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Chapter 47: third election to the Senate.

When the session of Congress ended, July 17, 1862, the military situation was no more hopeful than at the beginning. Grant had indeed won a substantial victory at Fort Donelson; New Orleans had been taken; and Farragut with his squadron held command of the Lower Mississippi. The reduction of Vicksburg was essential to the opening of the river; but that point could not yet be attained. The hope of the nation had centred for months on McClellan's army, which, after a final reverse before Richmond, retired to Harrison's Landing, where it remained when the session closed.1

Sumner's term was to expire March 4, 1863, and the choice of his successor was to be made by the legislature elected in November, 1862. His other re-elections were not contested; but this time a spirited movement to defeat him was under way early in the year, and broke out openly in the summer. The Democratic party, though supporting the prosecution of the war under the patriotic impulse of the masses, was generally hostile to the Republican leaders, who were attempting, as it alleged, to make the war “an abolition war.” But standing alone, it was in Massachusetts too reduced in numbers to carry an election. From another quarter,--from the remains of the Bell-Everett party, and from some Republicans who were such from circumstances and not from antislavery conviction,--came the most virulent opposition to Sumner's re-election. These “odds and ends” started what they called a People's Party, aimed against both Sumner and Governor Andrew; but as the task of defeating both was found to be too heavy, they finally directed the main assault on Sumner.2. They nominated for governor [99] Charles Devens, an officer in service, a Republican by political connection, but of limited political activity, and the Democrats adopted him and the other candidates named by the People's Party.3 The movement had the important aid of the Springfield Republican, whose proprietor was absent for a vacation in Europe, and who lived to regret the part his journal took in the canvass.4 Ultra-conservatism made its last struggle; and conspicuous among its leaders was Professor Joel Parker of Cambridge, whose judicial temper was upset by Sumner's ‘State-suicide’ doctrine, and who combined with his ability as a jurist antipathy to those who found more power in the Constitution to deal with slavery than he could find.5 As soon as the opposition began to show itself there was a rally on the other side. Sumner could always rely upon a reserved force among the people, a force consisting of those with whom the moral sentiments were uppermost,—Liberty Party men of 1844, Conscience Whigs of 1845 to 1847, Free Soilers of 1848 and 1852,—classes abounding in men of intellectual vigor. They comprised the clergy in large numbers, teachers of advanced schools, and most of the editors of the country press. If idealists, they were not idealists only, and they were a match—for practised party men in using effectively the weapons of political warfare. As a body they were governed by no selfish considerations, and they went into a contest with a determined spirit, which meant not only the support of their own candidate, but war upon his assailants. They were to be feared beyond their numbers in any conflict in which they took part, and politicians looking to preferment thought it prudent not to put themselves in their way.

This body of Sumner's supporters, it should be remembered, was made up of men to whom he had never done a favor by help to office or otherwise, and who expected no such favor in the future; but during his career, at the slightest warning of [100] any attempt to assail or weaken his position, they came at once to his rescue. He mainspring of their loyalty is easily found; and it is creditable alike to him and to them. They had been inspired, many of them in youth, by his noble sentiments, his courageous statements of moral truth, his unconquerable will in the warfare with slavery; and when aroused, they made a formidable power, such as no other statesman has been able to command. Jackson, Clay, and Webster drew to themselves hosts of friends by their personal and intellectual qualities; but Sumner stands almost alone as a public man whose great support was the moral enthusiasm of the people.

The Republican State convention met at Worcester, September 9, and Sumner's supporters were ready for the first encounter. They decided to make the issue openly upon him in the convention. This direct appeal to the people in the nomination of a senator was contrary to custom in Massachusetts; but it had a distinguished precedent in another State,—in Illinois, where Lincoln in 1858 was nominated as the Republican candidate against Douglas. Sumner thought it unseemly to mix personally in the contest within the party, and declined an invitation to attend the convention in a letter read by Mr. Claflin to the delegates, which invoked an earnest support of the government, but did not omit to add an appeal for the policy of freedom, which he deemed essential to success.6 The chair was occupied by Alexander H. Bullock, afterwards governor,—a most accomplished person, and though heretofore holding very conservative views, now one of Sumner's firmest friends. His opening address laid stress on the necessity of an antislavery policy, and its growing favor with the people, saying: ‘We have been forced beyond the conditions which define the functions of a State in health, and are groping amid the issues of life and death.’ The leader among the delegates opposed to Sumner's nomination was R. H. Dana, Jr., who during the period of 1860-1865 was having one of his periodic attacks of high conservatism. He was strongly opposed to any declaration of emancipation as the policy of the government, even upon the ground, or as he called it under cover, of military necessity, and also to measures of confiscation whose chief intent was the [101] freedom of the slaves.7 Sumner's relations with him and his family had been intimate for many years; and he was at the time United States district attorney,—an appointment which the senator had taken pleasure in promoting.8 These relations hampered Mr. Dana, and he withheld from the convention the real grounds of his opposition, confining himself to the narrow point of expediency,—that the nominating resolution would not do the senator any good.

When the customary motion for a committee on resolutions was made, Dana, fearing the composition of such a committee, moved as a substitute a brief resolution supporting the government in the prosecution of the war. J. Q. A. Griffin9 promptly moved an amendment, which approved the conduct of the two senators from Massachusetts, and nominated Sumner for re-election as ‘a statesman, a scholar, a patriot, and a man of whom any republic in any age might be proud.’ He maintained his substitute in a trenchant speech, in which he handled roughly Dana and others co-operating with him. Mr. Griffin never took part in any controversy outside of his own State, and he died before the full fruition of his powers;10 but in a rich combination of logic, humor, and sarcasm, no lawyer or politician of Massachusetts at that time equalled him. He had a quick-witted sense of the currents of a popular assembly, and a strong and impressive voice, which he used effectively in saying: ‘Remember, it is our duty not only to sustain the arms of the generals in the field, but likewise to sustain the President in his seat, the Cabinet in its councils, the governor in his chair, and above all the fearless legislator in his duty.’ Other delegates, among them George F. Hoar, followed in the same line; and the resolutions were referred to a committee, of which Griffin was chairman and Dana a member. In committee Dana opposed without success the contested resolution, and another which called for the extermination of slavery as the principal [102] support of the rebellion. When the report was made to the convention, a motion to strike out the resolution nominating Sumner received but few votes, and the series was unanimously adopted. The attempt to discredit Sumner as a Republican was a signal failure. From this day the movement against him, so far as it was kept up, was outside of the party.

The points made against Sumner in the discussions of the newspapers and opposition speakers were, in the first place, that he had sought to make the war an antislavery war, and in that way to prevent a union of all loyal citizens in support of its prosecution; and secondly, that he was not ‘a practical man,’ and was so absorbingly devoted to his views on the slavery question that he could not attend to the business interests of his constituents. Said one speaker:—

We want men in the halls of Congress, in the House of Representatives, and above all and beyond all in the Senate chamber, who will attend to those interests, and not be continually, as they have been, sir, attending to mere wild speculations and recondite theories. Do not the people cry out, “For God's sake, give us somebody who believes there is something to be attended to in the wants of a million and a quarter of white men, women, and children!”

This was said by J. G. Abbott, a Free Soiler of 1848, now full of rancor against his former sentiments and his old associates.11

There was an attempt in the beginning of the canvass to detach support from Sumner on the pretence that he was an obstruction to the Administration, which had adopted a policy the opposite of his,—that of letting slavery alone, and prosecuting the war on the sole issue of the Union; but this argument was effectually silenced by the President's Proclamation of Emancipation, September 22, which followed by a few days the Republican convention12 A report, studiously circulated, that the senator was in personal as well as political antagonism to the President was completely met by a letter from Sumner, which was widely published.13 [103]

Sumner as well as his friends saw the importance of his going to the people himself; and he accepted invitations to address meetings in several principal places, twelve at least, in the State—among them one at Faneuil Hall, Boston,14 at noon day, where he could face an assembly of large commercial interests, and one at Springfield, where Mr. Bowles's newspaper had with all its influence made hardly any impression on Republican voters. In both cities, as well as in the other places where he spoke, he was received with the same old-time cordiality and enthusiasm. One of less courage, perhaps one with more tact, would under the circumstances have shaped his address so as to ward off the familiar criticism that he was too much absorbed in the slavery question to do wisely and effectively the general work of a statesman. But it was not in his nature to avoid a personal issue by indirection of any kind. With that absolute fearlessness which was a part of himself, he took the recent proclamation for his text, and showed at length how the measure was essential as a military necessity, replying at the same time to the various objections urged against it. Looking forward beyond the end of the Civil War, he maintained that there could he no perfect union, no assured peace, no assimilation of the people North and South, without converting slaves into freemen. Among his sententious passages are these:—

Without the aid of the slaves the war cannot be ended successfully. Their alliance is therefore a necessity. . . . The force of the rebellion may be broken even without appeal to the slaves. But I am sure that with the slaves our victory will be more prompt, while without them it can never be effectual completely to crush out the rebellion. It is not enough to beat armies. Rebel communities, envenomed against the Union, must be restored, and a widespread region quieted. This can be done only by removal of the disturbing cause and the consequent assimilation of the people, so that no man shall call another master. . . . A united people cannot be conquered. Defeated on the battle-field, they will remain sullen and revengeful, ready for another rebellion. This is the lesson of history. . . . The Unionists of the South are black. Let these be rallied, and the rebellion will be exposed not only to a fire in front, but also to a fire in the rear. . . . Heavy battalions are something, but they are not everything. Even if prevailing on the battle-field, which is not always the case, the victory they compel is not final; it is impotent to secure that tranquillity essential to national life. Mind is above matter, right is more than force; and it is vain to attempt conquest merely by matter or by force. If this can be done in small affairs, it cannot in large; [104] for these yield only to moral influences. . . . Let the war end on the battlefield alone, and it will be only in appearance that it will end, not in reality. Time will be gained for new efforts, and slavery will coil itself to spring again. The rebellion may seem to be vanquished, and yet it will triumph. The Union may seem to conquer, and yet it will succumb. The republic may seem to be saved, and yet it will be lost,—handed over a prey to that injustice which, so long as it exists, must challenge the judgments of a righteous God.15

In the beginning he spoke, but only briefly, of the criticisms to which he had been recently subjected,—recalling Burke's address to the electors at Bristol as appropriate to similar accusations against himself, to the effect that he had overdone in ‘pushing the principles of general justice and benevolence too far;’ and he challenged scrutiny of his record at all points in disproof of the imputation that he had neglected the business interests of his constituents. Affirming his fidelity to those interests, as well as to the great cause he had served, he stated that during a service of more than eleven years he had never for once visited home while Congress was in session, or been absent for a single day, unless when suffering from the disability which followed the assault in 1856; and during the recent session he had not been out of his seat a single hour.

Among his critics who had imputed to him a neglect of the material interests of his State was Linus Child,16 to be recalled as an opponent of the ‘Conscience Whigs’ of 1846, who had in behalf of the cotton manufacturers visited Washington during the recent session especially to prevent a tax on the production of cotton. Having found in Sumner his most effective support, he wrote him on his return a grateful letter, acknowledging the great obligations of his clients to the two Massachusetts senators for their efficient service in protecting a great New England interest; and he reported to the manufacturers his peculiar indebtedness to Sumner. Shortly after, Mr. Child sought Sumner's influence for an internal revenue appointment, and failing to receive it turned against him, first speaking against him in the Republican convention, and then, changing his party, he took the chair at the People's Party convention. The senator in speeches read his letter as a direct contradiction to his charge of neglect of the business interests of his constituents. [105]

Sumner found eloquent and able support in different directions in the newspapers of his State; in Wendell Phillips, who called him ‘the Stonewall Jackson of the Senate, . . . patient of labor, boundless in resources, terribly in earnest;’ in John G. Whittier, who dwelt upon the many sides of his character and his various attainments, his stainless life, with no use of his high position for his own personal emolument; in Horace Greeley, who in leaders in the ‘Tribune’ set forth the importance to the whole country of his re-election, laying stress on his character for integrity and sincerity, respected alike by enemies and by friends, and who later in an article in the ‘Independent’ reviewed his career at length.17 When the lines had been distinctly drawn, the result was no longer doubtful. Governor Andrew's plurality exceeded twenty-seven thousand. The Legislature in January following re-elected Sumner by a vote of two hundred and twenty-seven to forty-seven for all others,— nearly five to one, most of the minority voting for J. G. Abbott. On the evening of the election the senator was waited upon by delegations, whom he addressed briefly; and a similar greeting, which he declined, was offered him at Washington. The public journals of the country, and numerous congratulatory letters from distant places, recognized the result as an important event.18

Other States were not as steadfast as Massachusetts in 1862. The Administration was outvoted in New York and New Jersey,—States which had chosen Republican electors, and now elected governors19 hostile to it; and it encountered defeat in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Several causes contributed to this disaster,—chiefly the want of success in the field, the incidents of increased taxation, derangement in the currency, and the imminency of a draft. The disaster on the Rappahannock was at hand. Greeley gives the opinion in his History that during the year following July 4, 1862, a majority of the people, outside of the soldiers in the field, would have voted for peace, and a still larger majority against emancipation.20 This is a conjecture; but it indicates the depression [106] which McClellan's and other failures brought on the public mind. Conservative Republicans assigned as a cause of the reaction the radical policy which Congress had adopted on the slavery question at its late session, and it is altogether probable that it repelled a considerable number of voters. Sumner wrote to Mr. Bright, October 28:—

I wish I were at Llandudno, where for a day I could talk on our affairs and enjoy a little repose. The President is in earnest. He has no thought of any backward step; of this be assured. Since I last wrote you I have been in Washington, when I saw him daily, and became acquainted precisely with his position at that time. There is nobody in the Cabinet who is for “backing-down;” it is not talked of or thought of. The President was brought slowly to the proclamation; it was written six weeks before it was put forth, and delayed, waiting for a victory, and the battle of Antietam was so regarded. I protested against the delay, and wished it to be put forth—the sooner the better—without any reference to our military condition In the Cabinet it was at first opposed strenuously by Seward, who from the beginning has failed to see this war in its true character, and whose contrivances and anticipations have been those merely of a politician who did not see the elemental forces engaged. But he countersigned the proclamation, which was written by the President himself, as you may infer from the style. The old Democracy (more than half of which is now in armed rebellion) are rallying against the proclamation. At this moment our chief if not our only danger is from the division which they may create at the North. The recent elections have shown losses for the Administration; but I do not think it possible that we can be without a determined working majority in the House, who will not hearken to any proposition except the absolute submission of the rebels. The hesitation of the Administration to adopt the policy of emancipation led Democrats to feel that the President was against it, and they have generally rallied. I think a more determined policy months ago would have prevented them from showing their hands. The President himself has played the part of the farmer in the fable, who warmed the frozen snake at his fire. But from this time forward our whole policy will be more vigorous; and I should not be astonished to see the whole rebellion crumble like your Sepoy rebellion, which for awhile seemed as menacing to your Indian empire as ours has been to our republic. I believe I have avoided in my letters any very confident prediction. I have never seen our affairs with Mr. Seward's eyes; but I have from the beginning seen that our only chance against the rebellion was by striking slavery; and it seemed to me that these mighty armaments on both sides, and their terrible shock, were intended to insure its destruction. It is time for it to come to an end. I am grateful to you that you have kept your faith in us, and I play you to persevere. I write to you sincerely, as I feel; and I beg you to believe that I would not excite any confidence which I do not believe well founded. Of course, we have before us the whole reconstruction of Southern society. I have seen it so from the beginning; but I have hope that our people will rise to the grandeur of the occasion. The colonization delusion is from Montgomery Blair, postmaster-general, who has made [107] a convert of the President; but thus far I have thought it best to allow it to have a free course, and thus to avoid a difference with the President. Our generals are inefficient, but our troops are excellent. I have loved England, and now deplore her miserable and utterly false position towards my country. God bless you!

To the Duchess of Argyll, November 12:—

You will hear of the elections. In Massachusetts the vote has been all that I could desire. In New York it has been bad,—worse for us than the bloodiest defeat; for it will unquestionably encourage the rebellion and those who sympathize with it at home and abroad. But it is easy to explain the change without supposing any vital change of sentiment. More than three-fourths of the soldiers in the army, most of them voters, are for the Administration. Had they been at home, the result would have been largely different. Then the people were deceived by the cry from the opposition that there must be more vigor in the war. But it now remains for the Administration to put all possible energy into the war, and to break its back before spring. I see the way to this more clearly now than ever. (1) The true policy has been declared; (2) the general who has been our military incubus, McClellan, is at last removed; (3) the country insists upon vigorous, determined action.

I know not what disappointments may be in store, and I think you will bear witness that while I have not doubted the final result, I have never been sanguine with regard to the immediate present. But I am now more hopeful than at any former moment. . . . Of course, it must take long to trample out all this rebellion in its embers as well as its flames; but I shall not be susprised to see it subdued soon.

Various expeditions are on foot which promise us all the seaports, while our large army moves into the enemy's country. Meanwhile we are startled by the news of rebel ships built and equipped in the Mersey and the Clyde on an unprecedented scale.21 I hope that these will not be allowed to aggravate our foreign relations. I am at a loss to understand why good people in England should gravitate so strongly to sympathy with a miserable slave-government, which if it should be established would be a most offensive slave-trading oligarchy, which a true Englishman, such as I have known and admired, would scorn. You hear something of the feeling here on this point. Men who have always stood by England as son by father are now embittered. I hear their complaints in silence, or answer only by a soft word; but I have my sorrows when I observe the manifestation of opinion in England. A great mistake has been made; pray do not let it go further! How will it look in history, that in the great strife where slavery was in issue England was on the wrong side? Pardon my frankness. Next to my own country right, I long to see England right, honestly, sincerely. But I wish I could talk of these things; there is much that I cannot write. God bless you! Remember me most kindly to your mother the duchess. Pray let us keep the peace in all things as completely as possible.


In a letter to Mr. Bright, of the same date, similar in substance to the one written to the duchess, he said:—

Opinion with you seems to be growing worse and worse,—more utterly prejudiced and senseless. The English heart seems given to the brutal slave-masters. Our trials have been great; but I confidently point to our efforts, which amidst all failures show transcendent resources. It is to our credit that we had so long and carefully been absorbed in the arts of peace that we wanted generals to command. How was it with England in the Crimea?

To the Duchess of Argyll, November 17:—

I hope that the English position will be so firmly fixed that it cannot be swayed to the support of slavery, and that the old English sentiment will be quickened to that honorable life which is such a pride to all who truly love England. I do not desire England to step from her neutrality; but I believe that her generous historian hereafter will regret bitterly, if this terrible war to prevent the establishment of a vulgar slave empire and the re-opening of the slave-trade shall be closed without her sympathies being recorded in harmony with her best and most glorious past. Of course, in putting down this rebellion we are putting down a government whose life is slavery; and now, thank God, we shall put it down by freedom

All that I hear now is more cheering. Mr. Chase, who has for a long time taken gloomy views, writes me full of confidence and hope; and there is a general feeling that the war is to be pushed with irresistible vigor. Do not suppose me unconscious of the enormous difficulties which under the most favorable circumstances we must encounter. The whole social system of the South must be reorganized. No wisdom and no courage can be too great for this enterprise. I do not consent yet to renounce the good — will of England. Surely the friend of Garibaldi, the critic of Neapolitan tyranny, and the patron of Italian unity may find an occasion for these sentiments on this side of the Atlantic. With me nothing is clearer than this: as no man stands in the way of another, so no nation stands in the way of another. Therefore I share no jealousy of any other power. Let all thrive and prosper. England will be greater if our Union is preserved than if it is destroyed. But it will not be destroyed.

The late elections will doubtless encourage the rebellion; but they have also encouraged the Administration. The President accepts their lesson, and is determined to press forward. . . . But these delays and disasters were needed in order to compel emancipation. How many dreary conversations I have had with the President on this theme, beginning sixteen months ago! But McClellan's failure did more for the good cause than any argument or persuasion. God bless you!

Sumner attended in the autumn of 1862 the annual dinner of the Hampshire County Agricultural Society at Northampton, where he was called up by Erastus Hopkins, an accomplished orator and steadfast friend of the senator. Their acquaintance [109] went back to the time when they were fellow-pupils at the Boston Latin School. Sumner recalled, as he began, his pedestrian excursion, as a Harvard student, to the Connecticut valley, whose beauties he then saw for the first time.22 He paid a tribute to the farming industry, and enforced the duties of patriotism, paramount among which he put the support of the war and the policy recently announced by the President.23 He was not in the habit, like most public men, of attending such meetings; and the only other similar occasion when he was present was at Dedham, where however he did not speak.

1 Antislavery senators were charged with interfering with McClellan's plans, and Wilson in an open letter denied the charge for himself and his colleague.

2 The articles in the New York Herald in July, 1862, are an expression of a general feeling among people of lukewarm loyalty against not only Sumner but other public men of antislavery position.

3 The People's Party, at a mass convention in Springfield. October 24, presented as candidate for senator C. F. Adams; but at his instance his name was withdrawn by his son. (Boston Advertiser, October 28.) The hostile movement outside of the party was thought to have helped Sumner within it. Boston Advertiser, October 14, November 5.

4 ‘Life and Times of Samuel Bowles,’ vol. i. pp. 357-359. Dr. Holland, who was antipathetic to Sumner, was at this time the managing editor. The ‘Republican,’ in 1862, opposed an emancipation policy.

5 A coadjutor and townsman of Judge Parker, John C. Dodge, who was an eminent lawyer, confessed, after reading the first two volumes of this Memoir, in a letter to the author, that he had misjudged Sumner for many years, and now saw his character in a better light.

6 Works, vol. VII. pp. 187-190. T. D. Eliot, a Massachusetts member of Congress, at a public meeting on the evening preceding the convention, answered at length the charge that Sumner was not a practical legislator, citing his services in various matters.

7 Letters of Mr. Dana to Sumner in manuscript, June 4 and Sept. 13, 1862; Adams's ‘Biography’ of Dana, vol. II. pp. 259, 263.

8 Adams's ‘Biography’ of Dana, vol. II. pp. 257. Dana expressed surprise that Sumner was for some time less cordial than before; but he could hardly have expected a different result from his leadership in a movement of such a personal character against the senator. (Ibid., p.265.) Indeed, Dana, if the positions had been reversed, would have been less tolerant than Sumner. The coldness, however, was but temporary. Sumner afterwards had no sincerer friend and admirer than Dana. Ibid., vol. II. pp. 339. 340, 361, 363.

9 F. W. Bird, William Claflin, and other supporters of Sumner had selected Griffin in a conference as their leader in the convention.

10 He died in 1866 at the age of forty.

11 W. S. Robinson (‘Warrington’), in his ‘Pen Portraits,’ pp. 521, 522, says: ‘I should like to have him [the reader] look back and read the speeches of Joel Parker and Leverett Saltonstall, who tried by that movement to make the war a war for the “flag” only, and not for freedom and regeneration. Charles Sumner was the great central figure of that contest, and from that time forward to the end of reconstruction he was the great civic hero of the crisis.’

12 It had already been submitted to the Cabinet before the convention met, but the fact was not known to the public.

13 Works, vol. VII. pp. 116-118: New York Tribune, June 16. This letter was brought before the public by the senator's friend, Mr. Alley.

14 Works, vol. VII. pp. 196-246. He spoke again briefly, October 31, in Faneuil Hall, with Richard Busteed.

15 The speech delighted Dr Thomas Guthrie of Edinburgh, who made it a topic of public prayer in a church service. Letter of the Duchess of Argyll to Sumner, Dec. 3, 1862.

16 Ante, vol. III. p. 120.

17 Works, vol. VII. pp. 237, 238, 243, 244.

18 New York Tribune, Nov. 8, 1862; Jan. 16, 1863. The last notice reviewed his 4 career, and contrasted the circumstances of his first entrance into the Senate in 1851 and his present position.

19 Horatio Seymour and Joel Parker.

20 Vol. II. p. 254.

21 Sumner's first reference to these ships.

22 Memoir, vol. i. pp. 61, 62.

23 October 14. Works, vol VII. pp. 248-254.

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