a hard, red face and a dogmatic manner, had read a long report. To all appearance, it was to take the ordinary course of such documents, and, on the motion and seconding of some respectable persons, to be adopted without debate. But no sooner was the motion for adoption made, than a person rose in about the third pew at the left of the platform, and in a moment it was clear that the decorous routine of the meeting was being disturbed by some interloper whose name was not down on the card. Everybody was asking everybody who it could be. He was tall and rather slender, with a shock of black hair not very carefully arranged, dressed in a blue frock-coat, buttoned, with a velvet collar, and he held a bundle of papers in his hand. He did not stand for ceremony, but mounted upon the rail of his pew, and passed rapidly from pew to pew till he stood upon the platform. He scarcely recognized the president, but at once rushed into a vehement arraignment of Secretary Dwight, and a criticism of his report. Dr. Wayland did not appear to know who the intruder was, but turning to some person, inquired; and then rising, vexed apparently at the interruption, he came forward in his most dignified style, and said, “Mr. Sumner, gentlemen.” the speaker took little, if any, notice of the interruption, but rushed on for at least half an hour, threshing the report after a style which became quite familiar in later years. It was like the descent of some unknown and unexpected god from Olympus. There was anger and fear and impatience on the platform; but the congregation was with the speaker. He came like a breeze on a calm, dull day at sea. Everybody was on the qui vive, and relished the assault, and sympathized with the assailer all the more that there was such fluttering and wrath among the people on the platform. Opinion among the hearers went with the unscared aggressor; and pushing on, he compelled the reference of the report to a committee. As I remember, Mr. Dwight replied in an angry and inconclusive manner; and whatever speaking there was, flew in the face of the young knight Who had pushed into the lists like the unrecognized Richard on the field of arms at Ashby.

Four members of the committee—Sumner, Howe, Eliot, and Dwight—inspected the Philadelphia prison on two successive days in October,8 and on the third day, which was Sunday, attended the religious exercises, which were conducted in one division by Miss D. L. Dix, and in another by Mr. Dwight. Naturally enough, the visiting members were confirmed in their previous impressions,—Sumner and Howe taking one view of what they saw, and Eliot and Dwight the opposite one. Richard Vaux,9 one of the directors, received the committee, and in 1876 recalled vividly the occasion. He found the visitors, who had come unannounced, at Jones's Hotel. Sumner was anxious for an [83] immediate inspection, so that no preparation could be made, or be thought to have been made, for their reception. They therefore drove at once to the prison, and began their examination. To Mr. Vaux, Eliot and Dwight appeared listless and not at all enterprising; but Sumner's manner was that of one very serious and thoroughly in earnest. For two hours he went everywhere, talking with the prisoners and looking into everything. The committee, to whom every facility was given, contrary to the expectations of the critics of the system, renewed their examination the next day, and at the close of the visit held a formal interview with the directors, whom Sumner plied with many questions as to the working and effects of the system; and at the end he bore down heavily on Dwight, taking him to task for his misrepresentations. Mr. Vaux writes:—

The impression the scene made on me is vividly in my memory. Mr. Sumner was standing up; the light from the north window fell on his noble face; there was a majesty in his presence; there was an indignant expression on his face; he was straight and commanding as he spoke; the whole physical man was deeply in earnest, as the posture, mien, voice, and expression of his eye indicated. I shall never forget his appearance then; it was as that of Justice personified. Mr. Dwight said not a word. Mr. Eliot asked some questions, which were answered. Mr. Sumner entered into the conversation with energy. This was the first time I ever met him. Occasionally, since, I have met him, but he lives in my memory as I saw him first,—a bold, brave, honest, fearless, earnest man; young, comparatively, and striking by an impersonation of high attainments, culture, and aims. His appearance, his mien, his manner, his dress,—for this last so often characterizes the man,—all showed to the eye of one, too young then as I was to analyze it all, that he was an extraordinary man; and his life proved it.

The same autumn, Sumner contributed to the ‘Christian Examiner,’ at the request of its editor Rev. E. S. Gannett, an article on ‘Prisons and Prison Discipline.’10 It took for its texts nine recent publications on the subject, all but two of which were foreign. Beginning with a graceful tribute to Miss Dix, it is devoted chiefly to a statement of the points at issue between the separate and congregate systems, and gives the preference to the former as best promoting the reformation of the prisoner by excluding him from the contagion of evil associations. While recognizing Mr. Dwight's beneficent labors, it deals, though not harshly, with the unfairness and prejudice which had characterized his reports. [84]

The controversy which began in May, 1845, was renewed at the anniversary meeting of the Society in May, 1846. Eliot, Dwight, Dr. W. Channing, and Bigelow concurred in a report drawn by Dr. Channing, which sustained the course of the Society and its secretary; while Dr. Howe, Sumner, and Mann joined in a minority report drawn by Dr. Howe.11 Sumner made ineffectual efforts at business meetings of the Society to have both reports printed with the annual report for 1846, but was defeated by the persistent opposition of the secretary and his friends. At the business meeting on the day preceding the public anniversary it was also voted, on motion of Nathaniel Willis, Dwight's father-in-law, that ‘it is not expedient to discuss the subject at the anniversary meeting.’ The managers were bent on suppressing further agitation; but they had to deal with an antagonist who had a spirit of determination even exceeding theirs, and he was learning a lesson of persistence which was to avail him in later years on a more conspicuous field of controversy.

The public meeting was held in Tremont Temple on the morning of May 26. The audience was very large,—two thousand by estimate, largely composed of women. On the platform were distinguished clergymen and laymen. Dr. Wayland was in the chair. Dwight read the annual report, omitting, as he said, some parts to give opportunity for speeches. As he concluded, Sumner stepped forward at once; but before he began, Dwight interposed, saying in a peremptory tone, ‘Mr. President, the annual meeting was interrupted in this manner last year; there are gentlemen present who are invited by the committee of arrangements to address us.’ The president promptly reminded Dwight that Sumner had the floor, and the latter proceeded. The audience thought Dwight's interruption to be rude, and, as is usually the case, relished a break in a routine which had been previously arranged.12

Sumner spoke an hour at least, making points as to the partisan character of the annual reports and as to the rival system, to which he recurred the next year.13 These will be noted in a [85] later connection. He commended Dwight for what he had done in awakening an interest in prisons, and in pressing the reforms of flagrant evils in their construction and management; but there was a touch of irony in this tribute when he applied the term ‘indefatigable’ to the secretary, whom he was well known to have thought wanting in enterprise. In urging the Society to confess and reform its errors, his language was toned by the political discussions in which he was then engaged. ‘ “Our country, right or wrong,” is a cry that rises from the hoarse conclaves of politics. Let its spirit never intrude into any association like ours. Let none of us say, “ Our Society, right or wrong.” ’ He concluded by moving the appointment of a committee to examine and review the former printed reports and course of the Society, and to consider if its action could in any way be varied or amended so that its usefulness might be extended.14 Bradford Sumner, Dr. W. Channing, Rev. Mr. Todd, John Tappan, and Dwight followed Sumner in reply, and George S. Hillard spoke briefly in his support. The resolution was carried; and the president appointed as the committee, Bradford Sumner, Charles Sumner, Hillard, Dr. Channing, and Dwight; and the president was added to it by the vote of the Society. Dr. Wayland did not at the moment suppose he was designating the member first named as chairman, assuming instead that he would be chosen by the committee; and afterwards he expressed regret that he had omitted to name the mover first, and also that he had placed Dwight, whose action was the subject of complaint, on the committee. Bradford Sumner and Dr. Channing, however, did not attend the meetings of the committee, leaving the acting committee to consist of the other three members, with Charles Sumner as chairman.

Dwight was absent during the summer of 1846, to attend the International Penitentiary Congress at Frankfort-on-the-Main; but his Boston antagonists, though not present, more than matched him there. Sumner advised Mr. Rathbone, of Liverpool, and Dr. Julius, of Berlin, of his coming; and the former in England and the latter on the Continent were assiduous in distributing among the delegates the Liverpool edition of Sumner's recent speech. The president of the Congress was Sumner's friend, Professor Mittermaier, of Heidelberg. It was a distinguished assembly, composed of men eminent in jurisprudence and science, or practically [86] connected with prison administration. Dwight was called to the tribune,15 and spoke briefly in English on the objects of the Boston Society, without entering on a development of the penitentiary system of the United States,—evidently not at ease in a body which approved by a large majority the separate system, and contained many delegates who were familiar with the Boston controversy. But the advocates of the separate system, who had awaited an exposition of his adverse views and were ready for an encounter, were too aggressive to let him alone in the quiet part he had prescribed for himself, and pressed him in personal intercourse. He was confronted by Joseph Adshead, of Manchester, author of a paper on ‘Prisons and Prisoners,’ who invited him to a public debate; by Dr. Varrentrap, of Frankfort, whose criticisms of his reports had been translated and republished in the Boston Law Reporter,16 and who assailed his statistical tables; by Suringar, who upbraided him for his partisanship, telling him he could never expect to be a happy man until he tried to undo all the mischief he had done by his onesidedness; by Julius, who was fully equipped on all points of the controversy, and was an ardent friend of the separate system; and by Benjamin Rotch, of London, a Middlesex magistrate, who in a session of the Congress held Sumner's speech in his hand in full view of Dwight, ready to reply in case the latter ventured to maintain the superiority of the Auburn system.17 The secretary, thus pursued and confronted, did not find the atmosphere of the Congress congenial; certainly he was altogether silent as to a controversy which was always on his mind when in Boston. Before coming home he passed some weeks in London, during which he inspected the prison at Pentonville.

Sumner attempted, soon after the Society's meeting, to procure a meeting of the committee; but this was prevented by Dwight's absence. In the spring of 1847 He prepared a report,18 following in style and purport the suggestions of Dr. Wayland, which was agreed to by three members,—himself, Dr. Wayland, and Hillard,—the only acting member who dissented being Dwight. It was temperate in tone, and confined to general propositions not [87] in controversy among fair-minded men. It attempted no censure of Dwight, except so far as, might be implied from its insistence on the duty of greater energy on the part of officers and members of the Society. It refrained from reviewing former action and reports, while expressing the opinion that the Society should extricate itself from the position of advocacy it seemed to have taken. It set forth the proper scope and method of the secretary's report, and enjoined on the members greater activity in the visitation of prisons and in the care for discharged convicts. The resolutions submitted were of like spirit and substance, affirming that the Society ought not to be the pledged advocate of any system, but should treat fairly all systems; that it should recognize the directors of the Pennsylvania system as conscientious and philanthropic fellow-laborers; that any expressions of disrespect in the Society's reports or public meetings, which had given them pain, were sincerely regretted; and in conclusion called for greater efforts to extend the usefulness of the Society and for the consideration of a new plan of action. Aside from the hostile feelings engendered by the discussion, such a paper could not have provoked controversy.

The annual public meeting for 1847 was held in Tremont Temple, May 25, at eleven in the morning. The public were eager to witness the renewal of the debate. Theodore Lyman, formerly mayor of the city, was in the chair as president, having been chosen at the business meeting on the previous day as successor to Dr. Wayland, who had declined a re-election. Sumner's report being offered, Bradford Sumner at once objected that it was not the report of the committee, but of only just half its members; but as it was concurred in by three out of four members who served upon it, the general sense of the meeting was against the objection, and it was withdrawn.19 The report and resolutions were then read, and the meeting adjourned to the evening of May 28.

A question between two prison systems, relating merely to the extent to which the separation of convicts should be carried, is rather one for specialists than for a popular assembly. It was not at the time a practical question in Massachusetts. The issue in the Society was even narrower than a theoretic choice between the two systems, and as put by Sumner was only one of candor and good faith in the treatment of two rival systems. It has been [88] so very difficult ever since to collect a hundred persons in Boston to listen to an address on prison discipline, that one marvels at the strange interest which in 1847 drew together multitudes on successive warm evenings in May and June, going early and remaining late. The audiences which filled the spacious Temple represented the intelligence and philanthropy of the city, as well as all that Was radical and adventurous in speculation,—people already enlisted or about to enlist in the warfare against American slavery; people earnest for moral reforms, like temperance; seekers for novelties, who imagined they had found a new revelation in phrenology as taught by Spurzheim and George Combe; disciples of Theodore Parker's theology and of Emerson's philosophy. An audience of such tendencies and inspirations could be gathered in no other city. Their interest was rather in the disputants than in the subject; it was aesthetic and sentimental, rather than philanthropic and practical. They were interested in Sumner as a man, enjoyed his refined eloquence, were inspired by his noble sentiments, and admired the spirit with which he resisted the dictation of those whose right to dictate had not before been disputed, and who had now found an antagonist with capacity and courage for debate which were more than their match. The crowd of both sexes—young men, and, above all, young women conspicuous in numbers—thronged to the Temple as to a tournament where the fame and gallantry of the knight awakened sentiments quite apart from the cause he espoused. Sumner's reputation as an orator had during the previous year been greatly increased by his Phi Beta Kappa oration at Harvard College and his speeches on the Mexican War. His opposition to Mr. Winthrop's votes on the war and to his re-election, in which Dr. Howe had been associated with him, had made him warm friends as well as bitter enemies in politics and society. He was in the freshness and vigor of his powers; He had become familiar with the platform; and it is remembered that as he handled one adversary after another, he seemed conscious of his strength. The other speakers were without attractions of style and manner, and, except Mr. Gray and Dr. Howe, knew very little of the subject.

The meetings were prolonged during eight evenings, from half-past 7 till nearly or quite eleven, and sometimes till nearly midnight.20 Sumner opened the debate on the first evening, occupying [89] an hour and a half, leaving the rest of the time to three speakers who replied.21 The speech is like his later one, though going more into details on some points, and being quite severe on the meagre quality of the Society's reports, particularly the last one, which he thought ‘a small month's work.’ ‘Between its flimsy covers is all that we have done. Our three thousand dollars have been wrapped here as in a napkin.’ This he said in a derisive tone, laying stress on the ‘all,’ and flapping the leaves of the report over his head. He then emphasized the complaints made against the reports in various quarters in this country and abroad, and reminded Dwight of those which he had encountered within the year at the Frankfort Congress and elsewhere in Europe.

Sumner made another speech, occupying two hours, on June 18, in which he reviewed the debate.22 It repeated much that he had already said. The report, as written out by him, probably does not follow very closely his argument on that evening, but includes the remarks on different evenings which he particularly desired to have preserved. He did not undertake the defence of the Pennsylvania system, and disclaimed the desire to have the Society commit itself to that or any system; and the chief point of his contention was that the Society had not treated the system with candor and justice. He contended that the reports had confounded it with the more rigid system of absolute solitude, which was discarded in Pennsylvania in 1829, and in other States at about the same time; that the report for 1838 had applied the opinions of Lafayette and the historian Roscoe, condemning the discarded system, to the separate system, which had not come into existence when those opinions were expressed; and that the reports, while careful to give prominence to every opinion unfriendly to the separate system, had suppressed all reference to opinions in its favor, and particularly to the approval of it by European commissions and European writers and publicists, and to its adoption by European governments in the construction of prisons. In this and other speeches Sumner charged that [90] Dwight ‘garbled’ the documents from which he made extracts, particularly in citing Roscoe and Lafayette.23 He directed his severest criticisms against the report for 1843, describing it as ‘sealed and botched with error and uncandid statement,’ and quoted, without adopting, the still stronger animadversions of foreign writers.

Provoked by what he thought to be Mr. Eliot's overbearing manner and personal reflections on Dr. Howe and himself, Sumner made in his second speech several personal references to Eliot, using terms hardly proper for a young man to apply to his seniors, except under provocation.24 ‘I will borrow,’ he said as he began, ‘from the honorable treasurer, with his permission, something of his frankness without his temper,’—a thrust which, an eye-witness says, ‘made Mr. Eliot start as if he had been shot’ Later on in the speech Sumner spoke of him as ‘the Achilles of the debate,’ ‘impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,’—saying also that he had ‘in the course of a short speech contrived to announce himself as treasurer of the Boston Prison Discipline Society, next as treasurer of Harvard College, and not content with this, told us that he has been a member of the city government and a senator of the Commonwealth.’ Sumner, who never seemed to realize how sharp his blade was, was surprised afterwards, when told that he had said anything at which his opponents took offence.25 These personalities rankled during the lifetime of the actors. Eliot's social position was of the best, as he was closely connected by marriage with George Ticknor, Edmund Dwight, Benjamin Guild, and Dr. Andrews Norton, and by blood with the Curtis family. The influence of these families ramified in the society of Boston; and this debate, in connection with Sumner's political divergence from its traditions and interests, helped to bring him into general social disfavor.

Sumner was supported by Dr. Howe, who spoke at great length on two evenings, making a minute comparison of the two prison [91] systems, and earnestly advocating that of Pennsylvania;26 by Henry H. Fuller, a hard-headed lawyer, who spoke twice, commending the resolutions in terse and pertinent remarks; and by Hillard, who appeared only once in the debate, urging fairness in the reports of the Society, and rebuking an anonymous newspaper attack on Sumner.27 On the other side there were several speakers,—Rev. George Allen, of Worcester, who consumed one hour in his first speech and two in another, comparing to some extent the two systems, but chiefly defending with friendly zeal Mr. Dwight; Bradford Sumner, a lawyer respectable in character, but moderate in professional attainments; J. Thomas Stevenson, who confessed that he knew nothing about prison discipline, and whose late participation in the debate was due only to his political antipathy to Sumner and Dr. Howe; and Francis C. Gray,28 who though lacking the qualities of an attractive public speaker, was better equipped for the debate than any other of Dwight's party. Mr. Gray spoke at three meetings, occupying an hour at some of them; he assailed Sumner's report as containing an implied but undeserved censure of the Society and its officers, charged the Pennsylvania system with promoting insanity, rejected the opinions of foreigners quoted in its favor as not tested by experience, and moved the indefinite postponement of the resolutions. Eliot spoke twice, sharply criticising Sumner's report, particularly in its use of the treasurer's figures; he took little time in debate, but his manner seems to have stirred Sumner very much. Dwight spoke the same evening, and appeared, according to the newspapers, much exhausted.

Midway in the course of the meetings of this year, Rev. Samuel K. Lothrop sought to compose the differences by offering a series of resolutions as a substitute, which, while avoiding all terms capable of being construed as a reflection on former action of [92] the officers of the Society, affirmed the duty of treating the different systems of prison discipline fairly and impartially. Sumner seconded the resolutions, and Dwight also assented to them. Genuine friends of the Society who had not yielded to the excitement thought this the best solution of the difficulty.29 It had been understood that Sumner's speech was to close the debate; but his opponents feared its effect on a vote immediately taken, and insisted on further discussion. Stevenson replied, justifying Dwight's good faith and his citations of Lafayette's and Roscoe's opinions. Gray began to speak, but at eleven the meeting adjourned. At the next and final meeting Gray replied to Sumner's speech, and Sumner followed with a rejoinder. Stevenson continued his defence of Dwight's extracts from Lafayette and Roscoe, the ever recurring point of contention, and moved a committee to investigate action in this respect only. Mr. Lothrop moved a recommitment, with instructions which included an examination of the whole subject. It was now nearly midnight, and the audience was retiring, when the public discussions were brought to a close in an unexpected way. Charles P. Curtis, a prominent member of the bar and relative of Stevenson, and like him drawn to the meeting by political antipathy to Sumner and Howe,30 moved to lay the whole subject on the table. After referring to the accumulation of charges and replications, and resolutions upon resolutions, which had resulted in perplexity and confusion, He recalled the incident in Congress when a member, known as ‘Apocalypse Smythe,’ on being reminded that he was wearying the body by a long and tedious speech, answered that he was addressing, not this generation, but posterity, and drew the retort that if he kept on he would have his unborn audience before him. Mr. Curtis thought the movement in the hall indicated that the present generation was about to leave it. His motion was carried unanimously, and the Society adjourned sine die.31 The lateness of the hour, the physical weariness of all present, and the skilful resort to a motion to lay on the table, which was a surprise to the supporters of positive action, prevented the adoption of Mr. Lothrop's substitute.32 [93]

One of the audience writes as follows:—

I was out of town when the meetings began, and on returning found everybody in wild excitement about a subject to which they had never before paid the slightest attention. I think all the fashion of the city went and ranged on one side or the other. The girls were excited, and became as strong partisans for the Philadelphia or Auburn systems (of which we had never heard before) as of the white rose or the red. Sumner took an active part in the debate when I was there. I have a picture in my mind of him as he sat on the settee behind the speakers, with a heap of books and pamphlets, his legs crossed, with light trousers on, shaking his long dark locks from his forehead, and his face full of bright intelligence and action. I never shall forget his readiness when Mr. Gray read a garbled extract from a report, and said, “I wish I had the report here to read you the whole passage.” Sumner immediately jumped up, with the report in hand, saying, “Here it is, sir,” and the audience found Mr. Gray's part better than the whole. Gray seemed to me very foxy. Poor Dwight looked crushed. He was astonished at the revelation of his own misdeeds. Eliot was pompous and Boston personified, as usual. The crowd enjoyed it heartily,—better than any play at the theatre. I think Sumner was then unfashionable. The Fourth of July oration had affected people; but nobody could help enjoying his spirit and eloquence, who Was not strongly prejudiced.

Another writes:—

I remember very well, as many others do likewise, how my youthful feelings were carried away by the courtly presence and graceful eloquence of the man. A hero he certainly was to me at that time; and I gave myself up wholly to the pleasurable sensations of the moment without considering, as I was borne along by the glowing words, that there were two sides to every subject, and taking it wholly for granted that Mr. Sumner must be on the right side. In this enthusiasm the audience shared, for there was never any lack of hearty applause.

Sumner, hard pressed in the controversy, missed the open support of Dr. Wayland, who had joined him in the report, and who in 1845 had encouraged him to persevere in his effort to bring the Society back to a course of candor and justice. Eminent as a moralist, and rarely wrong in his theoretic conclusions, the doctor lacked the nerve for controversy; and he was perhaps restrained by reasons of prudence from a contention which might affect injuriously his usefulness as head of a college. He naturally regretted the personal turn which the discussion had taken, and gave this afterwards as one of the reasons of his absence. He complained, without good cause, that Sumner had read in the debate of 1847 the doctor's letter of support written in 1845, although it was free from personal matter, insisting upon his [94] technical right to be held responsible only for public expressions and for public documents bearing his name. For some years he thought hard of Sumner for thus bringing him into the debate.

Sumner's urgency in behalf of energetic and wiser action by the Society did not end with the popular excitement. He was in this as in all things, unwearied and persistent. The failure of the Society to come to any definite result after the prolonged discussion caused public disappointment,33 which led to a meeting of the managers on July 10, when it was voted to call a meeting of the Society for the purpose of voting upon Mr. Lothrop's proposition, without debate. Sumner offered at the same time resolutions for correcting the reports of the Society, and for effective work during the summer. At an adjourned meeting of the managers, which became necessary to perfect the arrangements for another meeting of the Society, he arrived late to find the project of such a meeting reconsidered, other votes passed to prevent for the season the renewal of discussions of the plans and work of the Society, and the resolutions offered by himself at the previous meeting discredited by an entry on the margin of the record.34 A few days later he addressed Dwight an elaborate note, expressing regret that the managers separated without agreeing upon some plan for effective work during the summer, after the example of prison associations in New York and Philadelphia, urging the secretary to take immediate steps for the systematic visitation of jails by members of the Society, and for awakening public sentiment in behalf of the cause,—in all which, notwithstanding pressing engagements, he was ready to assist. Dwight did not respond to the appeal. In the summer Sumner contributed several articles to a newspaper on prison discipline, chiefly in support of the views he had maintained in the debate.35

Late in the year 1847 Mr. Gray's pamphlet on ‘Prison Discipline in America’ was published. It was an argument for the congregate system, admirable in style and tone, strong in logical power, and better adapted to win conviction than any American paper ever published on the subject. Sumner himself recognized its superior quality, saying in a letter to Lieber that it was ‘singularly able, and calculated to produce a strong impression.’ It [95] practically ended the discussion, and no subsequent effort was made in Massachusetts to enlist public sentiment in behalf of the Pennsylvania system. The controversy did not disturb the personal relations of Sumner and Gray, and the latter's pamphlet was the occasion of friendly correspondence between them.36

The debate had been followed by European penologists, particularly by those who had officially visited the American prisons. Tocqueville wrote Sumner from his chateau in Normandy, August 6, a letter in which he expressed his surprise and regret that the Society, which had made him a member, and which enjoyed a European reputation, had refused to adopt resolutions which, while disclaiming the advocacy of the Auburn or of any other system, committed it to the impartial study and treatment of all systems. Regretting that it had become the champion of the Auburn system, and the systematic adversary of the separate system, he said:—

I need not inform you that at the present day in Europe discussion and experience have, on the contrary, led almost all persons of intelligence to adopt the separate system, and to reject the Auburn system. Most of the governments of the Old World have declared themselves more or less in this way, not hastily, but after serious inquiry and long debate.37

Sumner, in his reply, September 15, wrote:—

The discussions which have recently taken place in Boston on the subject of prison discipline have been the means of diffusing much information and awakening an interest which will be productive of good. Everything relating to it is now read with avidity. the government of our Society is in the hands of a few persons who are strongly prejudiced against change. I think, however, that its course will now be altered. Mr. Dwight, the secretary, has become insane,—whether incurably so, I do not know. The New York Society promises great usefulness. . . .I cherish a lively recollection of my brief intercourse with you in Paris.

An international prison congress was held this year at Brussels. Sumner, in letters from Europe, was urged to attend, but was unable to do so. His brother George, however, was present, and acquitted himself well in the debates, showing in [96] them, according to Dr. Julius, ‘a rare moderation and excellent temper.’38

The discussions of 1846 and 1847, which had discredited the character of the managers for efficiency, fairness, and breadth of view, were a fatal blow to the Society, and it never recovered public confidence. In May, 1848, Sumner appeared before the managers, and sought in vain to impress them with his views in favor of more vigorous action. the same month, the Society decided to hold no more public meetings, and recalled the notice of one already announced. Mr. Ticknor and George T. Curtis attended the meeting where this decision was made, and both were chosen officers for the first time. They had taken no interest in the subject before, and their political hostility to Sumner and Dr. Howe, as well as Mr. Ticknor's kinship with Mr. Eliot, account for their selection. Eliot became president; and Dwight continued in office till his death, in 1854. In 1855 no officers were chosen, and Mr. Eliot took the chair in the presence of three reporters and only two members. The officers recommended a dissolution of the Society, for the reason that no suitable successor to Dwight could be found. There was a week's adjournment to consider the disposition of the funds, and there the record ends. A part of the amount still in the treasury was spent in the useless republication, in three huge volumes, of Dwight's reports, which were of little value in themselves, and already sufficiently distributed. The Society was in its later years kept alive for his support, and with his death it disappeared.

Sumner did not again recur to the controversy as to the two rival systems of prison discipline. As is often the case in human life, He doubtless came to see that its importance had been overrated, or that it called rather for scientific treatment than for excited debate. Once, late in life, he had a practical connection with the construction of a prison, in 1872, when, as a member of the Senate committee on the District of Columbia, he insisted that there should be a house of correction established with the jail about to be built in Washington, and after applying to E. L. Pierce for suggestions as to a proper model, caused one hundred [97] thousand dollars to be added to the appropriation. He was the chairman of the committee of conference which decided finally on the provisions of the bill.39

The details of the prison discipline controversy as given in this chapter are justified by its intimate connection with Sumner's start in his public career. They show better than any general statement what was the kind of community in which he first demonstrated his powers, as well as what social obstructions stood in the way of his taking his place among reformers and agitators; and the recital also is not without interest in its exhibition of the qualities and training which were to stand him in good stead in the greater contests before him. the platform at Tremont Temple gave him a consciousness of power in hand-to-hand debate, and taught him that, pacific and sensitive as he was by nature, he could still fight like other men.

1 Among the visitors were Beaumont and Tocqueville in 1831, and Demetz and Blout in 1837, from France; Crawford, in 1834, from England; and Julius, in 1836, from Prussia.

2 1793-1854.

3 Among letters to Sumner which objected to the temper of the secretary's reports were those from Rev. C. A. Bartol and Dr. James Jackson.

4 A German writer Dr. Varrentrap criticised his too free use of religious phrases in his reports, thinking them more appropriate to devout exercises. Law Reporter, Boston, July, 1846, vol. IX. pp. 100, 101.

5 Ante, vol. II. pp. 329, 330.

6 Afterwards chief-justice.

7 Sumner explained his first participation in the controversy in his speech, June 18, 1847. Works, vol. i. pp. 489-490. For accounts of the meeting, see Boston Advertiser, May 28, 1845; Boston Traveller, May 30, 1845.

8 Two other members, Horace Mann and Dr. Walter Channing, made their visits some weeks later.

9 Mr. Vaux has been for nearly fifty years chairman of the board of inspectors. He was elected almost unanimously a member of Congress in 1890.

10 Christian Examiner, January, 1846. Works, vol. i. pp. 163-183.

11 Sumner assisted in correcting the proofs.

12 Dr. Wayland, writing to Sumner. July 1, said: ‘Mr. Dwight treated you very badly, and was exceedingly rude.’ the Law Reporter, edited by Peleg W. Chandler, July, 1846, vol. IX. p. 98, commented on Dwight's interruption and the ‘cut-and-dried’ character of the public meetings.

13 The speech is reported in the Boston Advertiser, May 28, and in a revised form in the Boston Courier, May 30. It was reprinted at Liverpool in pamphlet at Mr. Rathbone's instance, and by him sent to persons in England interested in the question.

14 The Law Reporter, July, 1846, vol. IX. p. 98, spoke of the speech as one of ‘great eloquence and power.’ See also p. 92.

15 Boston Advertiser, July 22. 1847. Law Reporter, vol. IX. p. 428.

16 July, 1846, vol. IX. pp 97-110. 428.

17 Mr. Rotch was the grandson of William Rotch, a Nantucket whaler. He wrote Sumner that Dwight's abstinence from voting alone prevented a record that the first three resolutions of the Congress were unanimously approved.

18 Printed in the ‘Semi-Weekly Courier,’ May 27, 1847.

19 Boston Advertiser, May 26, 1847.

20 May 28. June 2, 4, 9, 11, 16, 18, and 23.

21 A report of his speech is printed in the Boston Courier, June 1, 1847.

22 Works, vol. i. pp. 486-529. The speech fills six columns of the ‘Semi-Weekly Courier,’ July 5, 1847. Dr. Julius wrote from Berlin of this speech, ‘It is excellent,—one of the most temperate, lucid, and convincing I have ever read in any debate.’ Longfellow wrote in his journal, June 18, 1847: ‘Went to town to hear Sumner before the Prison Discipline Society. He made a very strong, manly speech. It was a kind of demolition of the Bastile and of——.’ The blank is for Eliot and Dwight.

23 Dwight had cited the opinions of Lafayette in 1825 and 1826, which were adverse to the Pennsylvania system as then existing; but after the system was essentially changed, in 1829, he continued even in 1843 to cite them, giving no dates, as if they were intended for the modified system. Quite likely this was a blunder rather than an intentional misrepresentation. See Stevenson's remarks, June 18. BostonAtlas,’ June 21.

24 Some of Sumner's friends thought his personal references in this debate ‘needlessly cutting.’ E. P. Whipple in Harper's Magazine, May, 1879, p. 276.

25 Edward Austin, in an interview with the writer.

26 June 2 and 16. Dr. Howe's speech of June 16 is fully reported in the ‘Semi-Weekly Courier,’ June 24.

27 Sumner, Howe, and Hillard were the subjects of coarse attacks in communications printed in the Boston Post, June 2, 4, 9, and 22. The first article was replied to by a writer in that journal, June 5. The Boston Advertiser, June 26 and 30, contained communications friendly to Dwight.

28 1796-1856. Mr. Gray was in his youth the private secretary of John Quincy Adams at the time of the latter's mission to Russia. His writings were miscellaneous, chiefly articles for reviews, and related to history, poetry, foreign literature, commerce, and science. He is spoken of by his surviving contemporaries as a person most remarkable for the variety and fulness of his knowledge; and his vigorous intellect easily digested his acquisitions. It was not for want of natural gifts or of liberal training that he failed to become one of the eminent men of his State.

29 Rev. Dr. Parkman, June 16, favored them. See also ‘Christian Register,’ July 3.

30 C. F. Adams noted the underlying political feeling in the Boston ‘Whig,’ July 10, 1847. He also remarked on the general impression that the action of the Society had been ‘neither judicial nor philosophical.’ See other articles, Boston ‘Whig,’ June 23; BostonAtlas,’ June 23.

31 Boston Atlas, June 25.

32 Boston Atlas, June 25.

33 Boston Atlas, June 25.

34 Communication in ‘Advertiser,’ Aug. 5, 1847.

35 Boston Advertiser, July 1 9, 22, 27, and 29. Those in that journal of June 29 and July 8 may, or may not, be his.

36 The pamphlet was approved in articles in the North American Review for January, 1848, and in the Christian Examiner for February of the same year. Its positions were contested by a work published in Philadelphia by F. A. Packard.

37 Works, vol. i. p. 530. Contrary to Tocqueville's expectations, the separate system lost ground with the decline of interest in the discussion. See his remarks to Sumner in Paris, April 13, 1857, post, chap. XLI.

38 His principal speech, translated into English, was republished in the Boston Daily Advertiser, Oct. 22, 1847, with an introductory note by Charles. who wrote to him a note of congratulation on the high quality of his speech and his success in speaking in a foreign tongue.

39 Sumner had an interest unusual with public men in questions outside of politics. Tocqueville plied Mr. Webster with questions on prison discipline, but found that he was not interested in the subject, saying that it was useless to try to reform criminals. Tocqueville added: ‘Webster, like thousands of statesmen, cares only for power.’ Life and Letters of Dr. F. Lieber, p. 256.

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