No public man ever had a more faithful and conscientious biographer than Charles Sumner found in Mr. Edward L. Pierce. The presentation of Sumner's public and private life in the four volumes before us is so complete that even those of Sumner's surviving contemporaries who belonged to the circle of his personal friends will find in it much that is new to them, or that, at least, sheds new light upon facts and circumstances with which they were acquainted. Mr. Pierce must have been aware that the scrupulous minuteness with which he described Sumner's doings almost from day to day, and the enumeration of occurrences and circumstances which he could hardly expect to be of great interest to the ordinary reader, would be apt to mar the artistic symmetry of his work and to detract from its literary merit. But he was evidently governed by an overpowering sense of his duty to make his picture elaborate in every particular point that might contribute to the truthfulness of the whole, and thus he may have consciously sacrificed some of the charms which a more rapid narration would have given to his book. It is however, probable that even many of those among his readers to whom Sumner was only a distinguished historic figure, like other important men of the past, will, long before they lay down this biography, have conceived too warm an interest in the subject to blame the author for having led them through such a mass of detail. That he succeeded in turning this mass throughout into good reading, proved an uncommon order of literary ability. Not a few passages, among which the opening chapter of the third volume on Boston society especially excels by its vigor and vividness of description, are models of their kind.
That Mr. Pierce who, as a young man saw in Sumner his moral guide in politics and in later years became one of his intimate friends, should be found in warm sympathy with his subject, was to be expected. But the biographer, while outspoken in his high estimation of Sumner's character and services, and while stoutly defending him against his assailants, does not fail to discriminate; nor does he ask us to take his judgment upon trust, for, by giving us the facts and arguments on both sides in full, he enables us to judge for ourselves.
On the whole, these volumes showing us an important figure on the background of a time teeming with events of the greatest moment, are a most valuable contribution to that part of American history in which the fame of Abraham Lincoln has as much overshadowed all other political leaders of the period that they are in danger of not receiving the full measure of consideration due to them. And among those leaders there was none who, while cooperating with Abraham Lincoln for a common end, at the same time presented a more striking contrast to him in point of breeding and education, of habits and views of life, by ways of thinking and methods of dealing with men and things, than Charles Sumner.
He was the very opposite of the log-cabin-born statesman who had to pick up his learning by the wayside and to work his way to public usefulness and distinction through a precarious struggle for the necessities of life. His cradle stood in Boston, then the centre of American culture. Born in 1811, he grew up under the influence of a refined family life and of worldly circumstances, not, indeed, affluent, but sufficient to enable the father, who was a college-bred man, to secure to his son the best education the country afforded. Having passed through the Latin School, Charles entered Harvard University and graduated in 1830. He had not been remarkable as a boy — slender and awkward, good natured, well behaved, not given to boyish pranks, capable of laughing heartily at others' jests, but not of making any himself, studious in the highest degree and an insatiable devourer of books; of a character amiably candid, simple, frank, enthusiastic, ingenuous, devoid of wit or sense of humor; as Park Benjamin said, “if one told Charles Sumner that the moon was made of green cheese, he would controvert the fact in all sincerity, and give good reason why it could not be so.” After a year devoted to general studies, mostly historical, he entered the Harvard Law School in 1831, conceived an enthusiasm for legal studies and won the warm friendship of the principal professor, Judge Story, a friendship which became to him a constant inspiration and encouragement. His fondest dream was to become a great jurist like those he had read of in history; and this ambition was stimulated by a visit to Washington, where, introduced by Judge Story, he made the acquaintance of the great luminaries of the law from Chief Justice Marshall down, and where he heard the great orators speak, — Webster, and Clay, and Calhoun; and where he conceived an intense dislike for the turmoils of politics, thinking that he would never see Washington again.
But when in 1834 he had been admitted to the bar, it soon became evident that he was not made for a practicing attorney. While his almost religious devotion to his studies and an excellent memory made him a storehouse of legal knowlege, he was observed not to possess what is commonly called a “legal mind.” From the case in hand he was always apt to wander off into speculative discussions. His arguments, when he made any, were more remarkable for historical research and “deep reading” than a skilful and alert handling of legal points. He, therefore, naturally drifted off into the literary department of jurisprudence. When a student at the Harvard Law School, he had been its librarian and composed a valuable catalogue with learned notes. He soon began to write articles for the American Jurist, then edited, as court reporter, three volumes of Judge Story's decisions, and reviewed and completed Dunlap's Admiralty Practice. He became essentially a literary jurist, and it was this literary trend in his nature that remained in him also in his political career a stronger element than the practical faculty of dealing with the actualities of life. Judge Story spoke of him as “a young lawyer, giving promise of the most eminent distinction in his profession, with truly extraordinary attainments, literary and judicial,“ and he thought he would “die content, as far as his professorship was concerned, if Charles Sumner were to succeed him.” But Charles Sumner at the desk of his attorney's office was evidently out of place. He felt it himself sometimes despairingly, and yearned for an escape, even if it be a temporary one.
It came in December, 1837, in the shape of a journey to Europe. To visit the old world had been with him a “vision of boyhood,” inspired by his historical reading, “filling his mind and imagination.” “I shall aim,” he said to a friend, “to see society in all its forms which are acceptable to me; to see men of all characters; to observe institutions and laws; to go to circuits and attend terms and parliaments; and then come home and be happy. My standard of knowledge and character must be elevated and my own ambition have higher objects.” His anticipations were fully satisfied. Armed with ample introductions he visited France, Italy, Austria, Germany, and England. His journals and letters to his friends describe his experiences with charming simplicity and joyous vividness. In Paris he reveled in science, art, literature and social enjoyments, met Toqueville, Victor Cousin, Michel Chevalier, the Duc de Broglie, Ortolan, Sismondi and other men of distinction; attended courts of justice, the proceedings of which he found amusingly strange. In Italy he plunged headlong into the study of language, literature and art treasures. In Austria he was received by Prince Metternich. In Berlin he enjoyed the conversation of the great Humboldt, of Savigny the jurist, and of the historians Ranke and Raumer. In Heidelberg he was the guest of Wittermaier and Thibaut, the most famous law professors at the university.
But it was in England that he found the culmination of his delights. He had hardly set foot on English soil and presented a few introductions when he was welcomed by persons of high distinction in law, politics, literature and society with a kindness which almost bewildered him. First the members of the legal profession claimed him as their own. Every avenue of information concerning English practice was opened to him with the most complaisant readiness. He sat by invitation with the judges on the bench at Westminster, at the old Bailey, and on the circuits. Soon he had familiar intercourse with almost every judge or barrister of renown in the Kingdom. During the London season he became a veritable lion in society. His daily recurring embarrassment was to choose between conflicting invitations to breakfasts, luncheons, dinners and soirées. When the season was over great houses of the nobility and the more modest abodes of men of letters competed for his company. His hosts vied with one another in opening to him the way to whatever was thought would interest him. Thus he saw England in her glory. He witnessed the coronation of Queen Victoria in Westminster Abbey, and heard her read her first speech from the throne. Whenever he wished to attend the debates in the House of Lords or the Commons, he had his place regularly assigned to him. Bishops called him up to speak at public dinners. He was asked to respond to a toast at a Lord Mayor's banquet. He lodged under Lord Brougham's roof, heard him mingle Greek epigrams with profanity across the dinner table, and talked familiarly with him about law and literature. He sat under the cataract of Macaulay's conversation, discussed the British historians with Hallam, enjoyed with Wordsworth the charm of the lakes and hills at Rydal Mount, listened to Carlyle's growls at the Chelsea fireside and to Bulwer's effeminate lisp at tea parties, exchanged Latin quotations with gray-headed peers, and was favored with the friendship of the Duchess of Sutherland as well as the smiles of Lady Blessington. He had not been in England many months when it was remarked that there were but few Englishmen who had so large an acquaintance among the distinguished persons of the country as Mr. Sumner. He enjoyed it immensely. The letters he sent home overflowed with interesting information, anecdote, and happiness. As he wrote once, he could “hardly believe his eyes and ears at times.”
Nor was the pleasant surprise all on one side. The extraordinary favor he met with rose to the proportions of a social event and became a subject of public notice. That a young man of less than thirty, a stranger, without any prestige of social position or public fame, the son of a mere sheriff of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, a young briefless attorney, should so suddenly have become a favorite guest in the most cultivated circles of so exclusive a society as that of England, was indeed a remarkable occurrence. Neither did he possess an uncommonly brilliant power of conversation that might have caused a sensation, although he no doubt had much to say worth listening to. The majority of his social success was probably best solved by a writer in the Quarterly Review who, a few months after Sumner's return to America, spoke of him as presenting “in his own person a decisive proof that an American gentleman, without official rank or widespread reputation, by mere dint of courtesy, candor, an entire absence of pretension, an appreciating spirit, and a cultivated mind, may be received on a perfect footing of equality in the best English circles, social, political, and intellectual.” And as a woman's judgment upon such things is especially valuable, Lady Wharncliffe may be quoted. She wrote: “I never knew an American who had the degree of social success he had; owing, I think, to real elevation and truth of his character, his genuine nobleness of thought and aspiration, his kindliness of heart, his absence of dogmatism and oratorical display, his general amiability, his cultivation of mind, and his appreciation of England without saying anything approaching flattery of ourselves or depreciation of his own country.”
He returned to America in the spring of 1840. His life so far had been very much like that of a high-born young Englishman. After having enjoyed the best of education at home, he had gone on his travels to see the world, and, like one belonging to the top rank of human society, he had moved familiarly among the great, the powerful, and the renowned men and women of his time. The fascination of this intercourse had indeed not weakened his republican principles, nor made him less an American. The social inequalities in England which he observed with painful interest amid the splendors surrounding him, had even intensified his democratic instincts, and he debated within himself various plans for reforming England politically and socially. His views of life had become enlarged, his ideals elevated, his imagination and ambition inspired by great living examples, and he came home a fullgrown idealist. How to settle down again to the drudgery of his little law office in Boston, in order to build up a practice for a living, was an irksome task. It happened frequently that he entertained his clients, of whom there were very few, about the great men he had seen abroad, when they were impatient to talk about their cases; and he soon found the financial part of the business to be entirely beyond his comprehension. He confessed himself that the year following was “the least productive of his life.”
The sensation of dreariness in his daily work was somewhat relieved not only by his renewed personal intercourse with his old friends, Longfellow, Hillard and Felton, all men of letters, but also by the warm reception accorded to him by the otherwise exclusive “best society” of Boston which found him very acceptable since he had been a favorite in the best society of England. There was indeed nothing in this country approaching the best of English society as nearly as the patrician circles which at that period were called “society” in Boston. They consisted of people of culture and, in most cases, of wealth among whom pedigree and family connection counted for something, and who also respected public distinction if won in a manner not in conflict with the principles and opinions prevalent among them. The merchants and manufacturers belonging to them were highly honorable in their dealings, and publicspirited citizens. They lived generously without ostentatious display. Their dinners were excellent and their madeira of impressive age and quality. They were far more virtuous than any old-world aristocracy, and their children grew up under the influence of a refined and highly self-respecting family life. There was something of the academic atmosphere of Harvard University pervading the region of Beacon Street where they lived. Their social intercourse was fastidiously confined to their own sets and to such distinguished strangers as might visit Boston. Of these Englishmen and Southern planters were the most welcome. From their neighbors they expected the consideration and deference due to a superior class. They were by no means democrats — nay, living in a democratic country they were constantly on the defensive against the intrusion of democratic ideas, habits, and forces. With every advance of democracy they became more and more hopeless of the future of the American Republic, and loved to pour their griefs into the bosoms of English Tories. They looked upon social or political reformers threatening to disturb the existing order of things as visionaries, fanatics, and demagogues — persons that were not only dangerous but vulgar. In religion they were Episcopalians or Unitarians, in politics old-line Whigs, the protective tariff being to them the principal aim of government, the slaveholding South the most important customer, and Daniel Webster the most usefully serving political demigod. Principles and opinions adverse to theirs they met with a vigorous intolerance savoring of their Puritan ancestry, and, as a provincial aristocracy is apt to do, they punished them with social excommunication. The drawing room of Mr. George Ticknor, a late Harvard professor and author of a book on Spanish literature, was the meeting place of the elite, and the highest court from which social judgment went forth.
While Sumner did not sympathize with the narrowness of mind prevailing in these circles, he was much attracted by their culture and good breeding, and highly valued their friendship. His law practice languished, and he drifted again into legal literature. Sometimes he gave way to a propensity which also in the greater endeavors of his later life occasionally became strongly marked — to indulge himself in a display of what may be called his mental bric-a-brac. As a friend wrote of him: “Nothing delighted him more than to write upon curious matters, throwing a flood of learning upon difficult points.” So he once composed a leading article on the law magazines published in the United States, and, finding that there were seven, he had more than a dozen pages upon the term “seven” — the “important and mysterious figure, playing distinguished parts in the world's history” — and to show this he quoted lavishly from literature ancient as well as modern, much to the astonishment of the readers of the Law Reporter.
His principal work, however, was given to far more serious subjects. He took no active part and, in fact, no lively interest in politics. But now and then he discussed public questions as a publicist. Whenever slavery appeared as a topic, his moral instinct put him on the anti-slavery side. The first newspaper to which he subscribed was William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator. It was the moral interest he took in slavery that gradually awakened in him an interest in the politics of the day. In 1848 he published some papers on the right of search in connection with the slave trade, and on the famous Creole case, in which upon anti-slavery grounds he dared to differ from Daniel Webster, then so high an authority in Boston society that to assail it was almost regarded as sacrilege. He then urged as his main point a principle to which he steadfastly adhered in all his later discussions of the general subject — that slavery was merely a local institution which nowhere could exist unless sanctioned by local law.
But at this period a feeling of profound despondency seized him. Seeing that some of his friends had at his age already achieved much success and distinction while he was still an almost briefless barrister and a writer of by no means uncommon reputation, and being full of high ideals which he had not been able to realize or even to approach, he began to regard his past life as a failure and his future as barren of promise. His friends became alarmed at his morbid dejection, regarding it as the premonitory symptom of a grave illness. This illness came indeed when, having undertaken to edit Vesey's Reports in twenty volumes, Sumner taxed his working power to the utmost. A slow fever, rising now and then to intense paroxysms, utterly prostrated him. He was willing to die; gradually rallying he wondered why he was left to live; he would not be thankful for recovery as a deliverance, and he wrote to a friend: “For me there is no future of usefulness or of happiness.” But the future which made him the champion of a great cause was then near at hand.
In 1845 the city government of Boston chose Sumner to deliver the customary oration on the Fourth of July. Although not yet known as a public speaker, he was regarded by many of his fellow townsmen as a man of much learning and uncommon accomplishments from whom an interesting address might be expected. He did not disappoint them. Many of his predecessors had devoted their efforts largely to a glorification of the warlike valor displayed by the revolutionary fathers. Sumner took for his theme the glorification of peace and its arts as “the true grandeur of nations.” For many years he had thought much upon the subject and conceived a genuine moral abhorrence of war with its wanton waste and inhuman barbarities. This was the first opportunity he had for giving public utterance to what was with him a moral instinct, a matter of faith; and it appeared at once how such a faith could dominate his whole being. His first delivery foreshadowed in every important feature the public life which followed.
The impression made by his personal appearance on that Fourth of July is still remembered. He was then in the full magnificence of his young manhood — six feet and two or three inches in height, broad-chested and erect, his strong-featured face and massive brow topped with a luxuriance of dark locks, his voice deep and resonant, not without gentle tones, but capable of a lion-like roar. His oration had all the characteristics of those of greater fame which were to follow him. It was fashioned upon classic models; the lofty stateliness of its sentences sometimes bordering upon the pompous; its ornate imagery, its lavish affluence of illustration drawn from history and from literature, ancient and modern, carrying a slight flavor of pedantry, which was to grow stronger with age. But behind this there was the glowing force of an overpowering conviction, admitting of neither statement nor compromise, and pressing forward with the unconsciously defiant courage, the naïve audacity, of a heart and mind perfectly honest and ingenuous. Here spoke a Puritan idealist.
His thesis was that “in our age, there can be no peace that is not honorable; there can be no war that is not dishonorable.” And this extreme doctrine, utterly incapable, as it would seem, of strict practical observance “in our age”, he elaborated and maintained, terribly in earnest as he was, in the directest, most unsparing language, without allowing any exception from it, without in the slightest degree extenuating its peremptoriness, regardless of traditional hero-worship or pride in ancestral achievement, regardless of the generally accepted opinions of the world, regardless of even what might have been considered the proprieties of the occasion. For pains had been taken to make this celebration of Independence Day especially magnificent by military pageant. Not only had the militia companies of the city given splendor to the parade, but the finest of them formed part of the audience the front rows of which were occupied by the superior officers of the state militia, the officers of the United States forces stationed in the forts near Boston and the naval station at Charlestown, as well as the officers of the United States line-of-battle ship Ohio anchored in Boston harbor — all in the full glory of their glittering uniforms. There they sat, while the orator of the day thundered at them on the wicked barbarism of their profession, indulging even in contemptuous flings at the gay trappings of which the militia soldier is so proud, and showing in dollars and cents that the sums thrown away upon the construction and maintenance of so mischievously useless a thing as the war ship Ohio would be more than sufficient to build up and support another such institution of learning as Harvard University.
The reception Sumner's speech met with was
different in different quarters. The sons of Mars who sat
among the hearers
, were restrained from an instantaneous
outbreak of outraged dignity only by the moderate counsels
of the older officers hastily whispered about. But their
indignation found vent at the public dinner following the
oration, in emphatic protests and ironical jeers which
Sumner, utterly unconscious of having meant anything
offensive to anybody, good-naturedly endured. The “best
society” of Boston, too, pricked up its ears. It began
instinctively to suspect that this young man who, through
his culture, his refined manners and his amiability, not
to speak of his social success in England, had become one
of its pets, was after all not of it. It shrunk from the
extraordinary in him. He was still received, but with
reserve and misgiving. And it is by no means improbable
that when some time afterwards Judge Story died and his professorship
in the Law School became vacant, Sumner was not
seriously thought of for the succession because the daring
radicalism betrayed by his Fourth of July address had
shocked the conservative spirit of the Harvard corporation,
in which the best society was of potent influence.
But outside of this circle the oration attracted wide notice. Some critics rejected it as the effusion of a visionary mind. Many of his friends even found its doctrines altogether too extreme and sweeping. Others, especially the most radical of the anti-slavery men and many of the clergy, lauded it to the skies as a new gospel. All admired its literary merit and its bold sincerity. It gave him far beyond the boundaries of his city and state a reputation as a man of thought and an orator of uncommon power. He also felt the charm of new faculties in himself, and the gloomy despondency which had long hung over him vanished with this inspiring experience. On that Fourth of July he had begun, in a manner strikingly characteristic of his mental and moral being, his career as a public character.
The people demanded to hear him again. Urgent calls for lectures came pouring down upon him from Lyceum societies in New England which at that period were not mere purveyors of amusement but a distinct and important agency of popular education; and the literary societies of colleges, Harvard among them, summoned him to deliver academic addresses. He took such occasions very seriously, as was his nature, always putting forth the best of his powers; and while he discussed a variety of subjects, he never failed to give to his discourses an ideal bearing upon the causes he had most warmly at heart — peace and anti-slavery — and also upon the leading topics of the time, such as the Mexican war and the problems rising from it. His reputation as an orator spread rapidly, even beyond the boundaries of New England; and wherever he was heard or read he soon acquired that peculiar fascination over the young and ardent which in his subsequent career became so important an element of his popular strength. This fascination did not spring from any exceptional originality or ripeness of thought, nor from any uncommon depth or subtlety of argument, nor from any superlative beauty of diction in what he said, but from the lofty nobility of his sentiments, the single-minded honesty of his beliefs, and the transparent genuineness of his enthusiasms. And as his reasoning and his appeals flowed from this source, so they always went straight to the most generous instincts and the noblest aspirations of human nature. There was absolutely nothing of the cynic in his composition. It was all pervaded and animated by an almost childlike earnestness. His very errors of judgment are those of the devotee at the shrine of the perfect, of the believer in the practicability of the ideal, and even his fondness for displays of learning, which sometimes appeared affected and ostentatious, served only to ransack all history and literature for examples and lessons in aid of noble endeavors.
Such a personality could, indeed, hardly fail to impress and attract the intelligent and patriotic youth of the Northern States at a time when the existing political parties were constantly exhibiting a dreary inability to deal with the most momentous problem of the period, and when a great struggle was felt to be coming in which the moral and emotional forces of human nature were to play a decisive part. Nor is it surprising that under such condition Sumner should, in spite of his former reluctance, have been drawn into active politics. He was nominally a Whig — not as if he had ever taken any interest in the “old Whig policies”, protection, internal improvements, a United States bank — on which Henry Clay had spoken so beautifully — but he rather belonged to the Whig party by personal association; and now he wished to see it, at least the northern wing of it, become a political vehicle of the anti-slavery cause. This wish was fated to meet with stinging disappointments.
For the first time since the enactment of the Missouri Compromise a quarter of a century before, the slavery question became again the cause of general disturbance in American politics by the annexation of Texas which aimed at an increase of the number of slave states and a corresponding augmentation of their political power. There can hardly be any doubt that in the North almost everybody was at heart opposed to slavery. This sentiment sprang from a moral instinct which, as it more or less predominated in different persons, determined their attitude with regard to the slavery question. Those in whom it was sovereign became abolitionists pure and simple, striving for the abolishment of slavery without regard to consequences. But with a majority of the northern people this moral instinct fell under the influence of other considerations, commercial or political. There were those who would have greatly rejoiced at the quiet disappearance of slavery over night, but who, as persons interested in mercantile or manufacturing pursuits, saw in the South their best customer, and who feared a struggle against slavery as a great danger to their material prosperity. There were others who shrank from slavery as a great moral wrong and an economic evil, but who, whenever the slavery question assumed the shape of a critical contest, shrunk from that too because it threatened to disrupt existing parties, to upset political arrangements involving the fortunes of traders as well as followers, or even to tear the Union to pieces. The natural effect of this conflict between moral impulse and commercial or political considerations was that whenever the slavery-interest advanced a step towards the enlargement of its power, the anti-slavery sentiment of the North burst forth, irrespective of party, in displays of wrathful indignation bidding fair to overwhelm all resistance, but that when the slave power put on a menacing front, northern people began to count the cost, and the decisive crisis was warded off by measures of compromise through which commercial and political interests saved themselves at the expense of ideal morality.
This was the policy of expedients which, as conducted by some of our greatest statesmen of that period, was certainly not devoid of patriotic motive and served to adjourn the decisive conflict until, excited by the attempt of the slavery-interest to invade all the territories of the Republic, the moral impulse of the North became determined enough to overrule all other considerations, and the North became also strong enough in men and means to go into the final struggle with an assurance of victory. At the time of the annexation of Texas the policy of expedients was still the order of the day. This measure stirred to high commotion the anti-slavery sentiment in both political parties, more, however, among the Whigs than among the Democrats who had then already in a great measure fallen under the mastery of the Southern wing of the organization. Especially in New England the waves ran high. Webster himself drew up a flaming address denouncing the “iniquitous project”, and the conservative Whigs vied with old anti-slavery men in indignant protests. But when the annexation of Texas and its admission as a slave state had been actually accomplished, the Southern Whigs gave the signal of graceful submission and their conservative brethren in the North soon followed their example, discountenancing further discussion of the subject as useless and mischievous agitation.
But a strong force of “young Whigs” headed by Charles Francis Adams, refused to cease agitation against slavery, and when, in consequence of the annexation of Texas and with an ulterior view to a further increase of the number of slave states, war was made upon Mexico — one of the most unjust wars ever waged — these young Whigs, or “conscience Whigs” as they were derisively called, denounced the supporters of it, especially those of the Whig party, with unsparing vigor and severity. Only two Massachusetts Whigs in Congress voted for the war bill, and against one of them, Mr. Robert C. Winthrop, the very head of Massachusetts patricians, the most distinguished public man in the State next to Webster, Sumner directed his shafts. He went to the attack reluctantly at first, for his personal relations to Winthrop were most friendly, but then with the intensest asperity and that peculiar extravagance of rhetorical language, the offensive force of which, when it came from himself, he never was able to appreciate, he said, in a public letter: “Blood! Blood is on the hands of the representative from Boston. Not all great Neptune's ocean can wash them clean.”
Attacks like this could not fail to widen the breach between the “conscience Whigs” on one side and the “commercial” or “cotton Whigs”, as they were called, on the other, and to add to their controversies the poison of personal rancor. To Sumner they had a painful consequence. His profession of anti-slavery principles had seriously shaken his position in the best social circles, and in so harshly assailing Winthrop he had committed the unpardonable sin. George Ticknor solemnly declared him to be “outside of the pale of society”, and most of the houses, in which he had enjoyed the delights of refined intercourse, were absolutely closed against him. He felt this keenly, for if any blandishment could have seduced him from the path of his public duty, it would have been the fascination of the intercourse with men and women of culture. But he deliberately made the sacrifice and did not swerve. He refused to support Winthrop as a candidate for reelection to Congress and the Whig press turned savagely upon him as a renegade. This, too, was to him a new and most tormenting experience, but he resolutely went on. His activity in the contest became constantly more conspicuous. He drew reports and resolutions; he appeared in every convention as the spokesman of his wing of the party; he delivered fiery speeches against slavery and the Mexican war, demanding the stoppage of supplies for it, and its immediate cessation; he openly declared himself against the support of any candidate for the Presidency who as not known to be against the extension of slavery “even though he have freshly received the sacramental unction of a regular nomination”; and thus he not only made himself offensive to the old Whig party but increased the ill will of the “best society” of Boston to such a degree that old and valued friendships were turned into open enmity, and he was not only excluded from the leading families but fiercely repudiated and denounced by them, — when at last the crisis arrived that landed him on the stage from which his voice commanded the attention of the whole country.
In 1848, the Mexican war having come to a close,
Mexico ceded by treaty to the United States Upper California
and New Mexico — territory stretching from Texas to
the Pacific. This was the soil for the planting of new
slave states which the slave power had coveted. But when
the slave power stretched out its hand to seize that
territory for its purposes, the spirit of the nineteenth
century interposed. This interposition was indeed not effected
by Congress, where the famous “Wilmot proviso”, an
amendment to an appropriation bill excluding slavery from
the territories to be acquired, although repeatedly
by the House, had always failed in the Senate. But
the discoveries of gold in California attracted adventurous
spirits from all parts of the country. Bent upon the
rapid acquisition of wealth, they, even the Southern men
men, saw no advantage in slavery.
sentiment among the inhabitants of New Mexico, too, was
against it. It began to dawn upon the slave power that
the spoil of the Mexican war was eluding its grasp. But
it did not give up hope.
Meanwhile the presidential election of 1848 came on. The Democrats nominated Lewis Cass, a “Northern man with Southern principles”; the Whigs took General Zachary Taylor, a Southern man without political ideas, whose record was purely military; and who by Southern Whigs was praised as a more trustworthy pro-slavery man than General Cass, while Norther Whigs labored to represent him as a Southern man with Northern principles. In both camps anti-slavery revolts broke out which in 1848 culminated in the famous free-soil convention at Buffalo and the nomination of Martin Van Buren as the free-soil candidate for the Presidency. Sumner took an active part in the campaign, made many enthusiastic speeches, won high praise as a popular orator and a popularity among the good country people, the clergy and the young men of his state, which became of far greater advantage to him in his public career than the continued favor of Boston society could have been. His position in the free-soil movement was made still more conspicuous by his consenting, although he “disliked to see his name connected with any office, even as a candidate,” to lead a forlorn hope as a candidate for Congress in his strong Whig district, thus drawing the hottest fury of the Whig press upon himself and voluntarily accepting what humiliation there may have been in inevitable defeat.
The presidential campaign resulted in the election of General Taylor, and the Free-Soil party turned out to be but a small body of men, strong enough only in a few states to affect the political situation. But they achieved successes out of proportion to their number. Holding with two votes the balance of power in the Legislature of Ohio they brought about the election of Salmon P. Chase to the Senate of the United States, just as, even before the appearance of the Free-Soil party in the presidential canvass, they had contrived the election of John P. Hale as a Senator in New Hampshire. In Massachusetts they were on the eve of a similar triumph.
The slave power, which had hoped to recruit its strength from the conquests of the Mexican war, met with a terrible disappointment. As a first fruit, California, having hardly become part of this Republic, applied for admission as a free state. The state constitution framed by a hastily called convention formally prohibited slavery. The slaveholders were almost frenzied by the frustration of their hopes. Many of them loudly threatened disunion if California were admitted as a free state and slavery excluded from the new territories. The disunion cry frightened Congress into a compromise. Henry Clay, a passionate lover of the Union, an anti-slavery man at heart, but, as a slaveholder, somewhat unappreciative of the moral sensitiveness of Northern people concerning slavery, led the movement of conciliation. The compromise measures embodying the admission of California as a free state, the organization of territorial governments in the other territories taken from Mexico without any prohibition of slavery, and a more stringent slave law, were such as could not do the slaveholding interest any good, but would prove a constant source of sentimental irritation to the North. Especially the new fugitive slave law making it the duty of Northerners to catch, or to aid in catching, runaway slaves that had escaped into the Northern states, was offensive to Northern sentiment. On the 7th of March, 1850, Webster spoke for the compromise. By the anti-slavery people of Massachusetts, where Webster had been expected to take in the Senate the leadership of the opponents of the extension of slavery, the 7th of March speech was received as the fall of an archangel. They cried out with wrathful indignation at what they called Webster's apostasy; even the “cotton Whigs” could but slowly gather themselves up to drop into line behind their revered leader. Throughout the country the compromise of 1850 served actually to allay the excitement concerning the slavery question. The prosperous activity of business enterprise stimulated by the streams of gold flowing from California, turned men's minds to material gain and blunted the edge of their moral sensibilities. With a self-delusion which appears inexplicable, in the light of history, the compromise was widely accepted as a final settlement of the slavery question. Many of those who had supported the Free-Soil candidate for the presidency in 1848, especially in New York, dropped back into the ranks of the old parties. In Massachusetts, however, more than anywhere else, the Free-Soilers kept up their organization and their work, hardly anticipating the remarkable success they were soon to achieve.
In July, 1850, President Taylor died. Vice-President Fillmore, who succeeded him, took Webster into his cabinet as secretary of state. The governor of Massachusetts appointed Winthrop to fill temporarily Webster's place in the senate. Webster's senatorial term was to expire the year following. In the state election of 1850 the Free-Soilers coalesced with the Democrats among whom, in Massachusetts, the anti-slavery sentiment had been strong. The coalition succeeded in preventing the election of a governor, which required a majority vote, and in electing a large majority of the legislature. This legislature then had to elect both the governor and a senator to succeed Webster's term. It was thereupon agreed that the Democrats should have the governor, and the Free-Soilers, whose principal aim was to see their anti-slavery views represented in the Senate of the United States, the senator. The Free-Soilers in caucus by a nearly unanimous vote nominated Sumner for the senatorship, and the Democrats in caucus, all but five, pledged themselves to vote for his election in the legislature. George S. Boutwell, a Democrat, was then by the combined vote of the Democrats and Free-Soilers in the legislature, elected governor. But when it came to the election of a senator, more than twenty Democrats, led by Caleb Cushing, unexpectedly objected to Sumner on the ground that his anti-slavery principles were too extreme. Then followed a long and confused struggle.
During the campaign which preceded the state election some friends had held up before Sumner the senatorship as a prize within his reach. But he would not hear of it, and certainly his speeches denouncing the fugitive slave act with the most unsparing bitterness and virtually declaring that he would never obey such a law, had nothing of the circumspect caution of the candidate. Now he was a candidate in spite of himself. He doubted himself whether he desired the post. His “dreams and visions were all in other directions.” The prospect of spending his life in public position he “would not contemplate without repugnance.” He was loath to give up his literary plans and aspirations. He suggested others as better fitted for the place than himself. But the Free-Soilers demanded that he should stand, and he obeyed their bidding. The balloting in the legislature, owing to the defection of more than twenty Democrats, went on for more than three months without result. Several times Sumner came within one or two votes of an election. The Whig and Democratic press assailed him with unprecedented fury and reprinted his speech against the fugitive slave law which had given such offense to the Democrats. Democratic members of the legislature besought him to withdraw or modify only some of his utterances in that speech so as to give them a pretext for changing their votes in his favor. Ever so slight a concession in the way of recantation or pledge would have marred his success. But in vain. To all such entreaties he had but one answer: That the office must seek him, not he the office, and that it must find him an absolutely independent man. And finally it did so find him. On the 24th of April, 1851, he received the required majority of votes. Sumner, at Charles Francis Adams's dinner table, received the news with perfect equanimity and then hurried to the house of his friend Longfellow at Cambridge to get out of the way of the jubilations of his friends, “more saddened than exalted.” His triumph had not weakened his distaste for political life, and he was seriously troubled “by the importance attached to the election.” For the event did indeed create a widespread sensation. There seemed to be a feeling throughout the country as if something extraordinary had happened. Nor was this without reason.
After a hot excitement about slavery the people at large seemed to have settled down into a stolid acquiescence in the compromise of 1850. Both the great parties agreed in setting it up as a fetish to be worshipped, and the prosperity of the country served to encourage the new idolatry. People bent upon the pursuit of gain were disposed impatiently to resent anything that would disturb them. To continue the agitation of the slavery question was denounced not only as untimely, but as unpatriotic. To question the sanctity of the new compromise, the fugitive slave law included, was considered little short of treason. A large number of senators and representatives in Congress issued a solemn manifesto pledging themselves to oppose the candidacy of any man of whatever party for president or vice-president, senator or representative in Congress or in any state legislature, in fact to excommunicate any man from political companionship who would fail to sustain the compromise and its rigid enforcement. Every officer of the federal government from president to tide-waiter, and every expectant of office in the opposition party, stood guard over the safety of slavery. Large public meetings of business men all over the land spoke in the same strain. Commerce, industry, speculative enterprise, political ambition, solicitude for the Union, all conspired to put down what there was left of the moral insurrection against slavery and to bury it under the compromise. The anti-slavery men who could not be silenced appeared only as a mere handful. At no time in our history did the North seem to be so completely on its knees before the dark idol.
Under these circumstances a political accident — for so we may call the coalition of Democrats and Free-Soilers in Massachusetts, which a few months later would have become impossible — carried into the Senate of the United States a man who was the very embodiment of the moral insurrection against slavery in its boldest and form. In a letter congratulating him upon his election, Theodore Parker said: “You told me once that you were in morals, not in politics. Now you will show that you are still in morals, although in politics. I hope you will be the senator with a conscience.” Parker's anticipation was to be more than justified. Sumner remained “in morals,” and, in the ordinary understanding of the word, he never went into politics. He never had been, and never became, a politician of the managing, accommodating, conciliating, combining, organizing kind. The sense of political expediency was entirely foreign to him, and he never sought to acquire it. He knew of no other way to build up a party or a personal following, than by convincing his fellow citizens of the righteousness of the cause he advocated. The use of patronage or the compromising of a principle for such a purpose was beyond his political conception. There is an error to which public men of high aims sometimes fall victims — the delusion that they can meet the so-called practical politician upon his own field of low arts, overcome him with his own weapons, and thus aid great and noble objects by the employment of small and questionable means — a game which a high-toned man is generally inapt to play, and in which he is always defeated by the professional, sometimes not without a grievous abasement of his own character. Sumner never fell into this error. Ambitions of this sort probably never tempted him.
Neither had he the practical sense in dealing with men and things, which is usually acquired by those who have to work their way up from lowly beginnings by a rough struggle with adverse circumstances. In a remarkable degree he had been spared what may be called the ordinary vulgarities of life. His attempt to practice law had been that of an earnest student but of a dilettante practitioner. The mountain tops from which he was known to look at human concerns were not attractive to clients. Men visited his law office to discuss rather a public cause than a private case. He had remained essentially a student dwelling in an atmosphere of letters, there building up his ideals, and looking at the affairs of the world in the light of those ideals. And in that light almost every important question reduced itself to him to a question of morals. The “higher law” conception, which a strange freak of fate coupled to Seward's name, was so essentially a part of Sumner's nature, that it governed all his political reasoning. It absolutely dominated his treatment of the slavery question.
As to the ultimate aim to be reached, he, of course, sympathized with the extreme abolitionists. But he would not follow them in condemning the Union and the Constitution of the United States as mere instrumentalities for the preservation of slavery. On the contrary, he regarded the Union as a “blessed bond”, and he believed that the abolition of slavery could be accomplished under the Constitution as he understood it. He read the Constitution “by the light of the Declaration of Independence” and construed it as a charter of liberty in which slavery had absolutely no sanction. In later years he went so far as to affirm as the supreme rule of interpretation that “anything for human rights is constitutional”; and this was in fact his constitutional doctrine as to slavery from the beginning of his public career.
This certainly will not pass as the reasoning of a lawyer, nor as the conclusion of a historian. It appears rather as the utterance of a moralist determined to make everything bend to his conception of right and justice. Whenever anyone endeavored to present to him “the other side” of the slavery question, he always promptly and sternly insisted that the slavery question had no two sides. As to the simple question of right and wrong, this was undoubtedly correct. As to the question of accepting constitutional law and the question of tactics in fighting slavery, it was not equally correct. Sumner not only refused to recognize any moral excuse for an argument opposed to his postulate, but he could never appreciate how far such arguments were apt to impress ordinary minds. Not to see two sides of a question was in him an element of weakness as to practical statesmanship, but it was an element of great strength in him as a moral agitator and a revolutionary character. And it was his high quality as both a moral agitator and a revolutionary character that constituted his significance in a period of our history the chief problem of which appealed in an eminent degree to the moral sense, and could not be fully solved without a resort to means of a revolutionary nature. If we call “revolutionary” all endeavors to change the structure of society or the political order upon principles not in accord with those of the existing political constitution, but asserted to be superior to it, Sumner may well be classed among revolutionary characters; for, while he would certainly have disclaimed such an appellation and doubtless believed himself to be faithful to the Constitution, yet he interpreted into it, by a logic all his own, all the principles by which he believed the moral world should be governed, and which, he thought, the fundamental law ought to, and must, embody. He was, unconsciously, seeking to revolutionize the Constitution in its own name.
In forming his conclusions he was but little swayed by contemporary currents of opinion. He would rather consult on questions of right or wrong, the heroes of Plutarch than men living around him under the influence of the interests of the day. Also his oratory he would fashion rather upon the mood of Demosthenes and Cicero than of the great debaters of modern times, and he seemed to think that any proposition or argument, however strong on its own bottom, would be doubly strong if supported by a quotation from some sage of antiquity, of which quotations he had an abundance at command. Such a man was admirably fitted to impel and intensify public sentiment in a period of emotional politics; and there could not have been a cause, nor a conjuncture of circumstances, more favorable to an effective exercise of his peculiar powers, than the anti-slavery cause and the situation in which it found itself at that time. It was a remarkable coincidence that Charles Sumner entered the Senate as the successor of Daniel Webster, and that on the very day when he took his official oath, Henry Clay, bent with age and illness, spoke his last word in the Senate chamber and left it never to return — the statesmanship of expediency and compromise departing, and the moral anti-slavery idea in its severest impersonation stalking upon the scene.
The Senate had then just passed its most splendid period, with Calhoun, Clay and Webster the old stars of the first magnitude had disappeared. Benton too was gone. There were some men of the same generation left, both Whigs and Democrats — heavy respectabilities, with a smattering of general knowledge, much official experience and practice in political shifts, traditional notions of policy untroubled by originality of thought, and an apparent supply of solemn commonplace. Younger men began to overtop them. On the Democratic side Douglas with his vigorous mind, his pushing political activity, his combative ardor and adroitness as a parliamentary pugilist, and his bold ambition, had made himself one of the most conspicuous figures in the political arena. On the Whig side Seward had in the debates on the compromise measures greatly distinguished himself as an anti-slavery champion; and he was now seconded by Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio, a man of little learning, but hard-headed and full of genuine Roundhead mettle. Salmon P. Chase, the Free-Soiler from the same state, had made his mark as a man of the first order, and John P. Hale, of the same faith, from New Hampshire, although of lighter calibre, shone by his sparkling argumentative wit. On the whole there were but few in the Senate who rose above self-satisfied mediocrity.
The lull in the struggle about slavery following the compromise of 1850 had permitted the tone of senatorial debate and the personal relations between the anti-slavery senators and those from the South to become tolerably pleasant. But the apparent peace was a mere armistice, a breathing spell, liable to be broken by the slightest disturbance of the so-called final settlement. In truth, the Southern mind was in a state of almost hysterical sensitiveness about slavery — not without reason, for all the agencies of modern civilization were conspiring for its overthrow. It was the fateful error of Southern men that they stubbornly refused to read the plain handwriting on the wall, and ascribed the whole trouble to Yankee meddlesomeness. The profitable cotton culture, which in their opinion could not be carried on without slave labor, had made them see in slave labor a great economic boon. From looking upon slavery as the source of their prosperity to persuading themselves that it was also a great moral blessing and the true foundation stone of democratic institutions, was an easy step. Calhoun had furnished for all this the doctrinal formula. In the Bible, too, the Southern people found supreme sanction for it, and many of them believed as stoutly in the divine right of slavery as any Romanoff or Bourbon believes in the divine right of kings. They saw in everything that threatened slavery — what they did not see, was, that everything threatened slavery — an attack on their rights as freemen, on their property, on their homes, on the fundamental conditions of their existence, and every serious demonstration of this sort would throw them, not unnaturally, into a frenzy of alarm and paroxysms of rage. This state of mind prevailing among the Southern people found not only a faithful but even an exaggerated representation in Congress.
Many Southerners, although men of otherwise generous impulses and fine social accomplishments, had fallen into the habit of affecting a lofty superiority over the Northern people in point of self-respect and personal courage, and on the floors of the Senate and the House they pleased themselves and their constituents in bullying and browbeating the opponents of slavery with a disdainful haughtiness bordering on the absurd. Attempts at intimidation took the place of argument, and many of the debates on slavery touched the extreme of virulence in language. This tendency had no doubt been encouraged by the occasional effectiveness of disunion threats as well as by the reluctance of Northern men to become parties to personal quarrels, which by the Southerners was taken for a want of spirit. In the Senate Seward had made it a rule utterly to ignore the insults directed against him. Chase had sometimes repelled them with proper rebuke but always in measured language. Hale had sought to turn them away by clever satire. But in Sumner the Southern hotspurs were to meet with a novel experience.
He was received in Washington with a kind attention. He soon established pleasant relations with the members of the diplomatic corps as a man of the world, and his acquaintance was sought by almost all the distinguished strangers visiting the Capitol. Even the slaveholders and their families met him with amiable courtesy, recognizing in him a cultivated gentleman. As he valued polite society, so he was appreciated by it. Still, at first he found neither the social atmosphere of Washington nor his occupations congenial. “As for me,” he wrote to Longfellow, “farewell content! Farewell the tranquil mind.” The foreboding was just.
His first speech in the Senate was on a resolution to welcome Kossuth. He paid a warm tribute of admiration to the great Hungarian chief, but did not permit his warm sympathy with the liberal movements in Europe to run away with his respect for our traditional policy of non-interference in foreign conflicts. Alas, on a revision and codification of the public statutes, on international copyright, on ocean postage, he made short speeches and took part in the debates on various subjects to dispel the impression spread by his opponents, that he was “a man incapable of business, of one idea, and a fanatic.” On slavery he intended to speak toward the close of the session; but when week after week passed without a word from him on that subject, the Whig press began to taunt the “renegade” with want of courage, and many of his Free-Soil friends grew impatient. The Southern senators, moved by an uneasy presentiment, sought to prevent him from speaking; but a few days before the final adjournment of the session he forced his opportunity by moving an amendment to an appropriation bill, providing that no money therein appropriated should be applied to the execution of the fugitive slave act, “which act is hereby repealed.” This gave him free range.
In the opening of his speech, he thus defined his position: “Whatever I am or may be, I freely offer to this cause. I have never been a politician. The slave of principles, I call no party master. By sentiment, education, and conviction, a friend of human rights in their utmost expansion, I have ever most sincerely embraced the democratic idea — not, indeed, as represented or expressed by any party, but according to its real significance, as transfigured in the Declaration of Independence and in the injunctions of Christianity. In this idea I see no narrow advantage merely for individuals or classes, but the sovereignty of the people, and the greatest happiness of all secured by equal laws.” He then affirmed in an elaborate argument that slavery can exist only by positive law, and that, as the Constitution nowhere recognizes property in man, slavery is only a local institution while freedom is national; that, as the national government is a government of delegated powers, and as among these there is not power to support slavery, Congress cannot in any way legislate in its behalf; that the fugitive act is unconstitutional as a usurpation of powers not granted by the Constitution, as well as because of its denial of trial by jury in a question of personal liberty and a suit of common law. But this argument served him only as a legal support of his forceful denunciation of the wrong of slavery in the light of justice, morals, humanity, religion, and patriotism, which he put forth in his stately phrase with a completeness of reasoning and a richness of historical illustration and literary adornment seldom, if ever, heard in the Senate, and which culminated in this bold avowal as to the fugitive slave law: “By the supreme law which commands me to do not injustice, by the comprehensive Christian law of brotherhood, by the Constitution which I have sworn to support, I am bound to disobey this act. Never, in any capacity, can I render voluntary aid in its execution. Pain and penalties I will endure, but this great wrong I will not do.”
The Southern senators listened attentively.
Most of them thought it politic to let this speech pass
without reply; but some of them could not contain
themselves. Clemens of Alabama
, remarked in characteristic
style , that “the ravings of a maniac may sometimes be
dangerous, but the barkings of a puppy never did any harm”;
and Badger of North Carolina , declared himself prevented
only by respect for the usages of the Senate from applying
to Sumner “an appropriate epithet.” These outbreaks of
ugly temper were, however, not accompanied by any serious
attempt to refute Sumner's argument. The amendment offered
by him received, indeed, only three votes besides his
own — those of Chase, Hale and Wade. Seward was still
Whig enough to shirk; and Hamilton Fish, the other Whig
Senator from New York voted with the majority. But
Sumner's speech was nevertheless an event. Southern men
called it “the most extraordinary language they had ever
listened to.” Chase said that it “marked a new era in
American history when the anti-slavery idea ceased to
stand on the defensive and was boldly advancing to the
attack.” This was also the impression it produced on the
country. It revealed a new power on the political stage —
a man who was not a politician, recognizing no party
allegiance, insensible to party interest or party discipline,
not a mere exponent, but the impersonation of the
moral anti-slavery idea, an idealist marching straight
to his aim, attacking, on the floor of the Senate, the
“final settlement” fetish and defying the slave power
and all its allied interests with an almost childlike
audacity, impelled by the sincerest conviction, terribly
in earnest, utterly insensible to fear, and placing the
fight against slavery upon so high a plane that its
defenders could not rise to him. From this time on Sumner
was distinctly a leader, not of an organization, but of
a public sentiment. The anti-slavery politicians could
not always follow him in every point, but they felt themselves
overawed by his uncompromising spirit, looked to
him as the manifestation of the moral conscience of the
people, and managed to move in his wake.
The presidential election of 1852 marked the highest triumph of the compromise policy. The two great parties vied with one another in declarations of devotion to the “settlement” of 1850 as a finality, the Whigs, whose candidate, General Scott, occupied an equivocal position, suffered a crushing defeat, and Franklin Pierce, the Democrat, was elected president by a heavy majority. The Free-Soilers, with John P. Hale as their candidate, issued from the contest apparently in a sorry plight. Their vote in the country — about 155,000 — was only half of what it had been in 1844. The anti-slavery Democrats in New York had, almost in a solid body, returned to their old party fold, and even in Massachusetts the Free-Soilers had lost more than one-fourth of their strength. Sumner, who had unwaveringly stood by the Free-Soil banner, felt keenly the discouragements of the situation, but his profound faith in the invincibility of his cause sustained his hope that it would soon have the support of a powerful organization. Seward, on the other hand, had remained a Whig and wrote to Sumner: “Recent events are what were, or might have been, foreseen, and do not disturb me in the least. No new party will arise, nor will any old one fall. The issue will not change. We shall go on much as heretofore, I think.” This was written after the fatal defeat of the Whigs and less than two years before the springing up of the Republican party. It frequently happens in politics that the intuitions of the idealist turn out to be wiser and safer guides than the reckonings of the expert politician.
The short session of 1851-2 indeed passed without any stirring event. Peace was not disturbed and Sumner could write to a friend: “On the floor of the Senate I sit between Mr. Butler of South Carolina, the early suggester of the Fugitive Slave bill, and Mr. Mason of Virginia, its first author, with both of whom I have constant and cordial intercourse. This experience would teach me, if I needed the lesson, to shun hard and personal criticism of those from whom I differ” — a remark almost grotesque in the light of what was coming.
The session of Congress which began December 5,
1853, marked the turning point in American politics. It
began in a dead political calm. As to the national
government the Democrats were in wellnigh undisputed, and
apparently unthreatened, possession of power. The bulk
of what the election of 1852 had left of the Whig party
as a national organization agreed with the Democrats
the slavery question in maintaining the compromise
of 1850 as a “finality.” The tariff question had been
dropped by common consent. The two parties were, therefore,
in substantial accord on all great subjects. Popular
acquiescence in the compromise seemed to be almost
universal. The anti-slavery men who still agitated against
it, were denounced as pestiferous fanatics and disturbers.
-holding interest seemed to have achieved a
decisive and enduring victory. There were only four Free-Soilers
in the lower house of Congress, and two in the
Senate — Sumner and Chase. Hale had lost his seat. Wade,
while unswerving in his anti-slavery sentiments, still
called himself a Whig. Seward was silent on the slavery
question and appeared to relapse into old Whiggery. The
Whigs had regained control of Massachusetts, and their
organs clamorously demanded Sumner's resignation from the
Senate on the ground that he was, as a Senator, but the
creature of an accident and had no constituency.
Then Stephen A. Douglas introduced his Kansas-Nebraska bill abrogating the Missouri Compromise and throwing open the national territories to the ingress of slavery, and all was changed as by enchantment.
At the first moment the public did not
seem to grasp this aggressive stride of slavery in its
full significance. But Chase and Sumner of the Senate
and the Free-Soil members of the House published a
flaming appeal to the people arraigning the proposed
measure “as a gross violation of a sacred pledge, as a
criminal betrayal of precious rights, as part and parcel
of an atrocious plot to convert a vast territory, consecrated
to freedom, into a dreary region of despotism,
inhabited by masters and slaves.” Douglas assailed the
signers of the manifesto with furious vehemence; but the
debate which followed
, served only to spread the alarm
among the masses of the Northern people. Sumner, who
contributed to this debate a speech of great strength of
argumentation and magnificence of diction, achieved a
triumph of great moment to himself. His colleague in
the Senate, recently elected, was Edward
after long uncertainty and hesitation, opposed the Kansas-Nebraska
bill; but by the side of his half-hearted utterances
Sumner's reasonings and appeals had a ring of noble
and vigorous manliness which captured the heart of
Massachusetts. Not only the Free-Soilers, but many of his
former opponents among the old Whigs and Democrats in his
state turned to him with admiration and pride. He was
no longer the senator without a constituency.
In the North the excitement spread rapidly. All over the country public meetings were held which resounded with denunciation of the great treachery. Three thousand New England clergymen sent to Congress a remonstrance against the “great moral wrong, exposing us to the judgments of the Almighty”; and the pulpits began to pour forth a stream of anti-slavery sermons. But nothing could stop the fatal infatuation which pushed through the Kansas-Nebraska bill. To the last Sumner stood in the foremost front of the opposition. In the night of the final vote in the Senate he spoke with superb force, predicting that this act would “fructify in civil strife and feud.” About the same hour a riot was raging in Boston, provoked by the arrest of a fugitive slave, and a deputy marshal lost his life in the turmoil. Forthwith the spokesmen of the South in Washington charged Sumner with having incited the bloody deed by his seditious language, although his speech could not have been known in Boston at the time, and he was openly threatened with violence. He soon convinced them that he was not the man to be frightened.
A petition to Congress arrived from Boston praying for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave law. It bore the signatures of many men who but recently had sworn by the compromise of 1850 but had been taught by the Kansas-Nebraska act that the era of compromises was gone. When the petition was presented in the Senate, Southern senators denounced it fiercely. Sumner rose in its defense and repelled the assault with defiant spirit. Then the assailants turned upon him with almost unprecedented coarseness of vituperation, and in a furious personal debate of two days he stood at bay like a noble stag tossing with powerful antlers his pursuers in the air. To the question whether in obedience to the law he would help to return a fugitive slave to his master, he hurled back the answer: “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?” He stoutly maintained that the Constitution as he understood it, imposed upon him no such duty, and when again pressed with the question: “Do you recognize the obligation to return a fugitive slave?” he exclaimed: “To that I answer distinctly, No!” The insolent thrusts made at Massachusetts and at him personally he repulsed with counter-attacks of such skill, vigor, and dignity that the Southern fire-eaters, expecting to see all Northern men quail before them, stood utterly perplexed at such unheard of temerity of defiance. Some senators seriously considered whether Sumner, because of his open refusal to recognize what they held to be an obligation imposed by the Constitution, should not be expelled from the Senate. The project was dropped when a private canvass proved that the required number of votes could not be obtained. But personal intercourse between Sumner and several Southern senators ceased, notably Butler and Mason, of the cordial relations with whom he had but recently spoken with so much complaisance; and threats of violence against him became louder than ever. Sumner, undismayed, presented one petition against the Fugitive Slave law after another, never failing to accompany them with forcible remarks, and forcing their reference to appropriate committees.
His single-handed combat with the spokesmen of slavery in the Senate had greatly strengthened his prestige. When it was over, Chase said to him: “You have struck slavery the strongest blow it ever received; you have made it reel to the centre.” In the Senate he began to be feared as a dangerous antagonist in debate. And Massachusetts was delighted with him. Even old conservative men praised him as the worthy successor of John Quincy Adams in vindicating Massachusetts principles and moral sentiments. Not only was he no longer the Senator without a constituency, but his people proudly called him “the Senator from Massachusetts.” His speeches were read with enthusiasm at thousands of firesides. New England clergymen prayed for him and New England women spoke the name of their hero with rapturous admiration.
Sumner's position that the Fugitive Slave act
had no force binding upon him because, interpreting the
Constitution as he did, he deemed it unconstitutional,
may, as a general principle, no doubt be successfully attacked.
If the general rule were admitted that every man
may deny his obligation to obey any law according to the
opinion he may conceive as to the constitutionality or
rightfulness of that law, civilized society would soon
come to an end. Sumner himself seemed to recognize this
when in his first speech against the Fugitive Slave act
he declared himself ready to “endure pains and penalties”
for disobeying it. But the Fugitive Slave act was one
of those ill-starred laws in the breaking of which men of
a high order of conscientiousness would see rather a
virtue than a moral obliquity. Perhaps a large majority of
Americans then living, when appealed to by a slave running
for his freedom, would have felt it to be far more righteous
to save him in violation of the law, than to return
him to bondage in compliance with it. To force upon the
North a law so repugnant to the most natural sympathies
of the human heart
, was one of the most fatal blunders
ever committed by the South, irrespective of the constitutional
right in the case. Sumner's attitude, however
assailable so far as it was to assert a general rule, no
doubt corresponded not only with the moral impulses of the
Northern people, but also with their impulse of pride —
for they felt themselves summoned to do for the slaveholder
what the slaveholder was too proud to do for himself.
Sumner brought this out most strikingly in the debate,
when he solemnly called upon any senator “who would stoop
to any such service”, to show himself. He stopped for an
answer, but there was deep silence even among the “fire-eaters”.
In spite of this feeling the Fugitive Slave law
was more effectively carried out in the North than the
laws against the African slave trade in the South. But
when by the Kansas-Nebraska act the Missouri Compromise
was abrogated, all compromises lost their prestige, and
the Fugitive Slave law, which had been defended mainly as
a necessary part of the lost compromise, fell into still
The final break
-down of the compromise policy
by the act of the pro-slavery compromisers themselves was
bound to bear another fruit — the creation of a new
political party responding to a new political condition.
Earnest opponents of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise
withdrew from the Whig and from the Democratic organizations
and formed, together with the Free-Soilers, the
Republican party. In Massachusetts, as elsewhere, the new
formation passed through the intermediate stage of the
Knownothing movement, whose proscriptive tendencies
directed against foreigners Sumner most strenuously opposed,
and which subsided after having performed the office of
thoroughly disintegrating the Whig organization. The
Republican party of Massachusetts at once recognized Sumner
as its most prominent leader, and, promptly gaining
control of the legislature, it put into the Senate as his
colleague Henry Wilson,
the engineer of the
which Sumner owed his seat — an ardent anti-slavery man,
not of high statesmanlike qualities, but an upright, brave
and generous character, and in the better sense a politician
of great activity and skill.
The Kansas-Nebraska act brought the forces of
freedom and slavery face to face for a fierce contest on
the Western plains. As the South understood it, that act
had been passed for the very purpose of making Kansas a
slave state. To carry out this purpose legally, it was
required that the territory be speedily filled with
pro-slavery settlers in sufficient strength to outnumber and
outvote the friends of free labor. But as a colonizer
slavery could not compete with free labor in quickness of
movement. It was certain that ten free laborers in light
marching order would migrate into Kansas while one slaveholder
could put his cumbersome column of slaves in motion.
Once more the slave power saw the hoped for prey elude
its grasp. But it was resolved upon a desperate fight
against fate. What it could not hope to accomplish by
the votes of bona fide settlers, it tried to accomplish
by means of force and terror. Bands of pro-slavery men
from the neighboring slave-state Missouri, organized by
Senator Atchison — the “border-ruffians”, not unjustly
so-called, crossed the Kansas line again and again when
elections for the territorial legislature were to be held,
took possession of the polls with arms in their hands,
stuffed the ballot boxes full of fraudulent votes, and
then recrossed the line again to hold themselves ready
for the next occasion. This manoeuvre was to serve the
double purpose of putting pro-slavery men in power and
pro-slavery laws in force for the time being, and of
frightening away by the terrifying violence of their
proceedings free-labor emigrants
, until a sufficient force
of slave-holding settlers could be gathered on the soil
of Kansas , to make it in fact a slave state. But this
plan was baffled by a very alert counter movement. Efforts were
made in the free states to stimulate the migration of
anti-slavery men for permanent settlement in the territory
and the famous “Emigrant Aid Society” formed in Massachusetts
displayed the utmost energy to that end. Thus the
temporary invasion of Kansas by the border-ruffians with
revolvers, bowie-knives, and whiskey bottles, was met by
a permanent occupation of the territory by bona fide settlers
from the North with ploughs, sharp rifles, and
A confused struggle ensued marked with bloody outrages. The pro-slavery interest controlled the legislature elected mainly by border-ruffian votes. The free-state men called a convention at Topeka, framed a constitution prohibiting slavery, and applied to Congress for the admission of Kansas as a state. The stirring events in the territory, vividly reported and hotly discussed by the press, kept the whole country in excitement. The new Republican party, aided by what was still left of the Knownothings, defeated the Democrats in the congressional election of 1854 and won a majority in the House of Representatives, which, after a bitter contest, elected Banks of Massachusetts speaker. The House sent an investigating committee to Kansas the majority of which in its report exposed the misdeeds of the border-ruffians, found the legislature elected by them an illegal body, the free-state men to be the bona fide inhabitants of Kansas and entitled to recognition as such. In the Senate a report was made by Douglas from the Committee on Territories which represented the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society as the cause of all trouble in the territory, and recommended that as soon as Kansas was shown to have a certain number of inhabitants, a constitutional convention should be called under the authority of the present legislature. But Seward introduced a bill to admit Kansas as a state under the Topeka Constitution.
An animated debate followed in which Douglas's skill in obscuring actualities and in shifting issues shone more brilliantly than ever. But his adroitness as a debater could not overcome facts, logic, and moral law as they were forcibly set forth by Hale, whom the Republican current had swept back into the Senate, by Trumbull whom the Republicans had recently sent from Illinois to be Douglas's colleague, by Harlan the Republican leader from Iowa, by Wilson from Massachusetts, and especially by Seward, who, having somewhat tardily passed from the Whig organization into the new party, now put forth his whole strength as a political philosopher. But, although their speeches were eagerly read all over the Norther states, none of them startled the country so much as Sumner's oration on “The Crime in Kansas”, delivered on the 19th and 20th of May, 1855. It was one of those vast and elaborately ornamented rhetorical structures built after classic models, in which Sumner delighted, and he had himself announced it to a friend as “the most thorough philippic ever uttered in a legislative body.” The present generation would hardly admire its somewhat stilted style; nor did it then add much new material to the anti-slavery argument. But there was a power in the grouping and presentation of facts and arguments, and unsparing directness in his reasoning, a stinging force in his arraignments and denunciations of the crimes committed in behalf of slavery, a defiant boldness in his manner of calling things by their right names, and all this animated with a loftiness of moral sentiment, and a fire of righteous wrath at a monstrous wrong, which fairly overwhelmed his adversaries and exasperated them beyond measure. As soon as Sumner closed, their anger broke out into a storm of personal invective which Sumner repelled with undaunted vigor.
But the threats of violence hurled against him proved this time to be more serious than before. In his speech he had indulged himself in humor, likening Senator Butler from South Carolina to Don Quixote devoted to “the harlot slavery” as his mistress Dulcinea, and Douglas to Sancho Panza. He had also made some serious remarks upon Butler's looseness of speech in debate and upon the conduct of South Carolina in the revolutionary war and her present impotency “caused by slavery.” Preston Brooks, a young South Carolinian occupying a seat in the House of Representatives, and a distant relative of Senator Butler, resolved to “punish” Sumner for the “libel on South Carolina and Mr. Butler.” Two days after the delivery of his speech, the Senate having taken an early adjournment, Sumner was sitting at his desk in the Senate chamber absorbed in writing letters, when Brooks approached him unobserved and beat him over the head with a heavy cane until he lay on the floor covered with blood and senseless. The interference of other persons put an end to the assault. Sumner was carried away gravely injured.
A murderous attack upon a Senator of the United
States, in the Senate chamber, for words spoken in debate,
was a portentous event, and produced an immense sensation.
Many of the anti-slavery men in Congress regarded the
assault upon Sumner together with the reasons given for it,
as the beginning of a systematic attempt to put down all
opposition to slavery by terror, and went well armed with
dirk and pistol to their chairs in the Capitol, from which
they grimly eyed the scowling Southerners who were
certainly no less heavily armed. The tension was increased
when several Southern senators and representatives, Butler
among them, in speeches on the floor loudly praised
Brooks' conduct. In the slaveholding states, especially
in South Carolina, the news of the assault upon Sumner
called forth shouts of applause, and when a resolution
moved by a committee of inquiry in the House of Representatives
that Brooks be expelled
, received a majority —
not, however, the twothirds majority required for
expulsion, — and Brooks thereupon resigned his seat after a
grandiloquent speech, he was promptly and triumphantly
reelected by the people of his district; and as it once
had “rained gold boxes” on Pitt, so a shower of “canes
of honor” and silver goblets came down on Brooks from all
parts of the Southern states for his “heroic deed” in
vindication of the South and of slavery. No doubt there
were Southern men, probably a good many, who disapproved
of the act and had gloomy forebodings of the consequences,
but their voices were drowned by the roar of the infatuated
In the North the news of the murderous assault on Sumner fell upon the minds of men like the booming of an alarm gun. Not even the outrages done by the border-ruffians in Kansas had aroused a deeper indignation. Massachusetts was in a blaze of excitement. The legislature passed forcible resolutions. Faneuil Hall rang with the angry shouts of an assemblage composed not only of friends but of old opponents of Sumner — the governor of the commonwealth among the first of the speakers. Meetings were held all over the state and men like Longfellow, Felton, Sparks, Oliver Wendell Homes, and the elder Quincy in spite of his eighty-five years, harangued their fellow townsmen. Even the gentle soul of Ralph Waldo Emerson broke out in fiery words of anger, and Edward Everett, timid and reticent as he was, denounced the outrage in burning phrase. The governors and legislatures of other Northern states vied with Massachusetts in stirring manifestations of feeling. There was hardly a town of respectable size in the North that did not have its public demonstration on the matter, and the sentiment put forth by an immense gathering in New York that “every blow which fell upon Sumner's head was an insult and injury to our honor and dignity as a people, and a vital attack upon the Constitution of the Union,” found a thousandfold echo. And when his injuries proved more serious than at first believed and kept him away from the Senate, “Charles Sumner's empty chair” became by the side of “Bleeding Kansas” one of the most effective battle-cries of the anti-slavery campaign.
In England the incident caused a profound sensation, not only with Sumner's many personal friends, many of whom were lavish in their expressions of sympathy, but with thinking men generally who saw in it the portent of a great conflict. “In any country but America,” wrote Macaulay, “I should think civil war must be impending.” Others thought that with this blow civil war had actually begun. They were not far out of the way. The assault on Sumner was indeed a symptom of a distemper beyond the reach of the customary remedies. When two men fall into a dispute concerning an interest which each one considers of vital importance to himself, which each looks at and argues about from a point of view so radically different from that occupied by the other as to become mutually unintelligible, and concerning which the breaking of a compromise has made further compromises based upon mutual faith impossible, then peaceable composition is at an end and nothing remains but a trial of strength. The American people were fast approaching this condition. It is true, the Democrats, the political allies of the South, still maintained themselves in power in several of the Northern states. But very many Northern Democrats were held in their party only by the belief that the practical operation of Douglas's popular sovereignty policy would be to exclude slavery from the territories or the new states, and that the organization of the Republican party upon distinct anti-slavery principles was, therefore, an unnecessary provocation of the South recklessly imperiling the Union. When now events occurred showing the South to be in dead earnest in seeking to make Kansas a slave-state by force, in spite of the evident existence of a free-state majority among the bona fide settlers of the territory, the effect could hardly be other than to thin out the Democratic ranks and to drive a large majority of the Northern people upon the Republican side.
The Southern argument, that the South needed an increase of her political power, and, therefore, more slave-states in order to maintain the security of slavery in the Union, and needed the maintenance of slavery because it was the basis of her social and economic existence, and, therefore, not only a blessing but a necessity, was perfectly correct and logical from the Southern standpoint, but unappreciable to the normal Northern mind. The Northern argument, that slavery was a hideous moral wrong and a social and economic evil, and that, while under the Federal Constitution it could, in the states in which it existed, not be attacked from the outside, the curse must at least be kept out of the territories which were the common property of the American people, was a perfectly natural reasoning from the Northern standpoint; but unreasoning fanaticism and a malicious and wicked assault upon all that was dear to the South in the eyes of the Southern people. The Northern argument being that of nineteenth century civilization, could not fail to be immeasurably the stronger in debate; and when the slaveholding interest found itself in a situation growing constantly more critical and assailed by an adversary whose arguments could not — at least not in the estimation of the world — be successfully repulsed by counter-argument, the desire to silence it by threats or by force easily suggested itself to the hot temper of the Southerner. Mere threats had proved unavailing, and now force and violence succeeded them, first on the plains of Kansas where free-labor and slavery struggled for the possession of a territory, and then in the halls of the national legislature where slavery struggled to silence the voice of freedom.
There has been much discussion of the question whether Sumner did not provoke the assault by extravagantly violent language and thus furnished a justification, or at least an excuse for it. In point of taste, Sumner's language was indeed very questionable. The humor of his comparison of Senator Butler to Don Quixote and of Douglas to Sancho Panza was somewhat elephantine and appeared like satire unrelieved by grace. Neither was he fortunate in selecting Butler for a personal attack as a representative champion of slavery, while there were others fully as zealous and far more offensive in their proslavery championship; for Butler enjoyed a certain personal popularity as an old style Southern gentleman, somewhat overbearing, to be sure, and believing in slavery as an unmixed good and in the South Carolina planter as a being superior to the rest of mankind, but withal of a generous and jovial nature, and fond of the classics as well as of the convivial cup. But when we measure the form and substance of the personal invectives in Sumner's speech by what has been considered admissible in parliamentary debate by the most renowned parliamentarians, they did not overstep the line. They certainly remained in point of acerbity and personal offensiveness far behind the brutal insults which had been frequently hurled from the proslavery side of the South at him and his political friends. The member of Congress in our day who is far from squeamish in the selection of epithets when it comes to a personal altercation on the floor, would hold his breath if he were treated to the quality and quantity of scorn and vituperation with which the fire-eater of the ante-bellum time on every occasion deluged the opponents of slavery. But it was characteristic of that period that while the proslavery orators knew no bounds to the expression of their loathing for anti-slavery sentiments and anti-slavery men, every attempt on the Northern side to retard in kind, or only to assail slavery in vigorous terms, was resented by them with lofty indignation as unbearable insolence, like mutinous talk from a slave to his master. It was Sumner's bold and unsparing defiance of this lordly assumption, it was this “insolence” that especially exasperated Southern men and marked him for “punishment.” A candid inquiry into the facts and circumstances will convince anyone that the distant relationship between Mr. Butler and Mr. Brooks had very little to do with the motives for the assault. It was affronted South Carolina, the offended South Mr. Brooks meant to avenge; it was the enemy of slavery he meant to silence. And so the South understood it. For this clearly expressed reason the act of Brooks received the enthusiastic commendation of Southern public meetings and of the Southern press. Indeed, some of the most influential Southern newspapers insisted that since the practice of “lashing the anti-slavery men into submission” had been initiated, it should be applied to all of them, especially Seward, who, naturally, avoided in his speeches with the extremest care everything that might have sounded like a personal discourtesy. The defenders of slavery despaired of argument and resorted to force. This was, if not civil war itself, at least a prelude to it.
As soon as, after the assault, Sumner recovered himself sufficiently to think of the future, he, undismayed, wished to go back to the Senate in order to continue the struggle. But his injuries turned out to be much more serious than at first supposed. The slightest labor or excitement would bring on a feeling of exhaustion and distress. The spinal cord had been hurt by the blows on his head. His friends feared softening of the brain. He sought rest and strength and the seaside and in the mountains, but found only slight relief. Late in the Autumn he visited Boston and was received with tremendous demonstrations of popular esteem and affection to which he could but feebly respond. And when in the following Winter the legislature of Massachusetts was to elect his successor in the Senate of the United States, public sentiment as reflected by the legislature, shoed itself so overwhelmingly in his favor that he received every vote in the upper and 333 against 10 votes in the lower house. The man who six years before had to go through a bitter contest of months, then to be elected by a majority of one, was now returned by virtually unanimous acclaim; and this, too, in the face of the uncertainty whether he would for years, if ever, be able to occupy his seat again. But his constituents were content to let that seat wait for him and in the meantime stand empty — that eloquent “empty seat” preaching in its silence a most powerful anti-slavery sermon.
Sumner did, indeed, attempt to resume his duties in March, 1857, when, much against the advice of his friends, he went to Washington for the purpose of taking part in the vote on the famous tariff bill of 1857, he himself voting to reduce the duties on raw materials, especially on wool. But the strain of even this slight exertion became a torment, “the cloud began again to gather over his brain,” as he expressed it, and a few days later he sailed for Europe, to be gone several months. After many pleasant meetings with distinguished men and women in France and England, friends old and new, and more impatient to resume his work than assured of a permanent recovery from his hurts, he returned in November, and sat in the Senate, but soon found that he could only do so as a passive listener, and even this only under a painful strain. In April a severe relapse came with alarming symptoms which convinced him that he must for the present give up all hope of activity and seek a thorough cure whatever sacrifice of time it might require. Again in May, 1858, he sailed for Europe, consulted Dr. Brown-Séquard in Paris, submitted to a most painful treatment at his hands, became gradually able to enjoy his surroundings and after an absence of eighteen months, took ship for America again in November, 1859, believing himself cured. His faithful constituents meanwhile, although he had repeatedly thought of resigning his charge because he could tender them no service, would not listen to the suggestion so long as there was any hope of his recovery. They still were content that the seat in the Senate should wait for him — the “empty chair” as eloquent as ever.
He had been absent from active duty three and a half years when he returned to it. Remarkable things had happened meanwhile. Preston Brooks had suddenly died less than seven months after the assault, having before he closed his eyes confessed to a friend that he “was sick of being regarded as the representative of bullies and disgusted at receiving testimonials of their esteem.” Senator Butler had gone to his grave a few months later. The new Republican party had made its first national campaign with Frémont and Dayton as its candidates. After a canvass carried on by the Republicans with extraordinary enthusiasm, they were defeated, the Democrats carrying the whole South except Maryland, and of the free states Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, and California. But that so young a party as the Republican, one, it might be said, improvised for a special purpose, should at the first onset have come so near to victory, was a remarkable proof of vitality and pointedly foreshadowed the future. Indeed, the new president, Buchanan, had hardly become well established in the White House, when the Democratic party, to which he owed his election, was torn to pieces by an internecine conflict.
The struggle in Kansas had gone on with constantly increasing virulence. The proslavery party, determined to hold its prey before growing desperate as it saw the chances turning against it, staked all its fortunes upon a last attempt to force upon Kansas a proslavery constitution — the famous Lecompton constitution, formed by a convention in the election of which the free-state men had taken no part. This constitution was submitted to a popular vote in so dishonest a manner that, whichever way the vote went, the constitution would be adopted and with it a certain sanction of slavery. The free-state men in Kansas resolved to keep clear of the manifest swindle and to refrain from voting. The proslavery men voting alone, accepted the constitution with slavery, and President Buchanan having thrown himself completely into the arms of the slaveholding interest, recommended the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton constitution, declaring Kansas to be as much a slave state as Georgia and South Carolina.
This was too much even for Douglas. To accept
the Lecompton constitution as the rightful constitution of
Kansas would have been to abandon the last pretence of
sincerity as to his popular sovereignty doctrine, and to
destroy himself utterly in Northern opinion. He loudly
protested that the people of Kansas must have a free and
fair vote on their constitution, and with this protest he
made the pro-slavery interest and the administration
controlled by it, his mortal enemies. The struggle between
Douglas at the head of the bulk of Northern Democrats and
the pro-slavery leaders with the South and the
at their back
, grew so hot that many Republican leaders,
especially in the East, thought that Douglas was fighting
their fight, and his senatorial term being near its close,
favored his election to the Senate. Sumner, profoundly
distrusting Douglas, was of a different opinion, and the
Republicans of Illinois put an end to the scheme by pitting
Abraham Lincoln against Douglas as their candidate for
the senatorship. Then occurred that famous debating tournament
of 1858 which made Douglas senator again and put
Lincoln on the road to the presidency.
When in December, 1859, Sumner took his seat
in the Senate again strong enough to remain, Kansas was
substantially in the power of the free-state men. They
controlled an incontestable majority of the popular vote
and in the legally elected legislature. The Lecompton
constitution being submitted to the people again, and
this time fairly, was overwhelmingly rejected. The territory
would have been then admitted as a free state but
for the pro-slavery majority in the Senate, who persisted
in obstruction although they had to acknowledge themselves
baffled as to the acquisition of new slave states in the
West and were looking to the annexation of Cuba while
secretly plotting for secession. Sumner's surroundings in
the Senate had greatly changed. Instead of the infinitesimal
minority of three
, with which he had begun his
senatorial career, there were now twenty-four Republicans by
his side, not a few of them men of eminent ability. Their
social intercourse with the pro-slavery senators had
entirely ceased. The diplomats were nervously careful not
to invite them together to dinner. Even Douglas's turn
had come to be called “traitor,” and “renegade,” and
“abolitionist,” by his former friends from the South. The
tension between the two sections became more and more
unbearable as the final crisis approached.
On April 23, 1860, the Democratic National Convention assembled at Charleston, S.C., and after a long and bitter struggle between the adherents of Douglas and the Southern extremists, in the course of which the Southern men asked those from the North substantially to affirm that slavery was not wrong but right, the convention split, the Southern part of it to meet again at Richmond a short time after where they nominated Breckinridge for the presidency, and the Northern part to meet at Baltimore on June 18th where they nominated Douglas. The Republican National Convention met a Chicago on May 16th and chose Abraham Lincoln for its candidate.
The sore disappointment of some of those who had hoped for Seward's nomination was soon appeased, and the Republicans stood united and inspired with high hope against a helplessly divided Democratic party. While these things were in progress a protracted debate occurred in the Senate on a House bill to admit Kansas with a free-state constitution. Sumner availed himself of this opportunity to resume his attack on slavery which had been interrupted by his long illness. As the champion of slavery in Congress had in the meantime with bolder directness maintained that slavery was an unmixed good, the normal condition of human society, an ennobling influence, the true basis of republican institutions, and so on, Sumner proposed to exhibit slavery as the reverse of all this, a hideous monster, unfit to be tolerated even in remote contact with civilized society. He entitled his oration “The barbarism of slavery.” His arraignment of all the wickedness and villainies of the system in its essence as well as in its effects, immediate and remote, was so searching, and his denunciations so mercilessly positive and unqualified, as to have no other conclusion than that slavery should not only be excluded from Kansas and the other territories, but that it should be killed like a poisonous reptile or a mad dog wherever found.
This speech, during the delivery of which some of Sumner's friends were sitting near him with pistols under their coats to protect him from violence, elicited at the moment only from a South Carolina senator an outburst of personal invective which might have passed as an illustration of the very barbarism under discussion. But Sumner had pushed the anti-slavery offensive so decidedly beyond the line until then held by the Republican party in its official utterances that not a few of his Republican colleagues feared the effect. The doubted “whether such a speech might not inflame the hostility of the enemies of freedom more than the enthusiasm of its friends,” and whether it would not turn away from the Republican ranks many conservative and timid souls. They were mistaken. As it often happens, the politicians trembled, but the people received the moral inspiration of a bold utterance with joy. They were in their sentiments and in their courage far in advance of the party managers. Sumner's speech was printed in innumerable copies and became one of the most popular and most effective electioneering documents in that memorable presidential campaign.
Lincoln was elected, but the Republicans had
hardly had time to exchange congratulations on the first
anti-slavery victory in a national election, when the
scene changed with startling suddenness. Southern men
had uttered the threat of disunion in case the anti-slavery
movement should continue, loudly and often. Civil war
had been volubly spoken of as a possible consequence.
But most people had looked upon this threat as a mere
bugaboo to frighten children. In the North it was thought
that the South could not fight on account of slavery; and
Southern people believed that the North would not fight,
for want of spirit and of united purpose. But now the
secession movement in the South actually did follow the
election of an anti-slavery president, and the spectre of
civil war all at once acquired an appalling reality. There
was general consternation. The trade of Northern merchants
and manufacturers with the South stopped. Northern
trembled for the debts due them in the South. Stocks
trembled in Wall Street. Banks staggered on the verge of
insolvency and serenely curtailed their loans. Money
became fearfully stringent. Universal bankruptcy and ruin
seemed to be at hand. The Northern people were bewildered
by the gloom of the prospect. Democratic politicians
rising up from their defeat in the presidential election,
vociferously charged the Republicans with the responsibility
for the impending disaster. Some of them openly
espoused the cause of the Southern revolutionists and affirmed
the right of secession. Others insisted that, in order
to save the Union, any concession should be made to pacify
the justly exasperated South. “Union meetings” were held
all over the North
, in which such concessions substantially
surrendering all the principles the Republican party
stood for, were vehemently demanded. Not a few Republicans
would have recalled their votes for Lincoln had it
been possible. Republican leaders who but a few weeks
had been the heroes of the day, were frowned upon and
violently denounced as mischievous fanatics. In Boston an
anti-slavery meeting was broken up by a mob of which respected
business men formed part. George William Curtis
was refused in Philadelphia a hall for delivering a lyceum
lecture because of his prominence as an anti-slavery man.
Sumner himself, but yesterday the popular idol of
Massachusetts, was notified by a prominent Boston journal that
the people would no longer listen to his “empty platitudes,”
and his name was received with groans and hisses at a
meeting of workingmen.
The seat of the national government presented a
spectacle hardly more encouraging. Several of the members
of the cabinet sympathized with the seceders and
gave them active aid. President Buchanan declared that
while no state had a right to secede, the federal government
had no right to coerce into submission a state
attempting to secede. The departments teemed with “rebel
sympathizers.” The government seemed to be paralyzed.
Its vitality was somewhat restored by the departure of the
Southern cabinet ministers
, who openly joined the seceders,
and the substitution for them of Northern Union men. Among
the Republican members of Congress, too, there was much
wavering and hesitation. Some were merely flustered by
the panic among their constituents. Others thought themselves
that the Union might and should be saved by
concession and compromise and groped blindly about for
schemes of conciliation — at their head Seward who had
been considered one of the most radical of the anti-slavery
leaders. But a large majority of the Republican senators,
among whom Sumner stood conspicuous, held resolutely fast
to the principles that the will of the majority legally
expressed must be obeyed.
The question whether it would have been good statesmanship to ward off disunion and civil war by some sort of concession on the subject of slavery has been earnestly debated by politicians as well as historians. The affirmative can hardly be maintained. We know now, and every wellinformed man knew then, that the leaders of the secession movement were determined not to accept any compromise. They had made up their minds to cut loose from the Union absolutely and forever, and to provide for the continued existence of slavery in an independent political organization designed for that very purpose. Their policy was perfectly logical. The preservation of slavery being their object, they had to withdraw from a partnership in which slavery was constantly exposed to the action of powerful influences hostile to it. That slavery would at last have to succumb in the nineteenth century in spite of any efforts to protect it, they did not see. But it would certainly have a chance of longer life in a commonwealth under the undisputed control of slaveholders. And the leaders who for such reasons were resolved upon secession, had, in the states first seceding at least, an effective majority of those active in politics behind them. There was, therefore, not the slightest prospect of bringing them back to their old allegiance by an offer of concession.
But even if there had been such a prospect, a compromise would, at that time, have been utterly inadmissible for a reason of a different kind. The peace and order of a free state, and the very existence of republican institutions depend upon the ready submission of the minority to the will of the majority legally manifested. Whenever this submission ceases to be a matter of course, whenever it has to be bargained for after an election by concessions to a minority in revolt, whenever the minority is thus permitted to substitute itself for the majority by force, or by threats of force, the government of law is at end and the reign of revolutionary intrigue and violence begins. To purchase the submission of the South to the election of Lincoln by any compromise, however innocuous in other respects, would have amounted to the surrender of the fundamental principle of republican government. Such a policy, resorted to for the purpose of averting one civil war, would, as a prolific precedent, have brought an endless succession of civil wars upon us. In point of statesmanship, no policy could have been more shortsighted.
It has been said that it was advisable, at that critical period, at least to show an apparent willingness to offer a compromise, that to encourage and strengthen the friends of the Union in the South and to prevent the further growth of the secession movement especially in the northernmost of the slave states, if it were only until the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as president, should have been effected — in other words, to gain time by a trick of diplomatic dissembling, the dishonesty of which would have been excusable so far as the end would justify the means. Of this dishonesty, however, the compromisers must be pronounced guiltless, for they were, no doubt, sincere in their purpose. But had the whole Republican party, as the compromisers wished, taken such an attitude, the situation would have become perilously complicated in two directions: the South would have been more than ever deluded into the belief that the North had no courage, and the Northern mind might have become disastrously confused and demoralized by the impression that compromise was the only legitimate remedy for the evil to be dealt with, and that any other was to be shunned as unrighteous. In every aspect of the case the American people have reason to be thankful that all attempts at compromise failed. Those were right who with calm fortitude insisted that “the constitution needed to be obeyed, not amended.”
Sumner's judgment of the situation was entirely
governed by his moral instincts. He indulged in no
illusions as to what would come. He predicted that all the
slave states except Maryland and Delaware would be swept
into the revolutionary whirl, and that a long and bloody
war would follow taking the revenues and energies of the
North to the utmost. As a devotee of peace he deeply
deplored the necessity of such a conflict; but, it being
a war against slavery, he accepted it with grim submission.
He never doubted the final result. With devout faith in
the moral law of the universe, he looked forward to the
certain triumph of the national cause and of human freedom.
The panic among his constituents, resulting in a petition
for compromise signed by twenty thousand citizens of Massachusetts,
did not disturb him in the least. His great
anxiety was that others be not disturbed. He discreetly
abstained from speaking at length in the Senate, “for,”
he wrote, “such a speech as I should make
, would be seized
by the conservative press, and be made the apology for the
conduct of the slave states.” But by word and
letter he unceasingly implored his Republican friends to
stand “firm, firm, firm!”
The arrival of Abraham Lincoln in Washington, February 23rd, 1861, put a stop to the schemes of compromise. He saw clearly that to yield now any of the fruits of the anti-slavery victory would have been worse than to have suffered defeat. He came to Washington simply to occupy the place assigned to him by the people, not to trade for it. He was inaugurated as president; enough Southern men withdrew from the Senate and joined the rebellion, to reduce the Democrats to a minority in that body, and then the whole national legislature as well as the executive were in the hands of the new anti-slavery party. Sumner, the most implacable member of the opposition, found himself suddenly transformed into a member of the majority. The fierce anti-slavery champion, now occupying a high position in the ruling party, and made chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, had to take upon himself a large share of responsibility for the conduct of the government in a terrible crisis. And here began a new chapter in his career.
At the period when the Republican party took
the helm of affairs, Sumner was decidedly the most
conspicuous figure in the Senate. There were very able men
among his colleagues, but none of them had, as much as
he, struck the popular imagination. Visitors in the Senate
chamber would ask their neighbors in the galleries
first to point out to them Charles Sumner. They saw in
him something peculiarly superior to the common. He had
then reached his fiftieth year. The romantic charm of
his martyrdom was still fresh. His imposing stature and
massive head, with features somewhat recalling those of
Burke, the courteous gravity of his demeanor, his evident
self-respect, his constant attention to the business on
the floor, the commanding tones of his voice and the
stateliness of his language — all this personified in
him the ideal of senatorial dignity; and nobody cherished
a higher ideal of that dignity than he. To his mind the
Senate of the United States was the most august lawmaking
body in the world, unequalled in grandeur and importance
even by the Roman Senate in its palmiest days; and the
honor of being one of its members he respected in himself.
This was with him not a matter of mere outward appearance,
but of character. His personal and official integrity
stood so high above all suspicion that even the bitterest
spirit of partisan hostility never dared to question it.
Whatever criticism his constitutional doctrines or his
views of policy may have called for, nobody ever doubted
the sincerity of his convictions or the disinterestedness
of his motives. Never was there a calculating thought
in his mind as to how the utterance of his opinions might
affect his fortunes as a public man. Without the slightest
hesitation he would set his convictions of right and
duty against any adverse current of sentiment in his party,
or among his constituents, or even among his intimate
friends. He would have considered it a desecration of
his high office to descend to any of the arts of the
demagogue or the wirepuller
, for the purpose of strengthening
his personal gathering; nor would he even solicit anyone
to vote for him when his seat in the Senate was at stake.
In every sense he towered grandly above the ordinary run
He was indeed blamed for being inaccessible, dogmatic, haughty and vain. This charge, which had some truth in it, pursued him all through his public life. Inaccessible he was by not means; on the contrary, every visitor found his door open. He permitted even his patience to be most severely tested. But while he kindly received everybody, there was nothing in his mien or discourse to invite familiar approach. Nobody would ever have felt himself tempted to slap him on the back or to call him “Charley.” He relished friendly social intercourse but lacked that spirit of boon companionship which easily enters into other people's tastes. Although fond of conversation, he did not possess the facile art of small talk. He detested everything broad or obscene in allusion or anecdote. When at his own table a guest began a story with the words: “I suppose I can tell this, there being no ladies present” — Sumner impulsively interjected: “But there are gentlemen present” — a remark which for a moment embarrassed all present except himself. Nobody ever heard an unclean word pass his lips. He instinctively shrank from all vulgar association. Emerson called him “the whitest soul” he had ever known.
He naturally preferred to speak on serious subjects because only on such he had much to say. And as is common with those who are possessed by an idea and are greatly in earnest, he was apt to assume a magisterial tone when his speech turned upon the things he had most at heart. Then indeed he did grow dogmatic, and this tendency increased as he became more accustomed to see his party friends at first reject his extreme positions and accept them afterwards. This is an experience the effect of which but few can withstand. It cannot be denied that he entertained a high opinion of himself which his intercourse with his colleagues, most of whom were much his inferior in knowledge and culture, as well as in moral courage, was calculated to foster. And as such consciousness of superiority cannot entirely be concealed by an ingenuous character incapable of dissembling, it sometimes gave offense. He was fond of astonishing his audiences, private or public, with displays of his learning, and he keenly enjoyed appreciation and praise. Every scrap of eulogy he found in the press or in his correspondence he treasured — together with criticisms of a different kind — as documentary evidence of historic value, and he would speak of the approbation he had won with childlike relish. His intimate friends regarded this as an amiable naïveté; unfriendly critics magnified it into a serious reproach, and the general public gradually accepted the impression that Sumner was a very vain man. But vanity is one of the most common of human frailties, and one of the most harmless, too, if it stops short of a jealous depreciation of the merits of others. And no man could be more sincere, generous and hearty in the recognition of other people's accomplishments, exploits and virtues than Sumner. Envy was utterly foreign to his nature. His pride had no element of meanness in it. His self-esteem was magnificent, but it was that self-esteem which is a safeguard against any temptation to do a base thing. He had a high opinion of his importance in the world; but that opinion never permitted him to trifle with any public interest in his keeping. There were many politicians inclined to magnify the weakness of a character the great features of which embarrassed them as standards of comparison.
As soon as the Senate passed under Republican control, the chairmanship of the Committee on Foreign Relations fell to Sumner as a matter of course, he being recognized by all his colleagues as unquestionably the fittest man for it in point of character as well as equipment. History and international law had been among his favorite studies. He had seen the great world and he enjoyed the acquaintance of not a few of the leading statesmen of Europe. With some of them, especially Englishmen of high and influential position, he was in friendly correspondence. He was conversant with diplomatic forms, usages, and proprieties. Nobody in the Senate could speak on foreign affairs with such authority, and nobody's authority was more trustingly accepted. Next to the advancement of the anti-slavery cause, he had no object more nearly at heart than the maintenance of an honorable friendship with foreign nations.
The two members of the government with whom his
interests and duties brought him into most frequent and
important contact were Lincoln and Seward. There could
hardly have been two public men of distinction more unlike
in breeding, culture, mental and moral discipline, habits
and views of life than Sumner and Lincoln. They were
nearly of the same age, Lincoln two years older. But
while Sumner had grown up in the atmosphere of a well-bred
Boston family, and had been studying the classics, and
history, and languages, and literature, and law in the
Latin school and at Harvard, and enlarged his views and
built up his ideals and elevated his aspirations by mental
intercourse with the heroes and sages of antiquity and by
social contact with the distinguished men and women of
our time in the old as well as the new world, Lincoln had
begun life in the wretchedness of the backwoods, earned
a precarious subsistence as a farm help, a country store
clerk, a Mississippi flatboat-hand; had led a company of
country roughs in the Blackhawk war; had read Aesop while
crouching on the dirt floor of a log cabin, and Blackstone
sitting in a fence corner; had studied politics in the
village tavern and in the Illinois legislature, and formed
his principles and gathered his knowledge of men and things
in his constant communion with the plain people and through
a rude struggle with adverse fortune. By roads so different
they had both reached eminence, and now they met
in the service of the same cause on the same field of action,
the one a man of high culture, fixed and peremptory
in his views
, and purposes, accustomed to take and maintain
his position on principles and policies with uncompromising
positiveness, no matter whether public opinion was
ready to follow or not; the other still somewhat rustic
in his habit and speech, in sympathetic fellowship with
the plain people, constantly mindful of their ways of
thinking, their prejudices, and their beliefs and feelings;
always anxious in every forward movement of policy to
remain in supporting contact with the popular mind, slow in
forming conclusions, but, conclusions formed, equally firm
It may have seemed doubtful whether two such men could advantageously work together. But both being sincere men they soon met on a footing of mutual confidence. Indeed, Lincoln's whole being was so very unlike Sumner's ideal of a statesman and a ruler, Lincoln's homely humor and quaint forms of speech differed so widely from what Sumner would have thought a fit vehicle for a statesman's wisdom, and Lincoln's cautious deference to the movements of public opinion was so unintelligible to Sumner's forceful and impatient nature, that Sumner never was able justly to appreciate his gifts. Lincoln, as a keen observer, undoubtedly noticed this; but it did not disturb him in the least. It was one of the peculiar elements of strength and greatness in that seemingly untutored son of the Western prairies, that he never stood in awe of any man. He was not one of those rulers who, for fear of risking their mastery or prestige, think it necessary to surround themselves with persons inferior to them. He called to his side the very first among the Republican leaders without any nervous dread of being overshadowed. He highly respected their counsel but weighed it by his own judgment. He frankly yielded to them when he saw the greater wisdom on their side, without any loss of self-reliance, and without in the least apprehending that, if he gave them their full measure of credit, it might imperil his own. He possessed another quality — a virtue it might be called — of inestimable value to a man in power. He never permitted an honest difference of opinion to ruffle his good temper or cloud his personal relations with those differing from him. His ear remained always open to adverse argument and his hand was always outstretched to all who were willing to grasp it, and not seldom even to those who hesitated. Of all this his relations with Sumner furnished a striking illustration.
Fort Sumter was fired upon; Lincoln issued his
proclamation calling for volunteers; the Northern people
rushed to arms, and Sumner, the champion of universal
peace, having at last found a war that was “necessary,
just, and honorable,” spoke fiery words of encouragement
to Massachusetts regiments marching to the front. But
his greatest anxiety was that the edge of the war be
speedily turned against the life of slavery. Incessantly
he urged in speech and letter that slavery was the real
enemy and that its destruction would be the end of the
rebellion. On every occasion he entreated Lincoln boldly to avow from the
very start the policy of emancipation
; which would throw
the slave power into confusion and secure to us the
sympathetic support of the moral sentiment of mankind. No
doubt, Lincoln at heart agreed with him as to the consummation
devoutly to be wished. But in the practical treatment
of the question there appeared the characteristic
difference of the two men — Sumner hardly able, and
perhaps even not always quite willing to understand how on a
matter involving a vital principle other people could fail
to see things as he did, and pressing forward whether they
did or not — Lincoln painfully aware that many other
people did not think as he did, and that he needed the
co-operation of many of those very people for the accomplishment
of the very ends that both he and Sumner hoped to
reach. There may have been moments when Lincoln grew
somewhat impatient of Sumner's urgency, and Sumner still
more impatient of what he considered Lincoln's tardiness.
But the two men instinctively trusted one another's honesty
of purpose, and their relations were best defined by
Lincoln's quaint saying: “Mr. Sumner, you are only six
weeks ahead of me.” Six weeks did, indeed, not cover the
difference, but as to the blow to be struck at slavery it
was after all only a difference in time.
Sumner was to learn by experience that a great many other people, warm anti-slavery men too, were six weeks and more behind him. At the Republican state convention of Massachusetts which met in October, 1861, he made a speech boldly unfolding his theory. “It is often said,” he argued, “that the war will make an end of slavery. It is surer still that the overthrow of slavery will make an end of the war.” He quoted John Quincy Adam's authority to show that the war power included the power to liberate slaves. He called for an edict of emancipation as a necessary and a constitutional act, declared himself ready to favor compensating loyal owners for their liberated slaves, for “never should any question of money be allowed to interfere with human freedom,” and hinted at the employment of negroes as soldiers. The speech received thundering applause, but its sentiments found no place in the platform. The war policy he foreshadowed was indeed subsequently adopted; but when he spoke the public mind was not yet ripe for it. Not a few sound anti-slavery men while approving his doctrine, doubted the timeliness of its public promulgation. The more conservative part of Sumner's constituency even assailed him with excessive virulence as an unreasoning fanatic and a dangerous breeder of mischief, and they actually hoped, by keeping up a hot warfare upon him, to deprive him of his seat in the Senate. Sumner, nothing daunted, continued his advocacy of emancipation, at which, although it apparently involved a criticism of the administration, Lincoln was by no means displeased. On the contrary, he rather favored such an agitation as an efficacious means of preparing the public mind for the adoption of a policy corresponding to his own principles, desires, and hopes. Thus, while differing from Sumner as to the possibilities of the time, Lincoln constantly and very attentively listened to him as to the spokesman of the anti-slavery conscience, and far from blaming the agitator who pleaded for what was inevitably to come. It did come in the natural course of events. In less than six months after the Republican convention in Massachusetts Lincoln sent to Congress his message recommending to the slave states the gradual abolishment of slavery with pecuniary aid from the United States; and less than a year after it came out the announcement of the great decree of emancipation. At the expiration of his senatorial term Sumner was reelected by a vote of five to one.
Second only to the destruction of slavery the maintenance of an honorable friendship with foreign nations, especially with England, was the cause nearest to Sumner's heart, and his position of authority in the Senate gave him in all things concerning foreign affairs a potential voice. Upon this field he had to work with Seward, the Secretary of State.
Seward's conduct after the election of Lincoln
to the presidency is in some respects one of the puzzles
of that period. He had been one of the great political
leaders of the anti-slavery movement. Certain expressions
fallen from his lips that had become household words, such
as “the higher law” and “the irrepressible conflict,”
placed him in the popular eye among the more radical of
those leaders. His faculty of contemplating public
problems from elevated and comprehensive points of view, a
certain oracular momentousness of phrase in which he
occasionally clothed his thoughts, and the boldness of his
predictions as to the speedy downfall of slavery, had made
him an object of peculiar admiration to ardent anti-slavery
men, and at the same time of peculiar hatred and
dread to the South. At the Republican national convention
of 1860 he was generally admitted to stand in point of
ability and service foremost among the Republican candidates
for the presidency; but the apprehension that a man of
views so extreme would hardly carry the doubtful states
indispensable to party success
, weighed heavily against
him. He had confidently counted upon receiving the
nomination, and when the Republican party preferred to him
the comparatively obscure “Illinois lawyer,” the
cut him to the quick. He sufficiently subdued his
feelings to contribute to the campaign in behalf of his
successful rival a series of very able speeches. But no
sooner had after Lincoln's election the secession movement
broken out, than Seward to feel and assert himself as the
one important man in the country, commissioned by providential
ordination to take charge of the Republic and to compose
the trouble. With a naïveté not easy to comprehend
in a statesman of experience, he not only thought but wrote
in letters which have since become public, that the existing
administration (Buchanan's) united with the incoming
one (Lincoln's) in devolving upon him the responsibility
of averting the imminent disasters; that, while his own
party trusted him, “but not without reservation.” all the
other parties, North and South, “cast themselves upon” him;
and that, if he were absent from Washington only three
days, “the administration, the Congress, and the District
would fall into consternation and despair.” His attitude
in the Senate displeased the ardent anti-slavery men
because it created the impression of a willingness to make
concessions to the seceders; and it displeased the earnest
advocates of compromise, because it really involved no
concession of consequence. He sought to encourage despondent friends of
the Union with cheering predictions but was especially
wrathful at his own party friends who still spoke of slavery as
the cause of the trouble and expressed their determination
to “stand firm.” He accepted the post of Secretary of
State offered him by Lincoln; then he withdrew his acceptance;
and then he withdrew his withdrawal. In office he
felt himself as the rightful head of the government and
addressed to the president that amazing letter brought to
light by Nicolay & Hay — the letter in which he asked
that the matter of slavery be entirely ignored in the
policy of the administration, that Fort Sumter be surrendered
to the secessionists, that the country be precipitated
into a war with France and Spain, and that Mr. Lincoln,
the president, should delegate his whole power to direct
the policy of the government to Mr. Seward, the Secretary
of State. Such a proposition addressed by a member of
the cabinet to the president , appears so insultingly
presumptuous, and it would have been so sure, if acted upon,
to involve the Republic at the most critical moment in
ruinous foreign complications, or, if made public, politically
to ruin its author, that it is fairly inexplicable
and might clearly be attributed to a temporary unsoundness
To avoid giving the “war for the Union” the
appearance of an “abolition war” was indeed good home policy
during that period of doubtfulness when in the “border
states” the segregation of the Union and the rebel elements
had not yet taken place, and while in the North Democratic
party sentiment was still an uncertain quantity. But
Seward exhibited an irritation verging upon petulance
whenever slavery was mentioned even down to the time when
Lincoln's cautious mind had already reached the conclusion
that a determined blow at slavery by proclaiming emancipation
was necessary to save the Union.
It is almost
incredible that, as a memorandum from Stanton's hand tells
us, he should have set his face against emancipation
first proposed by Lincoln in cabinet meeting, July 22, 1862,
partly on the ground “that foreign nations would intervene
to prevent the abolition of slavery for the sake of cotton.”
Indeed, he seemed unable or unwilling to comprehend that
the anti-slavery character of the war for the Union was
an element of incalculable importance in our relations
with foreign powers.
In his instructions to our ministers abroad he not only directed Mr. Adams, our minister to Great Britain, not to draw into debate any moral principle as being involved in our struggle, he not only denied that the government of the Union had any anti-slavery purpose in conducting the war, but with a positiveness and emphasis surpassing belief he insisted that the results of the conflict between the Union and the seceders could not possibly affect the institutions of slavery. He actually, in his instruction to Mr. Dayton, our minister to France, put his astonishing prediction on record that “the territories will remain in all respects the same whether the revolution (in the South) shall succeed or shall fail; the condition of slavery in the several states will remain just the same whether it shall succeed or shall fail.”
Such precepts and predictions were not only
offensive to the spirit of the party of which Mr. Seward was
one of the leaders, they not only betrayed an entire
misjudgment of the natural tendencies of the conflict and
were fated to be most strikingly contradicted by events,
but they also were apt, at the time they went forth, to
strip the cause of the Union of one of its main elements
of strength in its relations with foreign
powers. In the
upper circles of England and France the disruption of the
United States was looked upon as an event by no means to
be deplored; it would discredit the democratic principle;
it would weaken a dangerous commercial competitor; it
would prevent the growing up of a power that might become
a very uncomfortable rival of European nations in arranging
the affairs of the world. Besides, the French Emperor
was nursing his ambitious schemes upon Mexico with which
the United States, unembarrassed by a domestic conflict,
would surely interfere. And British industry was threatened
with disastrous disturbance by the failure of the
American cotton supply owing to the blockade of the Southern
ports by the Union fleet — a trouble which — such
was the current reasoning in England — could be permanently
remedied only by the definitive establishment of
Southern independence; for the North, in spite of its superiority
in population and resources, would not be able to
subjugate the Southern people fighting for their freedom on
their own soil. Thus the voice of selfishness, political
as well as economic, both in England and in France, spoke
in favor of the South and both governments were strongly
tempted at the earliest opportunity to recognize the Southern
confederacy as an independent nation and even to think
of intervention for its benefit. The resentment of the
, which such a step would have provoked ,
appeared, especially after our first disasters on the battlefield,
by no means as dangerous as it had been before the
outbreak of the civil war. But there was a restraining
consideration. The public opinion of civilized mankind
regarded the cause of the South as that of slavery, and
the cause of the North as that of hostility to slavery.
And to affront the public opinion of civilized mankind by
ranging itself on the side of slavery was an undertaking
from which any government in some measure dependent upon
the approval of the governed might well shrink. Everything,
therefore, that would put the natural tendency of the war
for the Union to destroy slavery into a clearer light,
would thereby diminish the possibility of hostile action
by foreign governments; and everything calculated to obscure
that tendency, would increase such possibility. The
dispatches received from our ministers in Europe, even
from so cool-headed a man as Charles Francis Adams, and
the reports coming from semi-official agents, even from
Seward's most intimate friend and adviser, Thurlow Weed,
as well as the tone of the foreign press, gave ample evidence
of this feature of the situation.
That under such circumstances Seward, in his correspondence with foreign governments, did not demonstratively exhibit slavery as the real cause of our domestic troubles and as the culprit to be put to death, may be excused on the ground of the home necessity of sparing the feelings of people of a different way of thinking who were to be attached to the Union cause. Seward might, however, with perfect safety have gone so far as to point out to the world that, while the government of the Union recognized its constitutional obligations concerning slavery in the states, the civil war, the longer it was persisted in on the part of the South, would the more surely result in the destruction of slavery. But when, not satisfied with ignoring the slavery question, Seward went out of his way actually to predict that, whatever the fortunes of the civil war, slavery would surely survive, he showed that he had no conception of the public sentiment of civilized mankind concerning slavery, as a potent moral force, and he did his utmost to discredit the cause of the Union and to strip it of its greatest strength in the very countries in which that moral force was most needed to sustain it. It is no wonder that our enemies abroad took advantage of such utterances and that even some of our friends lost confidence in our government. Nay, even the Southern emissaries in Europe conceived the adventurous idea of attempting to use for the South the moral force which the official spokesman of the North had so blunderingly contemned. As Mr. Adams in January, 1862, reported from London, the emissaries of the slaveholders' rebellion entertained the project of making Europeans believe that, in consideration of the immediate recognition of the Southern confederacy and the disregard of the blockade of Southern ports, the confederacy would promise “the prohibition of all imports of slaves and the freedom of all blacks born hereafter.” The project was too grotesque to be definitely proposed, but it proved that these Southerners had a more accurate conception of the forces at work than Mr. Seward.
He had moreover managed to create the impression in England that he was personally hostile to that country and bent upon picking a quarrel with it. A curious story made the round of the clubs and the drawing rooms. On the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales in the United States Seward was said to have remarked to the Duke of Newcastle at a dinner table: “I shall soon be Secretary of State; it will then be my duty to insult Great Britain, and, by G—! I am going to do it.” The story was privately denied by Seward; but the number of Englishmen who treated this trifle seriously was prodigiously large; and unfortunately they could find in Seward's official as well private utterances here and there a harshness or recklessness of phrase which confirmed their notion that Seward was actually bent upon “insulting Great Britain.” This belief, widely spread even among well-meaning people in England, became during that critical period a matter of real concern as to the relations of the two countries.
Sumner's personal intercourse with Seward remained friendly although he detested the Secretary's compromising policy and was profoundly alarmed at his efforts to eliminate from the struggle for the Union that which to Sumner seemed vital — the moral element, the anti-slavery tendency. And this alarm would sometimes break forth in his conversation with a vehemence that did not measure words. But in spite of such serious disagreements he faithfully aided Seward in the conduct of foreign affairs and far from seeking to “undermine” the Secretary's influence abroad — as had been suggested by some ill-advised critics, he earnestly labored to disabuse the minds of Englishmen of the unfortunate impression that Seward was bent upon provoking a quarrel with Great Britain. Here Sumner's old English friendships came in good stead. With the Duke and the Duchess of Argyle, the Duke being then a member of the British cabinet, with John Bright, Richard Cobden, Gladstone, the Duchess of Sutherland, and other persons of consequence, Sumner carried on an animated exchange of letters in which they uttered their sympathies, or apprehensions, or criticisms, as to events on this side, while he endeavored to impress upon them, and through them upon wider circles, that ours was indeed an anti-slavery war deserving their moral countenance, that the government of the United States entertained none but the friendliest feelings toward Great Britain, that Mr. Seward, with whose views and ways he disagreed in other respects, sincerely shared these feelings, and that, if the relations between the two countries were not in all respects satisfactory, it was only because the American people and their government did not in their great struggle for human freedom and civilization find in England that sympathy and moral support which they had expected and to which they thought themselves entitled. The letters thus received, whenever they contained information or advice of importance, Sumner communicated to Lincoln and his cabinet, and the correspondence thus became a valuable channel of mutual influences which not seldom were sensibly helpful in the conduct of international affairs.
Among the public men of England we had in those
days but few outspoken well-wishers. Foremost among them
stood John Bright, that ideal embodiment of the moral
nature of Anglo-Saxondom with its virile instincts of right,
freedom, and humanity, defending our cause against all
; with indomitable courage and constancy of faith.
With him, Cobden, Forster, Milne, and a few others. But
most of Sumner's old friends turned coldly away from our
struggling Republic. To him this was more than a surprise.
That some shifty politicians in England should have seen
in the disruption of our Union nothing but an advantage to
Great Britain, he might have understood. But when he
heard of such a man as Lord Brougham with surly cynicism
denouncing the American people as “stark mad” for their
attempt to break down the rebellion; of Gladstone's swift
and eager cocksureness in proclaiming that the South fighting
for independence could never be overcome, and that the
continuance of the war on our part would be only useless
and wicked blood spilling; and of the petty pretexts resorted
to even by old anti-slavery men in England to belittle
and discredit our cause, to find fault with our
measures, and to discourage our efforts — when he heard
all this, he was fairly prostrated with amazement and grief.
Others might have resented it with greater bitterness, or
vented their spleen in strong language about “perfidious
Albion,” or stored up their wrath for a future day of
reckoning. But to Sumner this was, perhaps more than to any other
American, rather an affair of the heart than a mere matter
of international politics. He was attached to England
with an almost filial affection. English society had been
most congenial to him and received him as its own. The
great public characters of England with their high principles,
learning, and culture, most nearly met his ideals of
statesmanship. English history and literature had been as
his daily bread. He had revered England as not only the
mother of modern free government, but as the great enemy
of slavery, as the champion of emancipation in the world.
From this England, then, he had hoped to hear the first
word to cheer us on in the struggle which was naturally
destined to become the war of emancipation in America.
And now, when instead of this word of cheer there came
from England, at the very beginning of our war, the recognition
of the slaveholding confederacy as a belligerent
power, to be followed by more and more marks of unsympathetic,
if not even hostile, sentiment — it was to him a
shock staggering his very confidence in human nature. It
preyed upon him like the gnawing heartache caused by a
disappointment in love.
No doubt, it was in great measure owing to this sentimental disappointment that Sumner showed himself much more sensitive to any unfriendly symptom in the attitude of the British government or of individual Englishmen, than to similar or even more threatening symptoms in the attitude of France whose emperor, after having assiduously sought to induce Great Britain to act jointly with him against our blockade of the Southern ports, looking to the eventual recognition of the confederacy as an independent power, actually took advantage of our embarrassment to attempt the erection of a monarchy in Mexico. Of Napoleon III. Sumner had hardly expected anything better, but upon the sympathy of England he had counted with undoubting confidence. When that confidence had been shaken, he was, as often happens, inclines somewhat to exaggerate in his own mind what he deplored so much. With pathetic accents of anxiety he appealed to his English friends to remember that our war was in the very nature of things a war against slavery; that without the hope of foreign aid the slaveholders' rebellion would soon lose heart; that, therefore, England by permitting the slaveholders to hope, was actually giving most effective support to their cause; that by thus promoting or countenancing the establishment of an empire based upon slavery, England was falsifying her historic character as the great champion of emancipation; that if English manufacturers wanted a regular supply of cotton, they could obtain it only through our success; that the North would surely triumph in the end, for such a cause sustained by such a people could never fail; that to avert such a calamity and disgrace as a war between the United States and England would be, every possible cause of irritation should be avoided, and nothing should be said or done that might leave a sting behind it to rankle in the heart of either nation as an incitement to eventual revenge.
In November, 1861, the dreaded war cloud hove in sight. Two envoys of the Southern Confederacy to England and France, Mason and Slidell, on their way to Europe, had taken passage on the British mail steamer “Trent,” bound from Havana to St. Thomas. Captain Wilkes, commanding the United States man-of-war “San Jacinto,” stopped the “Trent” in the Bahama channel, took off the two envoys and their secretaries, and then permitted the “Trent” to continue her voyage. The captives were carried to Boston Harbor and confined in Fort Warren. Captain Wilkes had acted without orders, but his conduct was hailed all over the North with a burst of enthusiasm. The popular mood was then exceptionally apt to be elated by just such an occurrence. The first months of the civil war had been extremely depressing. The shame of the Bull Run rout had not yet been relieved by any conspicuous success. The people were hungry for something to be proud of. Any demonstration of boldness and energy would inspire them like a sunburst from a dark sky. The capture of the Southern envoys from an unarmed vessel could indeed not be regarded as a very heroic achievement. But as that unarmed vessel bore the British flag, the flag of a great power thought to be unfriendly as well as overbearing, there was in the boom of the gun that stopped her, a note of defiance which to the “average American” had a peculiarly pleasing sound. The loyal states rang with “cheers for Captain Wilkes.” His exploit had the unanimous praise of the newspapers. It was celebrated in after dinner speeches bristling with patriotism and points of international law. Wheaton, Vattel, and Puffendorf were volubly quoted in support of it at ladies' tea parties. Old and cautious statesmen like Edward Everett and learned and acute jurists such as Richard H. Dana and Theophilus Parsons joined in the general applause. Even the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Welles, wrote to the hero of the day a letter of congratulation, suggesting only that it might have been well to bring the vessel too for adjudication; and the other of the president's cabinet “coincided in expressing gratification and approval.”
Alone among his fellow citizens in Boston Sumner stood unmoved by the jubilee around him. When he heard of the capture of Mason and Slidell, he instantly said: “We shall have to give them up.” He clearly saw in that act a violation of the very principles of international law as to the rights of neutrals which the United States had strenuously contended for, especially against the contrary pretensions of Great Britain. And he apprehended also that the hostile interest in England would seize upon this occurrence as of war. It required but little time to prove him right.
There being no ocean telegraph in those days, news traveled slowly. The taking of Mason and Slidell from the “Trent,” which happened on the 8th of November, was reported on the 16th, and in England on the 27th. A fierce indignation meeting at Liverpool assembled on the spur of the moment to denounce the “outrage on the British flag,” set the pace for subsequent proceedings. A few Englishmen remembered that in past times British warships had in hundreds of cases boarded American vessels and done things morally equivalent to the taking of the Southern emissaries from the “Trent,” or worse. But that recollection was silenced by the cry about the “outraged British flag.” The “Rule Britannia class,” as John Bright called the Jingoes of that time, vied with the active friends of the Southern Confederacy in firing the British heart; and when the public learned that the law officers had found the act of Captain Wilkes to have been contrary to international law, and that the government was actually despatching troops to Canada and order naval preparations for war, the general conclusion was that the United States had done something amounting to an intolerable provocation and that hostilities were inevitable. The British government determined its course of action without waiting to hear the American side of the case, and on December 1, the fourth day after the arrival of the news in England, a Queen's messenger was on his way with instructions to Lord Lyons. On the 19th he reached Washington.
In the United States meanwhile the popular jubilee continued lustily, in happy ignorance of what was doing on the other side of the Atlantic. When Sumner, full of anxiety, reached Washington he found the President troubled by grave misgivings. Although not learned in international law, Lincoln felt the gravity of the case and eagerly welcomed Sumner as an advisor. Sumner had frequent conferences with the president as well as the secretary of state in which he counselled extreme caution, pointing out what the ultimate outcome must be. Fortunately nothing had been done, save the hasty utterance of the secretary of the navy, to commit the administration. Seward, who at first had been affected by the general enthusiasm, in a dispatch to Mr. Adams only mentioned that Captain Wilkes had acted without instructions, and expressed a hope that the matter would be amicably disposed of. The president in his message at the opening of the session of Congress on December 2nd, did not mention the “Trent affair” at all. No communication took place between the secretary of state and the British minister, and it was thought prudent to maintain this attitude until the British government should have opened the case for discussion. But Congress, governed by the popular feeling, would not be easily controlled. On the first day of the session the House of Representatives unanimously passed a vote of thanks to Captain Wilkes for his “brave, adroit, and patriotic conduct.” Sumner made it his task to restrain the Senate.
The instructions received from the British government by Lord Lyons on December 19th brought a rude awakening. The British government, in very decided language demanded the surrender to the British minister of the Confederate envoys and their secretaries, and a suitable apology. Lord Lyons was also directed in a private note that, if these demands were not complied with within seven days, he should leave Washington with the whole staff of the legation as well as the archives, and repair to London. Although the contents of the private note were for the time being kept secret by Lord Lyons, yet the president and the cabinet understood clearly that the alternative before them was that of prompt compliance with the British demands or war. That a war with Great Britain under the circumstances then existing would ruin the Union cause could hardly be doubted.
* From Carl Schurz's papers in the Library of Congress. It is undated, but as it starts out with a review of Edward L. Pierce's Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner (4 vols., Boston, 1877-1893) it seems likely it was drafted shortly after that work's completion in 1893. The narrative only covers a fraction of Sumner's life, and ends abruptly in the middle of the Trent affair in December 1861. Biographical annotations have been added to the text and are taken from the 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
This manuscript was previously published as part of Charles Sumner: An Essay (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1951, and Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1972), edited by Arthur Reed Hogue who completed the missing ending by using Schurz's sketchy first draft manuscript which is not in the Library of Congress collection. I am indebted to this book for correcting or confirming several poorly transcribed names in the typescript of the second draft: Savigny, Raumer and Caleb Cushing. The observations and illustrations of Schurz's writing style in the Introduction and Appendices also make interesting reading. I am afraid I have not done nearly as professional job, and I have probably wreaked havoc with the capitalization which I hope to fix at some point.
 Joseph Story (1779-1845), American jurist, was born at Marblehead, Massachusetts, on the 18th of September 1779. He graduated at Harvard in 1798, was admitted to the bar at Salem, Mass., in 1801, and soon attained eminence in his profession. He was a member of the Democratic party, and served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1805-1808, and in 1810-1812 for two terms as speaker, and was a representative in Congress from December 1808 to March 1809. In November 1811, at the age of thirty-two, he became, by President Madison's appointment, an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. This position he retained until his death. Here he found his true sphere of work. The traditions of the American people, their strong prejudice for the local supremacy of the states and against a centralized government, had yielded reluctantly to the establishment of the Federal legislative and executive in 1789. The Federal judiciary had been organized at the same time, but had never grasped the full measure of its powers. Soon after Story's appointment the Supreme Court began to bring out into plain view the powers which the constitution had given it over state courts and state legislation. The leading place in this work belongs to Chief Justice John Marshall, but Story has a very large share in that remarkable series of decisions and opinions, from 1812 until 1832, by which the work was accomplished. In addition to this he built up the department of admiralty law in the United States courts; he devoted much attention to equity jurisprudence, and rendered invaluable services to the department of patent law. In 1819 he attracted much attention by his vigorous charges to grand juries, denouncing the slave trade, and in 1820 he was a prominent member of the Massachusetts Convention called to revise the state constitution. In 1829 he became the first Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University, and continued until his death to hold this position, meeting with remarkable success as a teacher and winning the affection of his students, whom he imbued with much of his own enthusiasm. He died at Cambridge, Mass., on the 10th of September 1845. His industry was unremitting, and, besides attending to his duties as an associate justice and a professor of law, he wrote many reviews and magazine articles, delivered various orations on public occasions, and published a large number of works on legal subjects, which won high praise on both sides of the Atlantic.
 George Stillman Hillard (1808-1879), American lawyer and author, was born at Machias, Maine, on the 22nd of September 1808. After graduating at Harvard College in 1828, he taught in the Round Hill School at Northampton, Massachusetts. He graduated at the Harvard Law School in 1832, and in 1833 he was admitted to the bar in Boston, where he entered into partnership with Charles Sumner. He was a member of the state House of Representatives in 1836, of the state Senate in 1850, and of the state constitutional convention of 1853, and in 1866-70 was United States district attorney for Massachusetts. He devoted a large portion of his time to literature. He became a member of the editorial staff of the Christian Register, a Unitarian weekly, in 1833; in 1834 he became editor of The American Jurist (1829-1843), a legal journal to which Sumner, Simon Greenleaf and Theron Metcalf contributed; and from 1856 to 1861 he was an associate editor of the Boston Courier.
 Cornelius Conway Felton (1807-1862), American classical scholar, was born on the 6th of November 1807, in West Newbury, Massachusetts. He graduated at Harvard College in 1827, having taught school in the winter vacations of his sophomore and junior years. After teaching in the Livingstone high school of Geneseo, New York, for two years, he became tutor at Harvard in 1829, university professor of Greek in 1832, and Eliot professor of Greek literature in 1834. In 1860 he succeeded James Walker as president of Harvard, which position he held until his death, at Chester, Pennsylvania, on the 26th of February 1862.
 George Ticknor (1791-1871), American educator and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 1st of August 1791. He received his early education from his father, Elisha Ticknor (1757-1821), who had been principal of the Franklin public school and was a founder of the Massachusetts Mutual Fire Insurance Company, of the system of free primary schools in Boston, and of the first New England savings bank. In 1805 the son entered the junior class at Dartmouth, where he graduated in 1807. During the next three years he studied Latin and Greek with Rev. Dr John Sylvester Gardiner, rector of Trinity, Boston, and a pupil of Dr Samuel Parr. In 1810 Ticknor began the study of law, and he was admitted to the bar in 1813. He opened an office in Boston, but practised for only one year. He went to Europe in 1815 and for nearly two years studied at the university of Göttingen. In 1817 he became Smith professor of French and Spanish languages and literatures (a chair founded in 1816), and professor of belles-lettres at Harvard, and began his work of teaching in 1819 after travel and study in France, Spain and Portugal. During his professorship Ticknor advocated the creation of departments, the grouping of students in divisions according to proficiency, and the establishment of the elective system, and reorganized his own department. In 1835 he resigned his chair, in which he was succeeded in 1836 by Professor H. W. Longfellow; and he was again in Europe in 1835-1838. After his return he devoted himself to the chief work of his life, the history and criticism of Spanish literature, in many respects a new subject at that time even in Europe, there being no adequate treatment of the literature as a whole in Spanish, and both Bouterwek and Sismondi having worked with scanty or second-hand resources. Ticknor developed in his college lectures the scheme of his more permanent work, which he published as the History of Spanish Literature (New York and London, 3 vols., 1849). The book is not merely a story of Spanish letters, but, more broadly, of Spanish civilization and manners. The History is exhaustive and exact in scholarship, and direct and unpretentious in style. It gives many illustrative passages from representative works, and copious bibliographical references. Ticknor had succeeded his father as a member of the Primary School Board in 1822, and held this position until 1825; he was a trustee of the Boston Atheneum in 1823-1832, and was vice-president in 1833; and he was a director (1827-1835) and vice-president (1841-1862) of the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company, and a trustee of the Massachusetts General Hospital (1826-1830) and of the Boston Provident Institution for Savings (1838-1850), the bank that his father had helped to found. He was especially active in the establishment of the Boston Public Library (1852), and served in 1852-1866 on its board of trustees, of which he was president in 1865. In its behalf he spent fifteen months abroad in 1856-1857, at his own expense, and to it he gave at various times money and books; a special feature of his plan was a free circulating department. He left to the library his own collection, which was particularly strong in Spanish and Portuguese literatures. He died in Boston on the 26th of January 1871.
 Charles Francis Adams (1807-1886), American diplomatist, son of John Quincy Adams, and grandson of John Adams, was born in Boston on the 18th of August 1807. His father, having been appointed minister to Russia, took him in 1809 to St Petersburg, where he acquired a perfect familiarity with French, learning it as his native tongue. After eight years spent in Russia and England, he attended the Boston Latin School for four years, and in 1825 graduated at Harvard. He lived two years in the executive mansion, Washington, during his father's presidential term, studying law and moving in a society where he met Webster, Clay, Jackson and Randolph. Returning to Boston, he devoted ten years to business and study, and wrote for the North American Review. He also undertook the management of his father's pecuniary affairs, and actively supported him in his contest in the House of Representatives for the right of petition and the anti-slavery cause. In 1835 he wrote an effective and widely read political pamphlet, entitled, after Edmund Burke's more famous work, An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs. He was a member of the Massachusetts general court from 1840 to 1845, sitting for three years in the House of Representatives and for two years in the Senate; and in 1846-1848 he edited a party journal, the Boston Whig. In 1848 he was prominent in politics as a “Conscience Whig,” presiding over the Buffalo Convention which formed the Free Soil party and nominated Martin Van Buren for president and himself for vice-president. He was a Republican member of the Thirty-Sixth Congress, which assembled on the 5th of December 1859, and during the second session, from the 3rd of December 1860 to the 4th of March 1861, he represented Massachusetts in the Congressional Committee of Thirty-three at the time of the secession of seven of the Southern states. His selection by the chairman of this committee, Thomas Corwin, to present to the full committee certain propositions agreed upon by two-thirds of the Republican members, and his calm and able speech of the 31st of January 1861 in the House, served to make him conspicuous before congress and the country. Together with William H. Seward, he stood for the Republican policy of concession; and, while he was criticized severely and charged with inconsistency in view of his record as a “Conscience Whig,” he was of the same mind as President Lincoln, willing to concede non-essentials, but holding rigidly to the principle, properly understood, that there must be no extension of slavery. He believed that as the Republicans were the victors they ought to show a spirit of conciliation, and that the policy of righteousness was likewise one of expediency, since it would have for its result the holding of the border slave states with the North until the 4th of March, when the Republicans could take possession of the government at Washington. With the incoming of the new administration Secretary Seward secured for Adams the appointment of minister to Great Britain. So much sympathy was shown in England for the South that his path was beset with difficulties; but his mission was to prevent the interference of Great Britain in the struggle; and while the work of Lincoln, Seward and Sumner, and the cause of emancipation, tended to this end, the American minister was insistent and unyielding, and knew how to present his case forcibly and with dignity. He laboured with energy and discretion to prevent the sailing of the “Alabama”; and, when unsuccessful in this, he persistently urged upon the British government its responsibility for the destruction of American merchant vessels by the privateer. In his own diary he shows that underneath his calm exterior were serious trouble and keen anxiety; and, in fact, the strain which he underwent during the Civil War made itself felt in later years. Adams was instrumental in getting Lord John Russell to stop the “Alexandra,” and it was his industry and pertinacity in argument and remonstrance that induced Russell to order the detention in September 1863 of the two ironclad rams intended for the Confederate States. Adams remained in England until May 1868. His last important work was as a member, in 1871-1872, of the tribunal of arbitration at Geneva which disposed of the “Alabama” claims. His knowledge of the subject and his fairness of mind enabled him to render his country and the cause of international arbitration valuable service. He died at Boston on the 21st of November 1886.
 Robert Charles Winthrop (1800-1894), American orator and statesman, a descendant of Governor John Winthrop (1588-1649), was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 12th of May 1809. He graduated at Harvard in 1828, studied law with Daniel Webster and in 1831 was admitted to the bar. He was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1834-1840 — for the last three years as speaker, — and in 1840 was elected to the national House of Representatives as a Whig, serving from December 1840 to 1850 (with a short intermission, April-December 1842). He soon became prominent and was speaker of the Thirtieth Congress (1847-1849), though his conservatism on slavery and kindred questions displeased extremists, North and South, who prevented his re-election as speaker of the Thirty-first Congress. On the resignation of Daniel Webster to become secretary of state, Winthrop was appointed to the Senate (July 1850), but was defeated in the Massachusetts legislature for the short term (Jan. 30, 1851) and for the long term (April 24, 1851) by a coalition of Democrats and Free Soilers and served only until February 1851. In the same year he received a plurality of the votes cast for governor, but as the constitution required a majority vote, the election was thrown into the legislature, where he was defeated by the same coalition. Thereafter, he was never a candidate for political office. With the breaking up of the Whig party he became an independent and supported Millard Fillmore in 1856, John Bell in 1860, and General G. B. McClellan in 1864. He was president of the Massachusetts Historical Society from 1855 to 1885, and for the last twenty-seven years of his life was president of the Peabody Trust for the advancement of education in the Southern States. Among his noteworthy orations of a patriotic character were those delivered at Boston in 1876, at Yorktown in 1881, and in Washington on the completion of the Washington Monument in 1885. He died in Boston on the 16th of November 1894.
 George Sewall Boutwell (1818-1905), American statesman, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on the 28th of January 1818. He was reared on a farm, and at an early age began a mercantile career at Groton, Mass. There he studied law and in 1836 was admitted to the bar, but did not begin practice for many years. In 1842-1844 and again in 1847-1850 he served in the state house of representatives, and became the recognized leader on the Democratic side; he was thrice defeated for Congress, and was twice an unsuccessful candidate for governor. In 1851, however, by means of “Free-Soil” votes, he was chosen governor, and was re-elected by the same coalition in 1852. In the following year he took an active part in the state constitutional convention. He became a member of the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1853, and as its secretary in 1855-1861 prepared valuable reports and rendered much service to the state's school system. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854 had finally alienated him from the Democratic party, and he became one of the founders of the new Republican party in the state. He played an influential part in the Republican national convention in 1860, and in 1862 after the passage of the war tax measures he was appointed by President Lincoln the first commissioner of internal revenue, which department he organized. From 1863 to 1869 he was a representative in Congress, taking an influential part in debate, and acting as one of the managers of President Johnson's impeachment. From 1869 to 1873 he was secretary of the treasury in President Grant's cabinet, and from 1873 until 1877 was a United States senator from Massachusetts. Under an appointment by President Hayes, he prepared the second edition of the United States Revised Statutes (1878). In 1880 he represented the United States before the commission appointed in accordance with the treaty of that year, between France and the United States, to decide the claims brought by French citizens against the United States for acts of the American authorities during the Civil War, and the claims of American citizens against France for acts of French authorities during the war between France and Mexico, the Franco-German War and the Commune. He opposed the acquisition by the United States of the Philippine Islands, became president of the Anti-imperialistic League, and was a presidential elector on the Bryan (Democratic) ticket in 1900. He died at Groton, Massachusetts, on the 28th of February 1905.
 Theodore Parker (1810-1860), American preacher and social reformer, was born at Lexington, Massachusetts, on the 24th of August 1810, the youngest of eleven children. His father, John Parker, a small farmer and skilful mechanic, was a typical New England yeoman. His mother took great pains with the religious education of her children, “caring, however, but little for doctrines,” and making religion to consist of love and good works. His paternal grand-father, Captain John Parker (1729-1775), was the leader of the Lexington minute-men in the skirmish at Lexington. Theodore obtained the elements of knowledge in the schools of the district, which were open during the winter months only. During the rest of the year he worked on his father's farm. At the age of seventeen he became himself a winter schoolmaster, and in his twentieth year he entered himself at Harvard, working on the farm as usual (until 1831) while he followed his studies and going over to Cambridge for the examinations only. For the theological course he took up in 1834 his residence in the college, meeting his expenses by a small sum amassed by school-keeping and by help from a poor students' fund, and graduating in 1836. At the close of his college career he began his translation (published in 1843) of Wilhelm M. L. De Wette's Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Alte Testament. His journal and letters show that he had made acquaintance with a large number of languages, including Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopic, as well as the classical and the principal modern European languages. When he entered the divinity school he was an orthodox Unitarian; when he left it, he entertained strong doubts about the infallibility of the Bible, the possibility of miracles, and the exclusive claims of Christianity and the Church. Emerson's transcendentalism greatly influenced him, and Strauss's Leben Jesu left its mark upon his thought. His first ministerial charge was over a small village parish, West Roxbury, a few miles from Boston; here he was ordained as a Unitarian clergyman in June 1837 and here he preached until January 1846. His views were slowly assuming the form which subsequently found such strong expression in his writing; but the progress was slow, and the cautious reserve of his first rationalistic utterances was in striking contrast with his subsequent rashness. But on the 19th of May 1841 he preached at Boston a sermon on “the transient and permanent in Christianity,” which presented in embryo the main principles and ideas of his final theological position, and the preaching of which determined his subsequent relations to the churches with which he was connected and to the whole ecclesiastical world. The Boston Unitarian clergy denounced the preacher, and declared that the “young man must be silenced.” No Unitarian publisher could be found for his sermon, and nearly all the pulpits of the city were closed against him. A number of gentlemen in Boston, however, invited him to give a series of lectures there. The result was that he delivered in the Masonic Hall, in the winter of 1841-1842, as lectures, substantially the volume afterwards published as the Discourse of Matters pertaining to Religion. The lectures in their published form made his name famous throughout America and Europe, and confirmed the stricter Unitarians in America in their attitude towards him and his supporters. His friends, however, resolved that he should be heard in Boston, and there, beginning with 1845, he preached regularly for fourteen years. Previous to his removal from West Roxbury to Boston Parker spent a year in Europe, calling in Germany upon Paulus, Gervinus, De Wette and Ewald, and preaching in Liverpool in the pulpits of James Martineau and J. H. Thom. After January 1846 he devoted himself exclusively to his work in Boston. In addition to his Sunday labours he lectured throughout the States, and prosecuted his wide studies, collecting particularly the materials for an opus magnum on the development of religion in mankind. Above all he took up the question of the emancipation of the slaves, and fearlessly advocated in Boston and elsewhere, from the platform and through the press, the cause of the negroes. He made his influence felt also by correspondence with political leaders and by able political speeches, one of which, delivered in 1858, contained the sentence, “Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, by all the people, for all the people,” which probably suggested Abraham Lincoln's oft-quoted variant. Parker assisted actively in the escape of fugitive slaves, and for trying to prevent the rendition of perhaps the most famous of them, Anthony Burns, was indicted, but the indictment was quashed. He also gave his aid to John Brown. By his voice, his pen, and his utterly fearless action in social and political matters he became a great power in Boston and America generally. But his days were numbered. His mother had suffered from phthisis; and he himself now fell a victim to the same disease. In January 1859 he suffered a violent haemorrhage of the lungs, and sought relief by retreating first to the West Indies and afterwards to Europe. He died at Florence on the 10th of May 1860.
The fundamental articles of Parker's religious faith were the three “instinctive intuitions” of God, of a moral law, and of immortality. His own mind, heart and life were undoubtedly pervaded, sustained and ruled by the feelings, convictions and hopes which he formulated in these three articles; and he rationalized his own religious conceptions in a number of expositions which do credit to his sincerity and courage. But he was a preacher rather than a thinker, a reformer rather than a philosopher.
 Edward Everett (1794-1865), American statesman and orator, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, on the 11th of April 1794. He was the son of Rev. Oliver Everett and the brother of Alexander Hill Everett. His father died in 1802, and his mother removed to Boston with her family after Her husband's death. At seventeen Edward Everett graduated from Harvard College, taking first honours in his class. While at college he was the chief editor of The Lyceum, the earliest in the series of college journals published at the American Cambridge. His earlier predilections were for the study of law, but the advice of Joseph Stevens Buckminster, a distinguished preacher in Boston, led him to prepare for the pulpit, and as a preacher he at once distinguished himself. He was called to the ministry of the Brattle Street church (Unitarian) in Boston before he was twenty years old. His sermons attracted wide attention in that community, and he gained a considerable reputation as a theologian and a controversialist by his publication in 1814 of a volume entitled Defence of Christianity, written in answer to a work, The Grounds of Christianity Examined (1813), by George Bethune English (1787-1828), an adventurer, who, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was in turn a student of law and of theology, an editor of a newspaper, and a soldier of fortune in Egypt. Everett's tastes, however, were then, as always, those of a scholar; and in 1815, after a service of little more than a year in the pulpit, he resigned his charge to accept a professorship of Greek literature in Harvard College.
After nearly five years spent in Europe in preparation, he entered with enthusiasm on his duties, and, for five years more, gave a vigorous impulse, not only to the study of Greek, but to all the work of the college. In January 1820 he assumed the charge of the North American Review, which now became a quarterly; and he was indefatigable during the four years of his editorship in contributing on a great variety of subjects. From 1825 to 1835 he was a member of the National House of Representatives, supporting generally the administration of President J. Q. Adams and opposing that of Jackson, which succeeded it. He bore a part in almost every important debate, and was a member of the committee of foreign affairs during the whole time of his service in Congress. Everett was a member of nearly all the most important select committees, such as those on the Indian relations of the state of Georgia, the Apportionment Bill, and the Bank of the United States, and drew the report either of the majority or the minority. The report on the congress of Panama, the leading measure of the first session of the Nineteenth Congress, was drawn up by Everett, although he was the youngest member of the committee and had just entered Congress. He led the unsuccessful opposition to the Indian policy of General Jackson (the removal of the Cherokee and other Indians, without their consent, from lands guaranteed to them by treaty).
In 1835 he was elected governor of Massachusetts. He brought to the duties of the office the untiring diligence which was the characteristic of his public life. We can only allude to a few of the measures which received his efficient support, e.g. the establishment of the board of education (the first of such boards in the United States), the scientific surveys of the state (the first of such public surveys), the criminal law commission, and the preservation of a sound currency during the panic of 1837.
Everett filled the office of governor for four years, and was then defeated by a single vote, out of more than one hundred thousand. The election is of interest historically as being the first important American election where the issue turned on the question of the prohibition of the retail sale of intoxicating liquors. In the following spring he made a visit with his family to Europe. In 1841, while residing in Florence, he was named United States minister to Great Britain, and arrived in London to enter upon the duties of his mission at the close of that year. Great questions were at that time open between the two countries — the north-eastern boundary, the affair of McLeod, the seizure of American vessels on the coast of Africa, in the course of a few months the affair of the “Creole,” to which was soon added the Oregon question. His position was more difficult by reason of the frequent changes that took place in the department at home, which, in the course of four years, was occupied successively by Messrs Webster, Legaré, Upshur, Calhoun and Buchanan. From all these gentlemen Everett received marks of approbation and confidence.
By the institution of the special mission of Lord Ashburton, however, the direct negotiations between the two governments were, about the time of Everett's arrival in London, transferred to Washington, though much business was transacted at the American legation in London.
Immediately after the accession of Polk to the presidency Everett was recalled. From January 1846 to 1849, as the successor of Josiah Quincy, he was president of Harvard College. On the death, in October 1852, of his friend Daniel Webster, to whom he had always been closely attached, and of whom he was always a confidential adviser, he succeeded him as secretary of state, which post he held for the remaining months of Fillmore's administration, leaving it to go into the Senate in 1853, as one of the representatives of Massachusetts. Under the work of the long session of 1853-1854 his health gave way. In May 1854 he resigned his seat, on the orders of his physician, and retired to what was called private life.
But, as it proved, the remaining ten years of his life most widely established his reputation and influence throughout America. As early as 1820 he had established a reputation as an orator, such as few men in later days have enjoyed. He was frequently invited to deliver an “oration” on some topic of historical or other interest. With him these “orations,” instead of being the ephemeral entertainments of an hour, became careful studies of some important theme. Eager to avert, if possible, the impending conflict of arms between the North and South, Everett prepared an “oration” on George Washington, which he delivered in every part of America. In this way, too, he raised more than one hundred thousand dollars, for the purchase of the old home of Washington at Mount Vernon. Everett also prepared for the Encyclopaedia Britannica a biographical sketch of Washington, which was published separately in 1860. In 1860 Everett was the candidate of the short-lived Constitutional Union party for the vice-presidency, on the ticket with John Bell, but received only 39 electoral votes. During the Civil War he zealously supported the national government and was called upon in every quarter to speak at public meetings. He delivered the last of his great orations at Gettysburg, after the battle, on the consecration of the national cemetery there. On the 9th of January 1865 he spoke at a public meeting in Boston to raise funds for the southern poor in Savannah. At that meeting he caught cold, and the immediate result was his death on the 15th of January 1865.
In Everett's life and career was a combination of the results of diligent training, unflinching industry, delicate literary tastes and unequalled acquaintance with modern international politics. This combination made him in America an entirely exceptional person. He was never loved by the political managers; he was always enthusiastically received by assemblies of the people. He would have said himself that the most eager wish of his life had been for the higher education of his countrymen. His orations have been collected in four volumes (1850-1859). A work on international law, on which he was engaged at his death, was never finished. Allibone records 84 titles of his books and published addresses.
 Henry Wilson (1812-1875), vice-president of the United States from 1873 to 1875, was born at Farmington, New Hampshire, on the 16th of February 1812. His name originally was Jeremiah J. Colbaith. His father was a day-labourer and very poor. At ten years of age the son went to work as a farm-labourer. He was fond of reading, and before the end of his apprenticeship had read more than a thousand volumes. At the age of twenty-one, for some unstated reason, he had his name changed by Act of the Legislature to that of Henry Wilson. At Natick, Massachusetts, whither he travelled on foot, he learned the trade of shoemaker, and during his leisure hours studied much and read with avidity. For short periods, also, he studied in the academies of Strafford, N.H., Wolfeborough, N.H., and Concord, N.H. After successfully establishing himself as a shoe manufacturer, he attracted attention as a public speaker in support of William Henry Harrison during the presidential campaign of 1840. He was in the state House of Representatives in 1841-42, 1846 and 1850, and in the Senate in 1844-45 and 1851-52. In 1848 he left the Whig party and became one of the chief leaders of the Free Soil party, serving as presiding officer of that party's national convention in 1852, acting as chairman of the Free Soil national committee and editing from 1848 to 1851 the Boston Republican, which he made the chief Free Soil organ. The Free Soil party nominated him for governor of the state in 1853, but he was defeated. For a short time (1855) he identified himself with the American or Know Nothing party, and afterwards acted with the Republican party. In 1855 he was elected to the United States Senate and remained there by re-elections until 1873. His uncompromising opposition to the institution of slavery furnished the keynote of his earlier senatorial career, and he soon took rank as one of the ablest and most effective anti-slavery orators in the United States. He had been deeply interested from 1840 until 1850 in the militia of his state, and had risen through its grades of service to that of brigadier-general. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War he was made chairman of the military committee of the Senate, and in this position performed most laborious and important work for the four years of the war. The Republicans nominated Wilson for the vice-presidency in 1872, and he was elected; but he died on the 22nd of November 1875 before completing his term of office.
 Jared Sparks (1780-1866), American historian and educationalist, was born in Willington, Tolland county, Connecticut, on the 10th of May 1789. He studied in the common schools, worked for a time at the carpenter's trade, and then became a school-teacher. In 1809-1811 he attended Phillips Exeter Academy, where he met John G. Palfrey and George Bancroft, two schoolmates, who became his lifelong friends. He graduated at Harvard (A.B., in 1815 and A.M., in 1818); taught in a private school at Lancaster, Massachusetts, in 1815-1817; and studied theology and was college tutor in mathematics and natural philosophy at Harvard in 1817-1819. In 1817-1818 he was acting editor of the North American Review. He was pastor of the First Independent Church (Unitarian) of Baltimore, Maryland, in 1810-1823, Dr William Ellery Channing delivering at his ordination his famous discourse on “Unitarian Christianity.” During this period Sparks founded the Unitarian Miscellany and Christian Monitor (1821), a monthly, and edited its first three volumes; he was chaplain of the national House of Representatives in 1821-1823; and he contributed to the National Intelligencer and other periodicals. In 1823 his health failed and he withdrew from the ministry. Removing to Boston, he bought and edited in 1824-1830 the North American Review, contributing to it about fifty articles. He founded and edited, in 1830 the American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge, which was continued by others and long remained a popular annual. After extensive researches at home and (1828-1829) in London and Paris, he published the Life and Writings of George Washington (12 vols., 1834-1837; redated 1842), his most important work; and in 1839 he published separately the Life of George Washington (abridged, 2 vols., 1842). The work was for the most part favourably received, but Sparks was severely criticized by Lord Mahon (in the sixth volume of his History of England} and others for altering the text of some of Washington's writings. Sparks defended his methods in A Reply to the Strictures of Lord Mahon and Others (1852). The charges were not wholly justifiable, and later Lord Mahon (Stanhope) modified them. While continuing his studies abroad, in 1840-1841, in the history of the American War of Independence, Sparks discovered in the French archives the red-line map, which, in 1842, came into international prominence in connexion with the dispute over the north-eastern boundary of the United States. In 1842 he delivered twelve lectures on American history before the Lowell Institute in Boston. In 1839-1849 he was McLean professor of ancient and modern history at Harvard. His appointment to this position, says his biographer, was “the first academic encouragement of American history, and of original historical research in the American field.” In 1849 Sparks succeeded Edward Everett as president of Harvard. He retired in 1853 on account of failing health, and devoted the rest of his life to his private studies. For several years he was a member of the Massachusetts board of education. He died on the 14th of March 1866, in Cambridge, Mass. His valuable collection of manuscripts and papers went to Harvard; and his private library and his maps were bought by Cornell University. He was a pioneer in collecting, on a large scale, documentary material on American history, and in this and in other ways rendered valuable services to historical scholarship in the United States.
 Josiah Quincy (1772-1864), American lawyer and author, was born in Boston on the 4th of February 1772. He studied at Phillips Academy, Andover, graduated at Harvard in 1790, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1793, but was never a prominent advocate. He became a leader of the Federalist party in Massachusetts; was an unsuccessful candidate for the national House of Representatives in 1800; served in the Massachusetts Senate in 1804-5; and was a member in 1805-13 of the national House of Representatives, where he was one of the small Federalist minority. He attempted to secure the exemption of fishing vessels from the Embargo Act, urged the strengthening of the American navy, and vigorously opposed the erection of Orleans Territory (Louisiana) into a state in 1811, and stated as his “deliberate opinion, that if this bill passes, the bonds of this Union are virtually dissolved; that the States that compose it are free from their moral obligations to maintain it; and that, as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some to prepare definitely for a separation, — amicably if they can, violently if they must.” This is probably “the first assertion of the right of secession on the floor of Congress.” Quincy left Congress because he saw that the Federalist opposition was useless, and thereafter was a member of the Massachusetts Senate until 1820; in 1821-22 he was a member and speaker of the state House of Representatives, from which he resigned to become judge of the municipal court of Boston. In 1823-28 he was mayor, of Boston, and in his term Faneuil Hall Market House was built, the fire and police departments were reorganized, and the city's care of the poor was systematized. In 1829-1845 he was president of Harvard College, of which he had been an overseer since 1810, when the board was reorganized; he has been called “the great organizer of the university”: he gave an elective (or “voluntary”) system an elaborate trial; introduced a system of marking (on the scale of 8) on which college rank and honours, formerly rather carelessly assigned, were based; first used courts of law to punish students who destroyed or injured college property; and helped to reform the finances of the university. During his term Dane Hall (for law) was dedicated, Gore Hall was built, and the Astronomical Observatory was equipped. His last years were spent principally on his farm in Quincy, where he died on the 1st of July 1864.
 Here the manuscript has a marginal note, “A week in London, III, 544,” which must refer to the Pierce book.
 Here the manuscript has another marginal note, “See IV, 110,” which must also refer to the Pierce book.
 Here the manuscript has another marginal note, “See IV, 151,” which must also refer to the Pierce book.
 Richard Henry Dana (1815-1882), son of the man of letters Richard Henry Dana (1787-1879), was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the 1st of August 1815. He entered Harvard in the class of 1835, but at the beginning of his junior year an illness affecting his sight necessitated a suspension of his college work, and in August 1834 he shipped before the mast for California, returning in September 1836. The rough experience of this voyage did more than endow him with renewed health; it changed him from a dreamy, sensitive boy, hereditarily disinclined to any sort of active career, into a self-reliant, energetic man, with broad interests and keen sympathies. He re-entered Harvard in December 1836 and graduated in June 1837. He was a student at the Harvard law school from 1837 to 1840, and from January 1839 to February 1840 he was also an instructor in elocution in the college. In 1840 the notes of his sea-trip were published under the title Two Years Before the Mast. The book attained an almost unprecedented popularity both in America and in Europe, where it was translated into several languages; and it came to be considered a classic. Immediately after the appearance of this book Dana began the practice of law, which brought him a large number of maritime cases. In 1841 he published The Seaman's Friend, republished in England as The Seaman's Manual, which was long the highest authority on the legal rights and duties of seamen. After gaining recognition as one of the most prominent members of the Suffolk bar, he became associated in 1848 with the Free Soil movement, and took a prominent part in the Buffalo convention of that year. This step, which caused him to be ostracized for a time from the Boston circles in which he had been reared, brought him the cases of the fugitive slaves, Shadrach, Sims and Burns, and of the rescuers of Shadrach. On the night following the surrender of Burns (May 1854) Dana was brutally assaulted on the Boston streets. In 1853 he took a prominent part in the state constitutional convention. He allied himself with the Republican party on its organization, but his inborn dislike for political manoeuvring prevented his ever becoming prominent in its councils. In 1857 he became a regular attendant at the meetings of the famous Boston Saturday Club, to the members of which he dedicated his account of a vacation trip, To Cuba and Back (1857). He returned to America from a trip round the world in time to participate in the presidential campaign of 1860, and after Lincoln's inauguration he was appointed United States district attorney for Massachusetts. In this office in 1863 he won before the Supreme Court of the United States the famous prize case of the “Amy Warwick,” on the decision in which depended the right of the government to blockade the Confederate ports, without giving the Confederate States an international status as belligerents. He brought out in 1865 an edition of Wheaton's International Law, his notes constituting a most learned and valuable authority on international law and its bearings on American history and diplomacy; but immediately after its publication Dana was charged by the editor of two earlier editions, William Beach Lawrence, with infringing his copyright, and was involved in litigation which was continued for thirteen years. In such minor matters as arrangement of notes and verification of citations the court found against Dana, but in the main Dana's notes were vastly different from Lawrence's. In 1865 Dana declined an appointment as a United States district judge. During the Reconstruction period he favoured the congressional plan rather than that of President Johnson, and on this account resigned the district-attorneyship. In 1867-1868 he was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and in 1867 was retained with William M. Evarts to prosecute Jefferson Davis, whose admission to bail he counselled. In 1877 he was one of the counsel for the United States before the commission which in accordance with the treaty of Washington met at Halifax, N.S., to arbitrate the fisheries question between the United States and Great Britain. In 1878 he gave up his law practice and devoted the rest of his life to study and travel. He died in Rome, Italy, on the 9th of January 1882.
 Theophilus Parsons (1797-1882), who was Dane professor of law at Harvard from 1848 to 1870, is remembered chiefly as the author of a series of useful legal treatises, and some books in support of Swedenborgian doctrines; he wrote a life of his father, Theophilus Parsons (1750-1813) (Boston, 1859).