Charles Sumner Eulogy
EULOGY BY CARL SCHURZ,
DELIVERED BY INVITATION OF THE
CITY GOVERNMENT OF BOSTON,
BOSTON MUSIC HALL,
APRIL 29, 1874.
When the news went forth, "Charles Sumner is dead," a tremor of strange emotion was felt all over the land. It was as if a magnificent star, a star unlike all others, which the living generation had been wont to behold fixed and immovable above their heads, had all at once disappeared from the sky, and the people stared into the great void darkened by the sudden absence of the familiar light.
On the 16th of March a funeral procession passed through the streets of Boston. Uncounted thousands of men, women and children had assembled to see it pass. No uncommon pageant had attracted them; no military parade with glittering uniforms and gay banners; no pompous array of dignitaries in official robes; nothing but carriages and a hearse with a coffin, and in it the corpse of Charles Sumner. But there they stood — a multitude immeasurable to the eye, rich and poor, white and black, old and young — in grave and mournful silence, to bid a last sad farewell to him who was being borne to his grave. And every breeze from every point of the compass came loaded with a sigh of sorrow. Indeed, there was not a city or town in this great republic which would not have surrounded that funeral procession with the same spectacle of a profound and universal sense of great bereavement.
Was it love? Was it gratitude for the services rendered to the people? Was it the baffled expectation of greater service still to come? Was it admiration of his talents or his virtues that inspired so general an emotion of sorrow?
He had stood aloof from the multitude; the friendship of his heart had been given to but few; to the many he had appeared distant, self-satisfied and cold. His public life had been full of bitter conflicts. No man had aroused against himself fiercer animosities. Although warmly recognized by many, the public services of no man had been more acrimoniously questioned by opponents. No statesman's motives, qualities of heart and mind, wisdom and character, except his integrity, had been the subject of more heated controversy; and yet, when sudden death snatched him from us, friend and foe bowed their heads alike.
Every patriotic citizen felt poorer than the day before. Every true American heart trembled with the apprehension that the republic had lost something it could ill spare.
Even from far distant lands, across the ocean, voices came, mingling their sympathetic grief with our own.
When you, Mr. Mayor, in the name of the City Government of Boston, invited me to interpret that which millions think and feel, I thanked you for the proud privilege you had conferred upon me, and the invitation appealed so irresistibly to my friendship for the man we had lost, that I could not decline it.
And yet, the thought struck me that you might have prepared a greater triumph to his memory, had you summoned not me, his friend, but one of those who had stood against him in the struggles of his life, to bear testimony to Charles Sumner's virtues.
There are many among them to-day, to whose sense of justice you might have safely confided the office, which to me is a task of love.
Here I see his friends around me, the friends of his youth, of his manhood, of his advancing age; among them, men whose illustrious names are household words as far as the English tongue is spoken, and far beyond. I saw them standing round his open grave, when it received the flower-decked coffin, mute sadness heavily clouding their brows. I understood their grief, for nobody could share it more than I.
In such a presence, the temptation is great to seek that consolation for our loss which bereaved friendship finds in the exaltation of its bereavement. But not to you or me belonged this man while he lived; not to you or me belongs his memory now that he is gone. His deeds, his example, and his fame, he left as a legacy to the American people and to mankind; and it is my office to speak of this inheritance. I cannot speak of it without affection. I shall endeavor to do it with justice.
Among the public characters of America, Charles Sumner stands peculiar and unique. His senatorial career is a conspicuous part of our political history. But in order to appreciate the man in the career, we must look at the story of his life.
The American people take pride in saying that almost all their great historic characters were self-made men, who, without the advantages of wealth and early opportunities, won their education, raised themselves to usefulness and distinction, and achieved their greatness through a rugged hand-to-hand struggle with adverse fortune. It is indeed so. A log cabin; a ragged little boy walking barefooted to a lowly country school-house, or sometimes no school-house at all; — a lad, after a day's hard toil on the farm, or in the workshop, poring greedily, sometimes stealthily, over a volume of poetry, or history, or travels; a forlorn-looking youth, with elbows out, applying at a lawyer's office for an opportunity to study; — then the young man a successful practitioner attracting the notice of his neighbors; — then a member of a State Legislature, a representative in Congress, a Senator, maybe a Cabinet Minister, or even President. Such are the pictures presented by many a proud American biography.
And it is natural that the American people should be proud of it, for such a biography condenses in the compass of a single life the great story of the American nation, as from the feebleness and misery of early settlements in the bleak solitude it advanced to the subjugation of the hostile forces of nature; plunged into an arduous struggle with dangers and difficulties only known to itself, gathering strength from every conflict and experience from every trial; with undaunted pluck widening the range of its experiments and creative action, until at last it stands there as one of the greatest powers of the earth. The people are fond of seeing their image reflected in the lives of their foremost representative men.
But not such a life was that of Charles Sumner. He was descended from good old Kentish yeomanry stock, men stalwart of frame, stout of heart, who used to stand in the front of the fierce battles of Old England; and the first of the name who came to America had certainly not been exempt from the rough struggles of the early settlements. But already from the year 1723 a long line of Sumners appears on the records of Harvard College, and it is evident that the love of study had long been hereditary in the family. Charles Pinckney Sumner, the Senator's father, was a graduate of Harvard, a lawyer by profession, for fourteen years high sheriff of Suffolk County. His literary tastes and acquirements, and his stately politeness are still remembered. He was altogether a man of high respectability.
He was not rich, but in good circumstances; and well able to give his children the best opportunities to study, without working for their daily bread.
Charles Sumner was born in Boston, on the 6th of January, 1811. At the age of ten he had received his rudimentary training; at fifteen, after having gone through the Boston Latin School, he entered Harvard College, and plunged at once with fervor into the classics, polite literature and history. Graduated in 1830, he entered the Cambridge Law School. Now life began to open to him. Judge Story, his most distinguished teacher, soon recognized in him a young man of uncommon stamp; and an intimate friendship sprang up between teacher and pupil, which was severed only by death.
He began to distinguish himself not only by the most arduous industry and application, pushing his researches far beyond the text-books — indeed, text-books never satisfied him — but by a striking eagerness and faculty to master the original principles of the science, and to trace them through its development.
His productive labor began, and I find it stated that already then, while he was yet a pupil, his essays, published in the "American Jurist," were "always characterized by breadth of view and accuracy of learning, and sometimes by remarkably subtle and ingenious investigations."
Leaving the Law School he entered the office of a lawyer in Boston, to acquire a knowledge of practice, never much to his taste. Then he visited Washington for the first time, little dreaming what a theatre of action, struggle, triumph and suffering the national city was to become for him; for then he came only as a studious, deeply interested looker-on, who merely desired to form the acquaintance of the justices and practicing lawyers at the bar of the Supreme Court. He was received with marked kindness by Chief-Justice Marshall, and in later years he loved to tell his friends how he had sat at the feet of that great magistrate, and learned there what a judge should be.
Having been admitted to the bar in Worcester in 1834, when twenty-three years old, he opened an office in Boston, was soon appointed reporter of the United States Circuit Court, published three volumes containing Judge Story's decisions, known as "Sumner's Reports," took Judge Story's place from time to time as lecturer in the Harvard Law School; also Professor Greenleaf's, who was absent, and edited during the years 1835 and 1836 Andrew Dunlap's Treatise on Admiralty Practice. Beyond this, his studies, arduous, incessant and thorough, ranged far and wide.
Truly a studious and laborious young man, who took the business of life earnestly in hand, determined to know something, and to be useful to his time and country.
But what he had learned and could learn at home did not satisfy his craving. In 1837 he went to Europe, armed with a letter from Judge Story's hand to the law magnates of England, to whom his patron introduced him as "a young lawyer giving promise of the most eminent distinction in his profession, with truly extraordinary attainments, literary and judicial, and a gentleman of the highest purity and propriety of character."
This was not a mere complimentary introduction; it was the conscientious testimony of a great judge, who well knew his responsibility, and who afterwards, when his death approached, adding to that testimony, was frequently heard to say, "I shall die content, as far as my professorship is concerned, if Charles Sumner is to succeed me."
In England, young Sumner, only feeling himself standing on the threshold of life, was received like a man of already achieved distinction. Every circle of a society, ordinarily so exclusive, was open to him. Often, by invitation, he sat with the judges in Westminster Hall. Renowned statesmen introduced him on the floor of the Houses of Parliament. Eagerly he followed the debates, and studied the principles and practice of parliamentary law on its maternal soil, where from the first seed-corn it had grown up into a magnificent tree, in whose shadow a great people can dwell in secure enjoyment of their rights. Scientific associations received him as a welcome guest, and the learned and great willingly opened to his winning presence their stores of knowledge and statesmanship.
In France he listened to the eminent men of the Law School in Paris, at the Sorbonne and the College de France, and with many of the statesmen of that country he maintained instructive intercourse. In Italy he gave himself up to the charms of art, poetry, history and classical literature. In Germany he enjoyed the conversation of Humboldt, of Ranke the historian, of Ritter the geographer, and of the great jurists, Savigny, Thibaut and Mittermaier.
Two years after his return the "London Quarterly Review" said of his visit to England, "He presents in his own person a decisive proof that an American gentleman, without official rank or wide-spread reputation, by mere dint of courtesy, candor, an entire absence of pretension, an appreciating spirit and a cultured mind, may be received on a perfect footing of equality in the best circles, social, political and intellectual."
It must have been true, for it came from a quarter not given to the habit of flattering Americans beyond their deserts. And Charles Sumner was not then the senator of power and fame; he was only the young son of a late sheriff of Suffolk County in Massachusetts, who had neither riches nor station, but who possessed that most winning charm of youth — purity of soul, modesty of conduct, culture of mind, an earnest thirst of knowledge, and a brow bearing the stamp of noble manhood and the promise of future achievements.
He returned to his native shores in 1840, himself like a heavily freighted ship, bearing a rich cargo of treasures collected in foreign lands.
He resumed the practice of law in Boston; but, as I find it stated, "not with remarkable success in a financial point of view." That I readily believe. The financial point of view was never to him a fruitful source of inspiration. Again he devoted himself to the more congenial task of teaching at the Cambridge Law School, and of editing an American edition of "Vesey's Reports," in twenty volumes, with elaborate notes contributed by himself.
But now the time had come when a new field of action was to open itself to him. On the 4th of July, 1845, he delivered before the City Authorities of Boston, an address on "The True Grandeur of Nations." So far he had been only a student — a deep and arduous one, and a writer and a teacher, but nothing more. On that day his public career commenced. And his first public address disclosed at once the peculiar impulse and inspirations of his heart, and the tendencies of his mind. It was a plea for universal peace, — a poetic rhapsody on the wrongs and horrors of war and the beauties of concord; not, indeed, without solid argument, but that argument clothed in all the gorgeousness of historical illustration, classic imagery and fervid effusion, rising high above the level of existing conditions, and picturing an ideal future, — the universal reign of justice and charity, — not far off to his own imagination, but far beyond the conceptions of living society; but to that society he addressed the urgent summons, to go forth at once in pursuit of this ideal consummation; to transform all swords into ploughshares, and all war-ships into peaceful merchantmen, without delay; believing that thus the nation would rise to a greatness never known before, which it could accomplish if it only willed it.
And this speech he delivered while the citizen soldiery of Boston in festive array were standing before him, and while the very air was stirred by the premonitory mutterings of an approaching war.
The whole man revealed himself in that utterance; a soul full of the native instinct of justice; an overpowering sense of right and wrong, which made him look at the problems of human society from the lofty plane of an ideal morality, which fixed for him, high beyond the existing condition of things, the aims for which he must strive, and inspired and fired his ardent nature for the struggle. His education had singularly favored and developed that ideal tendency. It was not that of the self-made man in the common acceptation of the word. The distracting struggles for existence, the small, harassing cares of every-day life, had remained foreign to him. His education was that of the favored few. He found all the avenues of knowledge wide open to him. All that his country could give he had: the most renowned schools; the living instruction of the most elevating personal associations. It was the education of the typical young English gentleman. Like the English gentleman, also, he travelled abroad to widen his mental horizon. And again, all that foreign countries could give he had: the instruction of great lawyers and men of science, the teachings and example of statesmen, the charming atmosphere of poetry and art, which graces and elevates the soul. He had also learned to work, to work hard and with a purpose, and at thirty-four, when he first appeared conspicuously before the people, he could already point to many results of his labors.
But his principal work had been an eager accumulation of knowledge in his own mind, an accumulation most extraordinary in its scope and variety. His natural inclination to search for fundamental principles and truths had been favored by his opportunities, and all his industry in collecting knowledge became subservient to the building up of his ideals. Having not been tossed and jostled through the school of want and adversity, he lacked, what that school is best apt to develop, keen, practical instincts, sharpened by early struggles, and that sober appreciation of the realities and possibilities of the times which is forced upon men by a hard contact with the world. He judged life from the stillness of the student's closet and from his intercourse with the refined and elevated, and he acquired little of those experiences which might have dampened his zeal in working for his ideal aims, and staggered his faith in their realization. His mind loved to move and operate in the realm of ideas, not of things; in fact, it could scarcely have done otherwise. Thus nature and education made him an idealist, — and, indeed, he stands as the most pronounced idealist among the public men of America.
He was an ardent friend of liberty, not like one of those who have themselves suffered oppression and felt the galling weight of chains; nor like those who in the common walks of life have experienced the comfort of wide elbow-room and the quickening and encouraging influence of free institutions for the practical work of society. But to him liberty was the ideal goddess clothed in sublime attributes of surpassing beauty and beneficence, giving to every human being his eternal rights, showering around her the treasures of her blessings, and lifting up the lowly to an ideal existence.
In the same ethereal light stood in his mind the Republic, his country, the law, the future organization of the great family of nations.
That idealism was sustained and quickened, not merely by his vast learning and classical inspirations, but by that rare and exquisite purity of life, and high moral sensitiveness, which he had preserved intact and fresh through all the temptations of his youth, and which remained intact and fresh down to his last day.
Such was the man, when, in the exuberant vigor of manhood, he entered public life. Until that time he had entertained no aspirations for a political career. When discussing with a friend of his youth, — now a man of fame, — what the future might have in store for them, he said: "You may be a Senator of the United States some day; but nothing would make me happier than to be President of Harvard College."
And in later years he publicly declared: "With the ample opportunities of private life I was content. No tombstone for me could bear a fairer inscription than this: 'Here lies one who, without the honors or emoluments of public station, did something for his fellow-men.'" It was the scholar who spoke, and no doubt he spoke sincerely. But he found the slavery question in his path; or, rather, the slavery question seized upon him. The advocate of universal peace, of the eternal reign of justice and charity, could not fail to see in slavery the embodiment of universal war of man against man, of absolute injustice and oppression. Little knowing where the first word would carry him, he soon found himself in the midst of the struggle.
The idealist found a living question to deal with, which, like a flash of lightning, struck into the very depth of his soul, and set it on fire. The whole ardor of his nature broke out in the enthusiasm of the anti-slavery man. In a series of glowing addresses and letters he attacked the great wrong. He protested against the Mexican War; he assailed with powerful strokes the Fugitive Slave Law; he attempted to draw the Whig party into a decided anti-slavery policy; and when that failed, he broke through his party affiliations, and joined the small band of Free-Soilers. He was an abolitionist by nature, but not one of those who rejected the Constitution as a covenant with slavery. His legal mind found in the Constitution no express recognition of slavery, and he consistently construed it as a warrant of freedom. This placed him in the ranks of those who were called "political abolitionists."
He did not think of the sacrifices which this obedience to his moral impulses might cost him. For, at that time, abolitionism was by no means a fashionable thing. An anti-slavery man was then, even in Boston, positively the horror of a large portion of polite society. To make anti-slavery speeches was looked upon, not only as an incendiary, but a vulgar occupation. And that the highly refined Sumner, who was so learned and able, who had seen the world and mixed with the highest social circles in Europe; who knew the classics by heart, and could deliver judgment on a picture or a statue like a veteran connoisseur; who was a favorite with the wealthy and powerful, and could, in his aspirations for an easy and fitting position in life, count upon their whole influence, if he only would not do anything foolish, that such a man should go among the abolitionists, and not only sympathize with them, but work with them, and expose himself to the chance of being dragged through the streets by vulgar hands with a rope round his neck, like William Lloyd Garrison, — that was a thing at which the polite society of that day would revolt, and which no man could undertake without danger of being severely dropped. But that was the thing which the refined Sumner actually did, probably without giving a moment's thought to the possible consequences.
He went even so far as openly to defy that dictatorship which Daniel Webster had for so many years been exercising over the political mind of Massachusetts, and which then was about to exert its power in favor of a compromise with slavery.
But times were changing, and only six years after the delivery of his first popular address he was elected to the Senate of the United States by a combination of Democrats and Free-Soilers.
Charles Sumner entered the Senate on the first day of December, 1851. He entered as the successor of Daniel Webster, who had been appointed Secretary of State. On that same first of December Henry Clay spoke his last word in the Senate, and then left the chamber, never to return.
A striking and most significant coincidence: Henry Clay disappeared from public life; Daniel Webster left the Senate, drawing near his end; Charles Sumner stepped upon the scene. The close of one and the setting in of another epoch in the history of the American Republic were portrayed in the exit and entry of these men.
Clay and Webster had appeared in the councils of the nation in the early part of this century. The Republic was then still in its childhood, in almost every respect still an untested experiment, an unsolved problem. Slowly and painfully had it struggled through the first conflicts of constitutional theories, and acquired only an uncertain degree of national consistency. There were the somewhat unruly democracies of the States, with their fresh revolutionary reminiscences, their instincts of entirely independent sovereignty, and their now and then seemingly divergent interests; and the task of binding them firmly together in the bonds of common aspirations, of national spirit and the authority of national law, had, indeed, fairly progressed, but was far from being entirely accomplished. The United States, not yet compacted by the means of rapid locomotion which to-day make every inhabitant of the land a neighbor of the national capital, were then still a straggling confederacy; and the members of that confederacy had, since the triumphant issue of the Revolution, more common memories of severe trials, sufferings, embarrassments, dangers and anxieties together, than of cheering successes and of assured prosperity and well-being.
The great powers of the Old World, fiercely contending among themselves for the mastery, trampled, without remorse, upon the neutral rights of the young and feeble Republic. A war was impending with one of them, bringing on disastrous reverses and spreading alarm and discontent over the land. A dark cloud of financial difficulty hung over the nation. And the danger from abroad and embarrassments at home were heightened by a restless party spirit, which former disagreements had left behind them, and which every newly arising question seemed to embitter. The outlook was dark and uncertain. It was under such circumstances that Henry Clay first, and Daniel Webster shortly after him, stepped upon the scene, and at once took their station in the foremost rank of public men.
The problems to be solved by the statesmen of that period were of an eminently practical nature. They had to establish the position of the young Republic among the powers of the earth; to make her rights as a neutral respected; to secure the safety of her maritime interests. They had to provide for national defence. They had to set the interior household of the Republic in working order.
They had to find remedies for a burdensome public debt and a disordered currency. They had to invent and originate policies, to bring to light the resources of the land, sleeping unknown in the virgin soil; to open and make accessible to the husbandman the wild acres yet untouched; to protect the frontier settler against the inroads of the savage; to call into full activity the agricultural, commercial and industrial energies of the people; to develop and extend the prosperity of the nation so as to make even the discontented cease to doubt that the National Union was, and should be maintained as, a blessing to all.
Thus we find the statesmanship of those times busily occupied with practical detail of foreign policy, national defence, financial policy, tariffs, banks, organization of governmental departments, land policy, Indian policy, internal improvements, settlements of disputes and difficulties among the States, contrivances of expediency of all sorts, to put the Government firmly upon its feet, and to set and keep in orderly motion the working of the political machinery, to build up and strengthen and secure the framework in which the mighty developments of the future were to take place.
Such a task, sometimes small in its details, but difficult and grand in its comprehensiveness, required that creative, organizing, building kind of statesmanship, which to large and enlightened views of the aims and ends of political organization and of the wants of society must add a practical knowledge of details, a skillful handling of existing material, a just understanding of causes and effects, the ability to compose distracting conflicts and to bring the social forces into fruitful co-operation.
On this field of action Clay and Webster stood in the front rank of an illustrious array of contemporaries: Clay, the originator of measures and policies, with his inventive and organizing mind, not rich in profound ideas or in knowledge gathered by book-study, but learning as he went; quick in the perception of existing wants and difficulties and of the means within reach to satisfy the one and overcome the other; and a born captain also, — a commander of men, who appeared as if riding through the struggles of those days mounted on a splendidly caparisoned charger, sword in hand, and with waving helmet and plume, leading the front; — a fiery and truly magnetic soul, overawing with his frown, enchanting with his smile, flourishing the weapon of eloquence like a wizard's wand, overwhelming opposition and kindling and fanning the flame of enthusiasm; — a marshaller of parties, whose very presence and voice like a signal-blast created and wielded organization.
And by his side Daniel Webster, with that awful vastness of brain, a tremendous storehouse of thought and knowledge, which gave forth its treasures with ponderous majesty of utterance; he not an originator of measures and policies, but a mighty advocate, the greatest advocate this country ever knew, — a king in the realm of intellect, and the solemn embodiment of authority, — a huge Atlas, who carried the Constitution on his shoulders. He could have carried there the whole moral grandeur of the nation, had he never compromised his own.
Such men filled the stage during that period of construction and conservative national organization, devoting the best efforts of their statesmanship, the statesmanship of the political mind, to the purpose of raising their country to greatness in wealth and power, of making the people proud of their common nationality, and of imbedding the Union in the contentment of prosperity, in enlightened patriotism, national law, and constitutional principle.
And when they drew near their end, they could boast of many a grand achievement, not indeed exclusively their own, for other powerful minds had their share in the work. The United States stood there among the great powers of the earth, strong and respected. The Republic had no foreign foe to fear; its growth in population and wealth, in popular intelligence and progressive civilization, the wonder of the world. There was no visible limit to its development; there seemed to be no danger to its integrity.
But among the problems which the statesmen of that period had grappled with, there was one which had eluded their grasp. Many a conflict of opinion and interest they had succeeded in settling, either by positive decision, or by judicious composition. But one conflict had stubbornly baffled the statesmanship of expedients, for it was more than a mere conflict of opinion and interest. It was a conflict grounded deep in the moral nature of men — the slavery question.
Many a time had it appeared on the surface during the period I have described, threatening to overthrow all that had been ingeniously built up, and to break asunder all that had been laboriously cemented together. In their anxiety to avert every danger threatening the Union, they attempted to repress the slavery question by compromise, and, apparently, with success, at least for awhile.
But however firmly those compromises seemed to stand, there was a force of nature at work which, like a restless flood, silently but unceasingly and irresistibly washed their foundation away, until at last the towering structure toppled down.
The anti-slavery movement is now one of the great chapters of our past history. The passions of the struggle having been buried in thousands of graves, and the victory of Universal Freedom standing as firm and unquestionable as the eternal hills, we may now look back upon that history with an impartial eye. It may be hoped that even the people of the South, if they do not yet appreciate the spirit which created and guided the anti-slavery movement, will not much longer misunderstand it. Indeed, they grievously misunderstood it at the time. They looked upon it as the offspring of a wanton desire to meddle with other people's affairs, or as the product of hypocritical selfishness assuming the mask and cant of philanthropy, merely to rob the South and to enrich New England; or as an insidious contrivance of criminally reckless political ambition, striving to grasp and monopolize power at the risk of destroying a part of the country or even the whole.
It was, perhaps, not unnatural that those interested in slavery should have thought so; but from this great error arose their fatal miscalculation as to the peculiar strength of the anti-slavery cause.
No idea ever agitated the popular mind to whose origin calculating selfishness was more foreign. Even the great uprising which brought about the War of Independence was less free from selfish motives, for it sprang from resistance to a tyrannical abuse of the taxing power. Then the people rose against that oppression which touched their property; the anti-slavery movement originated in an impulse purely moral.
It was the irresistible breaking out of a trouble of conscience, — a trouble of conscience which had already disturbed the men who made the American Republic. It found a voice in their anxious admonitions, their gloomy prophecies, their scrupulous care to exclude from the Constitution all forms of expression which might have appeared to sanction the idea of property in man.
It found a voice in the fierce struggles which resulted in the Missouri Compromise. It was repressed for a time by material interest, by the greed of gain, when the peculiar product of slave labor became one of the principal staples of the country and a mine of wealth. But the trouble of conscience raised its voice again, shrill and defiant as when your own John Quincy Adams stood in the halls of Congress, and when devoted advocates of the rights of man began and carried on, in the face of ridicule and brutal persecution, an agitation seemingly hopeless. It cried out again and again, until at last its tones and echoes grew louder than all the noises that were to drown it.
The anti-slavery movement found arrayed against itself all the influences, all the agencies, all the arguments which ordinarily control the actions of men.
Commerce said, — Do not disturb slavery, for its products fill our ships and are one of the principal means of our exchanges. Industry said, — Do not disturb slavery, for it feeds our machinery and gives us markets. The greed of wealth said, — Do not disturb slavery, for it is an inexhaustible fountain of riches. Political ambition said, — Do not disturb slavery, for it furnishes us combinations and compromises to keep parties alive and to make power the price of shrewd management. An anxious statesmanship said, — Do not disturb slavery, for you might break to pieces the union of these States.
There never was a more formidable combination of interests and influences than that which confronted the anti-slavery movement in its earlier stages. And what was its answer? "Whether all you say be true or false, it matters not, but slavery is wrong."
Slavery is wrong! That one word was enough. It stood there like a huge rock in the sea, shivering to spray the waves dashing upon it. Interest, greed, argument, vituperation, calumny, ridicule, persecution, patriotic appeal, it was all in vain. Amidst all the storm and assault that one word stood there unmoved, intact and impregnable: Slavery is wrong.
Such was the vital spirit of the anti-slavery movement in its early development. Such a spirit alone could inspire that religious devotion which gave to the believer all the stubborn energy of fanaticism; it alone could kindle that deep enthusiasm which made men willing to risk and sacrifice everything for a great cause; it alone could keep alive that unconquerable faith in the certainty of ultimate success which boldly attempted to overcome seeming impossibilities.
It was indeed a great spirit, as, against difficulties which threw pusillanimity into despair, it painfully struggled into light, often baffled and as often pressing forward with devotion always fresh; nourished by nothing but a profound sense of right; encouraged by nothing but the cheering sympathy of liberty-loving mankind the world over, and by the hope that some day the conscience of the American people would be quickened by a full understanding of the dangers which the existence of the great wrong would bring upon the Republic. No scramble for the spoils of office then, no expectation of a speedy conquest of power, — nothing but that conviction, that enthusiasm, that faith in the breasts of a small band of men, and the prospect of new uncertain struggles and trials.
At the time when Mr. Sumner entered the Senate, the hope of final victory appeared as distant as ever; but it only appeared so. The statesmen of the past period had just succeeded in building up that compromise which admitted California as a free State, and imposed upon the Republic the Fugitive Slave Law. That compromise, like all its predecessors, was considered and called a final settlement. The two great political parties accepted it as such. In whatever they might differ, as to this they solemnly proclaimed their agreement. Fidelity to it was looked upon as a test of true patriotism, and as a qualification necessary for the possession of political power. Opposition to it was denounced as factious, unpatriotic, revolutionary demagogism, little short of treason. An overwhelming majority of the American people acquiesced in it. Material interest looked upon it with satisfaction, as a promise of repose; timid and sanguine patriots greeted it as a new bond of union; politicians hailed it as an assurance that the fight for the public plunder might be carried on without the disturbing intrusion of a moral principle in politics. But, deep down, men's conscience like a volcanic fire was restless, ready for a new outbreak as soon as the thin crust of compromise should crack. And just then the day was fast approaching when the moral idea, which so far had only broken out sporadically, and moved small numbers of men to open action, should receive a reinforcement strong enough to transform a forlorn hope into an army of irresistible strength. One of those eternal laws which govern the development of human affairs asserted itself, — the law that a great wrong, which has been maintained in defiance of the moral sense of mankind, must finally, by the very means and measures necessary for its sustenance, render itself so insupportable as to insure its downfall and destruction.
So it was with slavery. I candidly acquit the American slave-power of willful and wanton aggression upon the liberties and general interests of the American people. If slavery was to be kept alive at all, its supporters could not act otherwise than they did.
Slavery could not live and thrive in an atmosphere of free inquiry and untrammelled discussion. Therefore free inquiry and discussion touching slavery had to be suppressed.
Slavery could not be secure, if slaves, escaping merely across a State line, thereby escaped the grasp of their masters. Hence an effective Fugitive Slave Law was imperatively demanded.
Slavery could not protect its interests in the Union unless its power balanced that of the free States in the national councils. Therefore by colonization or conquest the number of slave States had to be augmented. Hence the annexation of Texas, the Mexican war, and intrigues for the acquisition of Cuba.
Slavery could not maintain the equilibrium of power, if it permitted itself to be excluded from the national Territories. Hence the breaking down of the Missouri Compromise and the usurpation in Kansas.
Thus slavery was pushed on and on by the inexorable logic of its existence; the slave masters were only the slaves of the necessities of slavery, and all their seeming exactions and usurpations were merely a struggle for its life.
Many of their demands had been satisfied, on the part of the North, by submission or compromise. The Northern people, although with reluctant conscience, had acquiesced in the contrivances of politicians, for the sake of peace. But when the slave-power went so far as to demand for slavery the great domain of the nation which had been held sacred to freedom forever, then the people of the North suddenly understood that the necessities of slavery demanded what they could not yield. Then the conscience of the masses was relieved of the doubts and fears which had held it so long in check; their moral impulses were quickened by practical perceptions; the moral idea became a practical force, and the final struggle began. It was made inevitable by the necessities of slavery; it was indeed an irrepressible conflict.
These things were impending when Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, the architects of the last compromise, left the Senate. Had they, with all their far-seeing statesmanship, never understood this logic of things? When they made their compromises, did they only desire to postpone the final struggle until they should be gone, so that they might not witness the terrible concussion? Or had their great and manifold achievements with the statesmanship of organization and expediency so deluded their minds, that they really hoped a compromise which only ignored, but did not settle, the great moral question, could furnish an enduring basis for future developments?
One thing they and their contemporaries had indeed accomplished; under their care the Republic had grown so great and strong, its vitality had become so tough, that it could endure the final struggle without falling to pieces under its shocks.
Whatever their errors, their delusions, and, perhaps, their misgivings may have been, this they had accomplished; and then they left the last compromise tottering behind them, and turned their faces to the wall and died.
And with them stepped into the background the statesmanship of organization, expedients and compromises; and to the front came, ready for action, the moral idea which was to fight out the great conflict, and to open a new epoch of American history.
That was the historic significance of the remarkable scene which showed us Henry Clay walking out of the Senate Chamber never to return, when Charles Sumner sat down there as the successor of Daniel Webster.
No man could, in his whole being, have more strikingly portrayed that contrast. When Charles Sumner had been elected to the Senate, Theodore Parker said to him, in a letter of congratulation, "You told me once that you were in morals, not in politics. Now I hope you will show that you are still in morals, although in politics. I hope you will be the Senator with a conscience." That hope was gratified. He always remained in morals while in politics. He never was anything else but the Senator with a conscience. Charles Sumner entered the Senate not as a mere advocate, but as the very embodiment of the moral idea. From this fountain flowed his highest aspirations. There had been great anti-slavery men in the Senate before him; they were there with him, men like Seward and Chase. But they had been trained in a different school. Their minds had ranged over other political fields. They understood politics. He did not. He knew but one political object, — to combat and overthrow the great wrong of slavery; to serve the ideal of the liberty and equality of men; and to establish the universal reign of "peace, justice and charity." He brought to the Senate a studious mind, vast learning, great legal attainments, a powerful eloquence, a strong and ardent nature; and all this he vowed to one service. With all this he was not a mere expounder of a policy; he was a worshipper, sincere and devout, at the shrine of his ideal. In no public man had the moral idea of the anti-slavery movement more overruling strength. He made everything yield to it. He did not possess it; it possessed him. That was the secret of his peculiar power.
He introduced himself into the debates of the Senate, the slavery question having been silenced forever, as politicians then thought, by several speeches on other subjects, the reception of Kossuth, the Land Policy, Ocean Postage; but they were not remarkable, and attracted but little attention.
At last he availed himself of an appropriation bill to attack the Fugitive Slave Law, and at once a spirit broke forth in that first word on the great question which startled every listener.
Thus he opened the argument: —
"Painfully convinced of the unutterable wrong and
woe of slavery, — profoundly believing that according to
the true spirit of the Constitution and the sentiments
of the fathers, it can find no place under our National
Government, — I could not allow this session to reach
its close without making or seizing an opportunity to
declare myself openly against the usurpation, injustice,
and cruelty of the late intolerant enactment for the
recovery of fugitive slaves."
Then this significant declaration: —
"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
professed 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."
A vast array of historical research and of legal argument was then called up to prove the sectionalism of slavery, the nationalism of freedom, and the unconstitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, followed by this bold declaration: "By the Supreme Law, which commands me to do no injustice, by the comprehensive Christian Law of Brotherhood, by the Constitution have sworn to support, I am bound to disobey this law." And the speech closed with this solemn quotation: "Beware of the groans of wounded souls, since the inward sore will at length break out. Oppress not to the utmost a single heart; for a solitary sigh has power to overturn a whole world."
The amendment to the appropriation bill moved by Mr. Sumner received only four votes of fifty-one. But every hearer had been struck by the words spoken as something different from the tone of other anti-slavery speeches delivered in those halls. Southern Senators, startled at the peculiarity of the speech, called it, in reply, "the most extraordinary language they had ever listened to." Mr. Chase, supporting Sumner in debate, spoke of it, "as marking a new era in American history, when the anti-slavery idea ceased to stand on the defensive and was boldly advancing to the attack."
Indeed, it had that significance. There stood up in the Senate a man who was no politician; but who, on the highest field of politics, with a concentrated intensity of feeling and purpose never before witnessed there, gave expression to a moral impulse, which, although sleeping perhaps for a time, certainly existed in the popular conscience, and which, once become a political force, could not fail to produce a great revolution.
Charles Sumner possessed all the instincts, the courage, the firmness and the faith of the devotee of a great idea. In the Senate he was a member of a feeble minority, so feeble, indeed, as to be to the ruling power a mere subject of derision; and for the first three years of his service without organized popular support. The slaveholders had been accustomed to put the metal of their Northern opponents to a variety of tests. Many a hot anti-slavery zeal had cooled under the social blandishments with which the South knew so well how to impregnate the atmosphere of the national capital, and many a high courage had given way before the haughty assumption and fierce menace of Southern men in Congress. Mr. Sumner had to pass that ordeal. He was at first petted and flattered by Southern society, but, fond as he was of the charms of social intercourse, and accessible to demonstrative appreciation, no blandishments could touch his convictions of duty.
And when the advocates of slavery turned upon him with anger and menace, he hurled at them with prouder defiance his answer, repeating itself in endless variations: "You must yield, for you are wrong."
The slave-power had so frequently succeeded in making the North yield to its demands, even after the most formidable demonstrations of reluctance, that it had become a serious question whether there existed any such thing as Northern firmness. But it did exist, and in Charles Sumner it had developed its severest political type. The stronger the assault, the higher rose in him the power of resistance. In him lived that spirit which not only would not yield, but would turn upon the assailant. The Southern force, which believed itself irresistible, found itself striking against a body which was immovable. To think of yielding to any demand of slavery, of making a compromise with it, in however tempting a form, was, to his nature, an absolute impossibility.
Mr. Sumner's courage was of a peculiar kind. He attacked the slave-power in the most unsparing manner, when its supporters were most violent in resenting opposition, and when that violence was always apt to proceed from words to blows. One day, while Sumner was delivering one of his severest speeches, Stephen A. Douglas, walking up and down behind the President's chair in the old Senate Chamber, and listening to him, remarked to a friend: "Do you hear that man? He may be a fool, but I tell you that man has pluck. I wonder whether he knows himself what he is doing. I am not sure whether I should have the courage to say those things to the men who are scowling around him."
Of all men in the Senate Chamber, Sumner was probably least aware that the thing he did required pluck. He simply did what he felt it his duty to his cause to do. It was to him a matter of course. He was like a soldier who, when he has to march upon the enemy's batteries, does not say to himself, "Now I am going to perform an act of heroism," but who simply obeys an impulse of duty, and marches forward without thinking of the bullets that fly around his head. A thought of the boldness of what he has done may then occur to him afterwards, when he is told of it. This was one of the striking peculiarities of Mr. Sumner's character, as all those know who knew him well.
Neither was he conscious of the stinging force of the language he frequently employed. He simply uttered, what he felt to be true, in language fitting the strength of his convictions. The indignation of his moral sense at what he felt to be wrong was so deep and sincere that he thought everybody must find the extreme severity of his expressions as natural as they came to his own mind. And he was not unfrequently surprised, greatly surprised, when others found his language offensive.
As he possessed the firmness and courage, so he possessed the faith of the devotee. From the beginning, and through all the vicissitudes of the anti-slavery movement, his heart was profoundly assured that his generation would see slavery entirely extinguished.
While travelling in France to restore his health, after having been beaten down on the floor of the Senate, he visited Alexis de Tocqueville, the celebrated author of "Democracy in America." Tocqueville expressed his anxiety about the issue of the anti-slavery movement, which then had suffered defeat by the election of Buchanan. "There can be no doubt about the result," said Sumner. "Slavery will soon succumb and disappear." "Disappear! In what way, and how soon?" asked Tocqueville. "In what manner I cannot say," replied Sumner. "How soon I cannot say. But it will be soon; I feel it; I know it. It cannot be otherwise." That was all the reason he gave. "Mr. Sumner is a remarkable man," said De Tocqueville afterwards to a friend of mine. "He says that slavery will soon entirely disappear in the United States. He does not know how, he does not know when; but he feels it, he is perfectly sure of it. The man speaks like a prophet." And so it was.
What appeared a perplexing puzzle to other men's minds was perfectly clear to him. His method of reasoning was simple; it was the reasoning of religious faith. Slavery is wrong, — therefore it must and will perish; freedom is right, — therefore it must and will prevail. And by no power of resistance, by no difficulty, by no disappointment, by no defeat, could that faith be shaken. For his cause, so great and just, he thought nothing impossible, everything certain. And he was unable to understand how others could fail to share his faith.
In one sense he was no party leader. He possessed none of the instinct or experience of the politician, nor that sagacity of mind which appreciates and measures the importance of changing circumstances, or the possibilities and opportunities of the day. He lacked, entirely, the genius of organization. He never understood, nor did he value, the art of strengthening his following by timely concession, or prudent reticence, or advantageous combination and alliance. He knew nothing of management and party manoeuvre. Indeed, not unfrequently he alarmed many devoted friends of his cause by bold declarations, for which, they thought, the public mind was not prepared, and by the unreserved avowal and straightforward advocacy of ultimate objects, which, they thought, might safely be left to the natural development of events. He was not seldom accused of doing things calculated to frighten the people and to disorganize the anti-slavery forces.
Such was his unequivocal declaration in his first great anti-slavery speech in the Senate, that he held himself bound by every conviction of justice, right and duty, to disobey the Fugitive Slave Law, and his ringing answer to the question put by Senator Butler of South Carolina, whether, without the Fugitive Slave Law, he would, under the Constitution, consider it his duty to aid the surrender of fugitive slaves, "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?"
Such was his speech on the "Barbarism of Slavery," delivered on a bill to admit Kansas immediately under a free State Constitution; — a speech so unsparing and vehement in the denunciation of slavery in all its political, moral and social aspects, and so direct in its prediction of the complete annihilation of slavery, that it was said such a speech would scarcely aid the admission of Kansas.
Such was his unbending and open resistance to any plan of compromise calculated to preserve slavery, when after Mr. Lincoln's election the Rebellion first raised its head, and a large number of Northern people, even anti-slavery men, frightened by the threatening prospect of civil war, cast blindly about for a plan of adjustment, while really no adjustment was possible.
Such was, early in the war, and during its most doubtful hours, his declaration, laid before the Senate in a series of resolutions, that the States in rebellion had destroyed themselves as such by the very act of rebellion; that slavery, as a creation of State law, had perished with the States, and that general emancipation must immediately follow, — thus putting the programme of emancipation boldly in the foreground, at a time when many thought, that the cry of union alone, union with or without slavery, could hold together the Union forces.
Such was his declaration, demanding negro suffrage even before the close of the war, while the public opinion at the North, whose aid the Government needed, still recoiled from such a measure.
Thus he was apt to go rough-shod over the considerations of management, deemed important by his co-workers. I believe he never consulted with his friends around him, before doing those things, and when they afterwards remonstrated with him, he ingenuously asked: "Is it not right and true, what I have said? And if it is right and true, must I not say it?"
And yet, although he had no organizing mind, and despised management, he was a leader. He was a leader as the embodiment of the moral idea, with all its uncompromising firmness, its unflagging faith, its daring devotion. And in this sense he could be a leader only because he was no politician. He forced others to follow, because he was himself impracticable. Simply obeying his moral impulse, he dared to say things which in the highest legislative body of the Republic nobody else would say; and he proved that they could be said, and yet the world would move on. With his wealth of learning and his legal ability, he furnished an arsenal of arguments, convincing more timid souls that what he said could be sustained in repeating. And presently the politicians felt encouraged to follow in the direction where the idealist had driven a stake ahead. Nay, he forced them to follow, for they knew that the idealist, whom they could not venture to disown, would not fall back at their bidding. Such was his leadership in the struggle with slavery.
Nor was that leadership interrupted when, on the 22d of May, 1856, Preston Brooks of South Carolina, maddened by an arraignment of his State and its Senator, came upon Charles Sumner in the Senate, struck him down with heavy blows and left him on the ground bleeding and insensible. For three years Sumner's voice was not heard, but his blood marked the vantage ground from which his party could not recede; and his Senatorial chair, kept empty for him by the noble people of Massachusetts, stood there in most eloquent silence, confirming, sealing, inflaming all he had said with terrible illustration, — a guide-post to the onward march of freedom.
When, in 1861, the Republican party had taken the reins of government in hand, his peculiar leadership entered upon a new field of action. No sooner was the victory of the anti-slavery cause in the election ascertained, than the Rebellion raised its head. South Carolina opened the secession movement. The portentous shadow of an approaching civil war spread over the land. A tremor fluttered through the hearts even of strong men in the North, — a vague fear such as is produced by the first rumbling of an earthquake. Could not a bloody conflict be averted? A fresh clamor for compromise arose. Even Republicans in Congress began to waver. The proposed compromise involved new and express constitutional recognitions of the existence and rights of slavery, and guarantees against interference with it by constitutional amendment or national law. The pressure from the country, even from Massachusetts, in favor of the scheme, was extraordinary, but a majority of the anti-slavery men in the Senate, in their front Mr. Sumner, stood firm, feeling that a compromise, giving express constitutional sanction and an indefinite lease of life to slavery, would be a surrender, and knowing, also, that even by the offer of such a surrender, secession and civil war would still be insisted on by the Southern leaders. The history of those days, as we now know it, confirms the accuracy of that judgment. The war was inevitable. Thus the anti-slavery cause escaped a useless humiliation, and retained intact its moral force for future action.
But now the time had come when the anti-slavery movement, no longer a mere opposition to the demands of the slave-power, was to proceed to positive action. The war had scarcely commenced in earnest, when Mr. Sumner urged general emancipation. Only the great ideal object of the liberty of all men could give sanction to a war in the eyes of the devotee of universal peace. To the end of stamping upon the war the character of a war of emancipation all his energies were bent. His unreserved and emphatic utterances alarmed the politicians. Our armies suffered disaster upon disaster in the field. The managing mind insisted that care must be taken, by nourishing the popular enthusiasm for the integrity of the Union, — the strictly national idea alone, — to unite all the social and political elements of the North for the struggle; and that so bold a measure as immediate emancipation might reanimate old dissensions, and put hearty co-operation in jeopardy.
But Mr. Sumner's convictions could not be repressed. In a bold decree of universal liberty he saw only a new source of inspiration and strength. Nor was his impulsive instinct unsupported by good reason. The distraction produced in the North by an emancipation measure could only be of short duration. The moral spirit was certain, ultimately, to gain the upper hand.
But in another direction a bold and unequivocal anti-slavery policy could not fail to produce most salutary effects. One of the dangers threatening us was foreign interference. No European powers gave us their expressed sympathy except Germany and Russia. The governing classes of England, with conspicuous individual exceptions, always gratefully to be remembered, were ill-disposed towards the Union cause. The permanent disruption of the Republic was loudly predicted, as if it were desired, and intervention — an intervention which could be only in favor of the South — was openly spoken of. The Emperor of the French, who availed himself of our embarrassments to execute his ambitious designs in Mexico, was animated by sentiments no less hostile. It appeared as if only a plausible opportunity had been wanting, to bring foreign intervention upon our heads. A threatening spirit, disarmed only by timely prudence, had manifested itself in the Trent case. It seemed doubtful whether the most skillful diplomacy, unaided by a stronger force, would be able to avert the danger.
But the greatest strength of the anti-slavery cause had always been in the conscience of mankind. There was our natural ally. The cause of slavery as such could have no open sympathy among the nations of Europe. It stood condemned by the moral sentiment of the civilized world. How could any European government, in the face of that universal sentiment, under take openly to interfere against a power waging war against slavery? Surely, that could not be thought of.
But had the Government of the United States distinctly professed that it was waging war against slavery, and for freedom? Had it not been officially declared that the war for the Union would not alter the condition of a single human being in America? Why then not arrest the useless effusion of blood; why not, by intervention, stop a destructive war, in which, confessedly, slavery and freedom were not at stake? Such were the arguments of our enemies in Europe; and they were not without color.
It was obvious that nothing but a measure impressing beyond dispute upon our war a decided anti-slavery character, making it in profession what it was inevitably destined to be in fact, a war of emancipation, could enlist on our side the enlightened public opinion of the Old World so strongly as to restrain the hostile spirit of foreign governments. No European government could well venture to interfere against those who had convinced the world that they were fighting to give freedom to the slaves of North America.
Thus the moral instinct did not err. The emancipation policy was not only the policy of principle, but also the policy of safety. Mr. Sumner urged it with impetuous and unflagging zeal. In the Senate he found but little encouragement. The resolutions he introduced in February, 1862, declaring State suicide as the consequence of Rebellion, and the extinction of slavery in the insurrectionary States as the consequence of State suicide, were looked upon as an ill-timed and hazardous demonstration, disturbing all ideas of management.
To the President, then, he devoted his efforts. Nothing could be more interesting, nay, touching, than the peculiar relations that sprung up between Abraham Lincoln and Charles Sumner. No two men could be more alike as to their moral impulses and ultimate aims; no two men more unlike in their methods of reasoning and their judgment of means.
Abraham Lincoln was a true child of the people. There was in his heart an inexhaustible fountain of tenderness, and from it sprung that longing to be true, just and merciful to all, which made the people love him. In the deep, large humanity of his soul had grown his moral and political principles, to which he clung with the fidelity of an honest nature, and which he defended with the strength of a vigorous mind.
But he had not grown great in any high school of statesmanship. He had, from the humblest beginnings, slowly and laboriously worked himself up, or rather he had gradually risen up without being aware of it, and suddenly he found himself in the foremost rank of the distinguished men of the land. In his youth and early manhood he had achieved no striking successes that might have imparted to him that overweening self-appreciation which so frequently leads self-made men to overestimate their faculties, and to ignore the limits of their strength. He was not a learned man, but he had learned and meditated enough to feel how much there was still for him to learn. His marvellous success in his riper years left intact the inborn modesty of his nature. He was absolutely without pretension. His simplicity, which by its genuineness extorted respect and affection, was wonderfully persuasive, and sometimes deeply pathetic and strikingly brilliant.
His natural gifts were great; he possessed a clear and penetrating mind, but in forming his opinions on subjects of importance, he was so careful, conscientious and diffident, that he would always hear and probe what opponents had to say, before he became firmly satisfied of the justness of his own conclusions, — not as if he had been easily controlled and led by other men, for he had a will of his own; — but his mental operations were slow and hesitating, and inapt to conceive quick resolutions. He lacked self-reliance. Nobody felt more than he the awful weight of his responsibilities. He was not one of those bold reformers who will defy the opposition of the world, and undertake to impose their opinions and will upon a reluctant age. With careful consideration of the possibilities of the hour he advanced slowly, but when he had so advanced, he planted his foot with firmness, and no power was strong enough to force him to a backward step. And every day of great responsibility enlarged the horizon of his mind, and every day he grasped the helm of affairs with a steadier hand.
It was to such a man that Sumner, during the most doubtful days at the beginning of the war, addressed his appeals for immediate emancipation, — appeals impetuous and impatient, as they could spring only from his ardent and overruling convictions.
The President at first passively resisted the vehement counsel of the Senator, but he bade the counsellor welcome. It was Mr. Lincoln's constant endeavor to surround himself with the best and ablest men of the country. Not only did the first names of the Republican party appear in his Cabinet, but every able man in Congress was always invited as an adviser, whether his views agreed with those of the President or not. But Mr. Sumner he treated as a favorite counsellor, almost like a Minister of State, outside of the Cabinet.
There were statesmen around the President who were also politicians, understanding the art of management. Mr. Lincoln appreciated the value of their advice as to what was prudent and practicable. But he knew also how to discriminate. In Mr. Sumner he saw a counsellor who was no politician, but who stood before him as the true representative of the moral earnestness, of the great inspirations of their common cause. From him he heard what was right, and necessary and inevitable. By the former he was told what, in their opinion, could prudently and safely be done. Having heard them both, Abraham Lincoln counselled with himself, and formed his resolution. Thus Mr. Lincoln, while scarcely ever fully and speedily following Sumner's advice, never ceased to ask for it, for he knew its significance. And Sumner, while almost always dissatisfied with Lincoln's cautious hesitation, never grew weary in giving his advice, for he never distrusted Lincoln's fidelity. Always agreed as to the ultimate end, they almost always differed as to times and means; but, while differing, they firmly trusted, for they understood one another.
And thus their mutual respect grew into an affectionate friendship, which no clash of disagreeing opinions could break. Sumner loved to tell his friends, after Lincoln's death, — and I heard him relate it often, never without an expression of tenderness, — how at one time those who disliked and feared his intimacy with the President, and desired to see it disrupted, thought it was irreparably broken. It was at the close of Lincoln's first administration, in 1865, when the President had proposed certain measures of reconstruction, touching the State of Louisiana.
The end of the session of Congress was near at hand, and the success of the bill depended on a vote of the Senate before the hour of adjournment on the 4th of March. Mr. Lincoln had the measure very much at heart. But Sumner opposed it, because it did not contain sufficient guarantees for the rights of the colored people, and by a parliamentary manoeuvre, simply consuming time until the adjournment came, he with two or three other Senators succeeded in defeating it. Lincoln was reported to be deeply chagrined at Sumner's action, and the newspapers already announced that the breach between Lincoln and Sumner was complete, and could not be healed. But those who said so did not know the men. On the night of the 6th of March, two days after Lincoln's second inauguration, the customary inauguration ball was to take place. Sumner did not think of attending it. But towards evening he received a card from the President, which read thus: "Dear Mr. Sumner, unless you send me word to the contrary, I shall this evening call with my carriage at your house, to take you with me to the inauguration ball. Sincerely yours, Abraham Lincoln." Mr. Sumner, deeply touched, at once made up his mind to go to an inauguration ball for the first time. Soon the carriage arrived, the President invited Sumner to take a seat in it with him, and Sumner found there Mrs. Lincoln and Mr. Colfax, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Arrived at the ball-room, the President asked Mr. Sumner to offer his arm to Mrs. Lincoln; and the astonished spectators, who had been made to believe that the breach between Lincoln and Sumner was irreparable, beheld the President's wife on the arm of the Senator, and the Senator, on that occasion of state, invited to take the seat of honor by the President's side. Not a word passed between them about their disagreement.
The world became convinced that such a friendship between such men could not be broken by a mere honest difference of opinion. Abraham Lincoln, a man of sincere and profound convictions himself, esteemed and honored sincere and profound convictions in others. It was thus that Abraham Lincoln composed his quarrels with his friends, and at his bedside, when he died, there was no mourner more deeply afflicted than Charles Sumner.
Let me return to the year 1862. Long, incessant and arduous was Sumner's labor for emancipation. At last the great Proclamation, which sealed the fate of slavery, came, and no man had done more to bring it forth than he.
Still, Charles Sumner thought his work far from accomplished. During the three years of war that followed, so full of vicissitudes, alarms and anxieties, he stood in the Senate and in the President's closet as the ever-watchful sentinel of freedom and equal rights. No occasion eluded his grasp to push on the destruction of slavery, not only by sweeping decrees, but in detail, by pursuing it, as with a probing-iron, into every nook and corner of its existence. It was his sleepless care that every blow struck at the Rebellion should surely and heavily tell against slavery, and that every drop of American blood that was shed should surely be consecrated to human freedom. He could not rest until assurance was made doubly sure, and I doubt whether our legislative history shows an example of equal watchfulness, fidelity and devotion to a great object. Such was the character of Mr. Sumner's legislative activity during the war.
As the Rebellion succumbed, new problems arose. To set upon their feet again States disorganized by insurrection and civil war; to remodel a society which had been lifted out of its ancient hinges by the sudden change of its system of labor; to protect the emancipated slaves against the old pretension of absolute control on the part of their former masters; to guard society against the possible transgressions of a large multitude long held in slavery and ignorance and now suddenly set free; so to lodge political power in this inflammable state of things as to prevent violent reactions and hostile collisions; to lead social forces so discordant into orderly and fruitful co-operation, and to infuse into communities, but recently rent by the most violent passions, a new spirit of loyal attachment to a common nationality, — this was certainly one of the most perplexing tasks ever imposed upon the statesmanship of any time and any country.
But to Mr. Sumner's mind the problem of reconstruction did not appear perplexing at all. Believing, as he always did, that the Democratic idea, as he found it defined in the Declaration of Independence, "Human rights in their utmost expansion," contained an ultimately certain solution of all difficulties, he saw the principal aim to be reached by any reconstruction policy, in the investment of the emancipated slaves with all the rights and privileges of American citizenship. The complexity of the problem, the hazardous character of the experiment, never troubled him. And as, early in the war, he had for himself laid down the theory that, by the very act of rebellion, the insurrectionary States had destroyed themselves as such, so he argued now, with assured consistency, that those States had relapsed into a territorial condition; that the National Government had to fill the void by creations of its own, and that in doing so the establishment of universal suffrage there was an unavoidable necessity. Thus he marched forward to the realization of his ideal, on the straightest line, and with the firmness of profound conviction.
In the discussions which followed, he had the advantage of a man who knows exactly what he wants, and who is imperturbably, religiously convinced that he is right. But his constitutional theory, as well as the measures he proposed, found little favor in Congress. The public mind struggled long against the results he had pointed out as inevitable. The whole power of President Johnson's administration was employed to lead the development of things in another direction. But through all the vacillations of public opinion, through all the perplexities in which Congress entangled itself, the very necessity of things seemed to press toward the ends which Sumner and those who thought like him had advocated from the beginning.
At last, Mr. Sumner saw the fondest dreams of his life realized. Slavery was forever blotted out in this Republic by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. By the 14th the emancipated slaves were secured in their rights of citizenship before the law, and the 15th guaranteed to them the right to vote.
It was, indeed, a most astonishing, a marvellous consummation. What ten years before not even the most sanguine would have ventured to anticipate, what only the profound faith of the devotee could believe possible, was done. And no man had a better right than Charles Sumner to claim for himself a pre-eminent share in that great consummation. He had, indeed, not been the originator of most of the practical measures of legislation by which such results were reached. He had even combated some of them as in conflict with his theories. He did not possess the peculiar ability of constructing policies in detail, of taking account of existing circumstances and advantage of opportunities. But he had resolutely marched ahead of public opinion in marking the ends to be reached. Nobody had done more to inspire and strengthen the moral spirit of the anti-slavery cause. He stood foremost among the propelling, driving forces which pushed on the great work with undaunted courage, untiring effort, irresistible energy and religious devotion. No man's singleness of purpose, fidelity and faith surpassed his, and when by future generations the names are called which are inseparably united with the deliverance of the American Republic from slavery, no name will be called before his own.
While the championship of human rights is his first title to fame, I should be unjust to his merit, did I omit to mention the services he rendered on another field of action. When, in 1861, the secession of the Southern States left the anti-slavery party in the majority in the Senate of the United States, Charles Sumner was placed as chairman at the head of the Committee on Foreign Relations. It was a high distinction, and no selection could have been more fortunate. Without belittling others, it may be said that of the many able men then and since in the Senate, Mr. Sumner was by far the fittest for that responsible position. He had ever since his college days made international law a special and favorite study, and was perfectly familiar with its principles, the history of its development, and its literature. Nothing of importance had ever been published on that subject in any language that had escaped his attention. His knowledge of history was uncommonly extensive and accurate; all the leading international law cases, with their incidents in detail, their theories and settlements, he had at his fingers' ends; and to his last day he remained indefatigable in inquiry. Moreover, he had seen the world; he had studied the institutions and policies of foreign countries, on their own soil, aided by his personal intercourse with many of their leading statesmen, not a few of whom remained in friendly correspondence with him ever since their first acquaintance.
No public man had a higher appreciation of the position, dignity, and interests of his own country, and no one was less liable than he to be carried away or driven to hasty and ill-considered steps, by excited popular clamor. He was ever strenuous in asserting our own rights, while his sense of justice did not permit him to be regardless of the rights of other nations. His abhorrence of the barbarities of war, and his ardent love of peace, led him earnestly to seek for every international difference a peaceable solution; and where no settlement could be reached by the direct negotiations of diplomacy, the idea of arbitration was always uppermost in his mind. He desired to raise the Republic to the high office of a missionary of peace and civilization in the world. He was, therefore, not only an uncommonly well-informed, enlightened and experienced, but also an eminently conservative, cautious and safe counsellor; and the few instances in which he appeared more impulsive than prudent will, upon candid investigation, not impugn this statement. I am far from claiming for him absolute correctness of view, and infallibility of judgment in every case; but taking his whole career together, it may well be doubted, whether in the whole history of the Republic, the Senate of the United States ever possessed a chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations who united in himself, in such completeness, the qualifications necessary and desirable for the important and delicate duties of that position. This may sound like the extravagant praise of a personal friend; but it is the sober opinion of men most competent to judge, that it does not go beyond his merits.
His qualities were soon put to the test. Early in the war one of the gallant captains in our navy arrested the British mail steamer Trent, running from one neutral port to another, on the high seas, and took from her by force Mason and Slidell, two emissaries of the Confederate Government, and their despatches. The people of the North loudly applauded the act. The Secretary of the Navy approved it. The House of Representatives commended it in resolutions. Even in the Senate a majority seemed inclined to stand by it. The British Government, in a threatening tone, demanded the instant restitution of the prisoners, and an apology. The people of the North responded with a shout of indignation at British insolence. The excitement seemed irrepressible. Those in quest of popularity saw a chance to win it easily by bellicose declamation.
But among those who felt the weight of responsibility more moderate counsels prevailed. The Government wisely resolved to surrender the prisoners, and peace with Great Britain was preserved.
It was Mr. Sumner who threw himself into the breach against the violent drift of public opinion. In a speech in the Senate, no less remarkable for patriotic spirit than legal learning and ingenious and irresistible argument, he justified the surrender of the prisoners, not on the ground that during our struggle with the Rebellion we were not in a condition to go to war with Great Britain, but on the higher ground that the surrender, demanded by Great Britain in violation of her own traditional pretensions as to the rights of belligerents, was in perfect accord with American precedent, and the advanced principles of our Government concerning the rights of neutrals, and that this very act, therefore, would for all time constitute an additional and most conspicuous precedent, to aid in the establishment of more humane rules for the protection of the rights of neutrals and the mitigation of the injustice and barbarity attending maritime war.
The success of this argument was complete. It turned the tide of public opinion. It convinced the American people that this was not an act of pusillanimity, but of justice; not a humiliation of the Republic, but a noble vindication of her time-honored principles, and a service rendered to the cause of progress.
Other complications followed. The interference of European powers in Mexico came. Excited demands for intervention on our part were made in the Senate, and Mr. Sumner, trusting that the victory of the Union over the Rebellion would bring on the deliverance of Mexico in its train, with signal moderation and tact prevented the agitation of so dangerous a policy. It is needless to mention the many subsequent instances in which his wisdom and skill rendered the Republic similar service.
Only one of his acts provoked comment in foreign countries calculated to impair the high esteem in which his name was universally held there. It was his speech on the Alabama case, preceding the rejection by the Senate of the Clarendon-Johnson treaty. He was accused of having yielded to a vulgar impulse of demagogism in nattering and exciting, by unfair statements and extravagant demands, the grudge the American people might bear to England. No accusation could possibly be more unjust, and I know whereof I speak. Mr. Sumner loved England — had loved her as long as he lived — from a feeling of consanguinity, for the treasures of literature she had given to the world, for the services she had rendered to human freedom, for the blows she had struck at slavery, for the sturdy work she had done for the cause of progress and civilization, for the many dear friends he had among her citizens. Such was his impulse, and no man was more incapable of pandering to a vulgar prejudice.
I will not deny that as to our differences with Great Britain he was not entirely free from personal feeling. That the England he loved so well, — the England of Clarkson and Wilberforce, of Cobden and Bright; the England to whom he had looked as the champion of the anti-slavery cause in the world, — should make such hot haste to recognize, nay, as he termed it, to set up, on the seas, as a belligerent, that Rebellion, whose avowed object it was to found an empire of slavery, and to aid that Rebellion by every means short of open war against the Union, — that was a shock to his feelings which he felt like a betrayal of friendship. And yet while that feeling appeared in the warmth of his language, it did not dictate his policy. I will not discuss here the correctness of his opinions as to what he styled the precipitate and unjustifiable recognition of Southern belligerency, or his theory of consequential damages. What he desired to accomplish was, not to extort from England a large sum of money, but to put our grievance in the strongest light; to convince England of the great wrong she had inflicted upon us, and thus to prepare a composition, which, consisting more in the settlement of great principles and rules of international law to govern the future intercourse of nations, than in the payment of large damages, would remove all questions of difference, and serve to restore and confirm a friendship which ought never to have been interrupted.
When, finally, the Treaty of Washington was negotiated by the Joint High Commission, Mr. Sumner, although thinking that more might have been accomplished, did not only not oppose that treaty, but actively aided in securing for it the consent of the Senate. Nothing would have been more painful to him than a continuance of unfriendly relations with Great Britain. Had there been danger of war, no man's voice would have pleaded with more fervor to avert such a calamity. He gave ample proof that he did not desire any personal opinions to stand in the way of a settlement, and if that settlement, which he willingly supported, did not in every respect satisfy him, it was because he desired to put the future relations of the two countries upon a still safer and more enduring basis.
No statesman ever took part in the direction of our foreign affairs who so completely identified himself with the most advanced, humane and progressive principles. Ever jealous of the honor of his country, he sought to elevate that honor by a policy scrupulously just to the strong, and generous to the weak. A profound lover of peace, he faithfully advocated arbitration as a substitute for war. The barbarities of war he constantly labored to mitigate. In the hottest days of our civil conflict he protested against the issue of letters of marque and reprisal; he never lost an opportunity to condemn privateering as a barbarous practice, and he even went so far as to designate the system of prize-money as inconsistent with our enlightened civilization. In some respects, his principles were in advance of our time; but surely the day will come when this Republic, marching in the front of progress, will adopt them as her own, and remember their champion with pride.
I now approach the last period of his life, which brought to him new and bitter struggles.
The work of reconstruction completed, he felt that three objects still demanded new efforts. One was that the colored race should be protected by national legislation against degrading discrimination, in the enjoyment of facilities of education, travel and pleasure, such as stand under the control of law; and this object he embodied in his Civil Rights Bill, of which he was the mover and especial champion. The second was, that generous reconciliation should wipe out the lingering animosities of past conflicts and reunite in new bonds of brotherhood all those who had been divided. And the third was, that the government should be restored to the purity and high tone of its earlier days, and that from its new birth the Republic should issue with a new lustre of moral greatness, to lead its children to a higher perfection of manhood, and to be a shining example and beacon-light to all the nations of the earth.
This accomplished, he often said to his friends he would be content to lie down and die; but death overtook him before he was thus content, and before death came he was destined to taste more of the bitterness of life.
His Civil Rights Bill he pressed with unflagging perseverance, against an opposition which stood upon the ground that the objects his measure contemplated, belonged, under the Constitution, to the jurisdiction of the States; that the colored people, armed with the ballot, possessed the necessary means to provide for their own security, and that the progressive development of public sentiment would afford to them greater protection than could be given by national legislation of questionable constitutionality.
The pursuit of the other objects brought upon him experiences of a painful nature. I have to speak of his disagreement with the administration of President Grant and with his party. Nothing could be farther from my desire than to re-open, on a solemn occasion like this, those bitter conflicts which are still so fresh in our minds, and to assail any living man in the name of the dead. Were it my purpose to attack, I should do so in my own name and choose the place where I can be answered, — not this. But I have a duty to perform; it is to set forth in the light of truth the motives of the dead before the living. I knew Charles Sumner's motives well. We stood together shoulder to shoulder in many a hard contest. We were friends, and between us passed those confidences which only intimate friendship knows. Therefore I can truly say that I knew his motives well.
The civil war had greatly changed the country, and left many problems behind it, requiring again that building, organizing, constructive kind of statesmanship which I described as presiding over the Republic in its earlier history. For a solution of many of those problems Mr. Sumner's mind was little fitted, and he naturally turned to those which appealed to his moral nature. No great civil war has ever passed over any country, especially a republic, without producing widespread and dangerous demoralization and corruption, not only in the government, but among the people. In such times the sordid instincts of human nature develop themselves to unusual recklessness under the guise of patriotism. The ascendancy of no political party in a republic has ever been long maintained without tempting many of its members to avail themselves for their selfish advantage of the opportunities of power and party protection, and without attracting a horde of camp followers, professing principle, but meaning spoil. It has always been so, and the American Republic has not escaped the experience.
Neither Mr. Sumner nor many others could in our circumstances close their eyes to this fact. He recognized the danger early, and already, in 1864, he introduced in the Senate a bill for the reform of the civil service, crude in its detail, but embodying correct principles. Thus he may be said to have been the earliest pioneer of the Civil Service Reform movement.
The evil grew under President Johnson's administration, and ever since it has been cropping out, not only drawn to light by the efforts of the opposition, but voluntarily and involuntarily, by members of the ruling party itself. There were in it many men who confessed to themselves the urgent necessity of meeting the growing danger.
Mr. Sumner could not be silent. He cherished in his mind a high ideal of what this Republic and its government should be: a government composed of the best and wisest of the land; animated by none but the highest and most patriotic aspirations; yielding to no selfish impulse; noble in its tone and character; setting its face sternly against all wrong and injustice; presenting in its whole being to the American people a shining example of purity and lofty public spirit. Mr. Sumner was proud of his country; there was no prouder American in the land. He felt in himself the whole dignity of the Republic. And when he saw anything that lowered the dignity of the Republic and the character of its government, he felt it as he would have felt a personal offence. He criticised it, he denounced it, he remonstrated against it, for he could not do otherwise. He did so, frequently and without hesitation and reserve, when Mr. Lincoln was President. He continued to do so ever since, the more loudly, the more difficult it was to make himself heard. It was his nature; he felt it to be his right as a citizen; he esteemed it his duty as a Senator.
That, and no other, was the motive which impelled him. The rupture with the administration was brought on by his opposition to the Santo Domingo Treaty. In the reasons upon which that opposition was based, I know that personal feeling had no share. They were patriotic reasons, publicly and candidly expressed, and it seems they were appreciated by a very large portion of the American people. It has been said that he provoked the resentment of the President by first promising to support that treaty and then opposing it, thus rendering himself guilty of an act of duplicity. He has publicly denied the justice of the charge and stated the facts as they stood in his memory. I am willing to make the fullest allowance for the possibility of a misapprehension of words. But I affirm, also, that no living man who knew Mr. Sumner well, will hesitate a moment to pronounce the charge of duplicity as founded on the most radical of misapprehensions. An act of duplicity on his part was simply a moral impossibility. It was absolutely foreign to his nature. Whatever may have been the defects of his character, he never knowingly deceived a human being. There was in him not the faintest shadow of dissimulation, disguise or trickery. Not one of his words ever had the purpose of a double meaning, not one of his acts a hidden aim. His likes and dislikes, his approval and disapproval, as soon as they were clear to his own consciousness, appeared before the world in the open light of noonday. His frankness was so unbounded, his candor so entire, his ingenuousness so childlike, that he lacked even the discretion of ordinary prudence. He was almost incapable of moderating his feelings, of toning down his meaning in the expression. When he might have gained a point by indirection, he would not have done so, because he could not. He was one of those who, when they attack, attack always in front and in broad daylight. The night surprise and the flank march were absolutely foreign to his tactics, because they were incompatible with his nature. I have known many men in my life, but never one who was less capable of a perfidious act or an artful profession.
Call him a vain, an impracticable, an imperious man, if you will, but American history does not mention the name of one, of whom with greater justice it can be said that he was a true man.
The same candor and purity of motives which prompted and characterized his opposition to the Santo Domingo scheme, prompted and characterized the attacks upon the administration which followed. The charges he made, and the arguments with which he supported them, I feel not called upon to enumerate. Whether and how far they were correct or erroneous, just or unjust, important or unimportant, the judgment of history will determine. May that judgment be just and fair to us all. But this I can affirm to-day, for I know it: Charles Sumner never made a charge which he did not himself firmly, religiously believe to be true. Neither did he condemn those he attacked for anything he did not firmly, religiously believe to be wrong. And while attacking those in power for what he considered wrong, he was always ready to support them in all he considered right. After all he has said of the President, he would to-day, if he lived, conscientiously, cordially, joyously aid in sustaining the President's recent veto on an act of financial legislation which threatened to inflict a deep injury on the character, as well as the true interests of the American people.
But at the time of which I speak, all he said was so deeply grounded in his feeling and conscience, that it was for him difficult to understand how others could form different conclusions. When, shortly before the National Republican Convention of 1872, he had delivered in the Senate that fierce philippic for which he has been censured so much, he turned to me with the question, whether I did not think that the statements and arguments he had produced would certainly exercise a decisive influence on the action of that convention. I replied that I thought it would not. He was greatly astonished, — not as if he indulged in the delusion that his personal word would have such authoritative weight, but it seemed impossible to him that opinions which in him had risen to the full strength of overruling conviction, that a feeling of duty which in him had grown so solemn and irresistible as to inspire him to any risk and sacrifice, ever so painful, should fall powerless at the feet of a party which so long had followed inspirations kindred to his own. Such was the ingenuousness of his nature; such his faith in the rectitude of his own cause. The result of his effort is a matter of history. After the Philadelphia Convention, and not until then, he resolved to oppose his party, and to join a movement which was doomed to defeat. He obeyed his sense of right and duty at a terrible sacrifice.
He had been one of the great chiefs of his party, by many regarded as the greatest. He had stood in the Senate as a mighty monument of the struggles and victories of the anti-slavery cause. He had been a martyr of his earnestness. By all Republicans he had been looked up to with respect, by many with veneration. He had been the idol of the people of his State. All this was suddenly changed. Already, at the time of his opposition to the Santo Domingo scheme, he had been deprived of his place at the head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which he had held so long, and with so much honor to the Republic and to himself. But few know how sharp a pang it gave to his heart, this removal, which he felt as the wanton degradation of a faithful servant who was conscious of only doing his duty.
But, when he had pronounced against the candidates of his party, worse experiences were for him in store. Journals which for years had been full of his praise now assailed him with remorseless ridicule and vituperation, questioning even his past services and calling him a traitor. Men who had been proud of his acquaintance turned away their heads when they met him in the street. Former flatterers eagerly covered his name with slander. Many of those who had been his associates in the struggle for freedom sullenly withdrew from him their friendship. Even some men of the colored race, for whose elevation he had labored with a fidelity and devotion equalled by few and surpassed by none, joined in the chorus of denunciation. Oh, how keenly he felt it! And, as if the cruel malice of ingratitude and the unsparing persecution of infuriated partisanship had not been enough, another enemy came upon him, threatening his very life. It was a new attack of that disease which, for many years, from time to time, had prostrated him with the acutest suffering, and which shortly should lay him low. It admonished him that every word he spoke might be his last. He found himself forced to leave the field of a contest in which not only his principles of right, but even his good name, earned by so many years of faithful effort, was at stake. He possessed no longer the elastic spirit of youth, and the prospect of new struggles had ceased to charm him. His hair had grown gray with years, and he had reached that age when a statesman begins to love the thought of reposing his head upon the pillow of assured public esteem. Even the sweet comfort of that sanctuary was denied him, in which the voice of wife and child would have said: Rest here, for whatever the world may say, we know that you are good and faithful and noble. Only the friends of his youth, who knew him best, surrounded him with never-flagging confidence and love, and those of his companions-in-arms, who knew him also, and who were true to him as they were true to their common cause. Thus he stood in the presidential campaign of 1872.
It is at such a moment of bitter ordeal that an honest public man feels the impulse of retiring within himself; to examine with scrupulous care the quality of his own motives; anxiously to inquire whether he is really right in his opinions and objects when so many old friends say that he is wrong; and then, after such a review at the hand of conscience and duty, to form anew his conclusions without bias, and to proclaim them without fear. This he did.
He had desired, and as he wrote, "he had confidently hoped, on returning home from Washington, to meet his fellow-citizens in Faneuil Hall, that venerable forum, and to speak once more on great questions involving the welfare of the country, but recurring symptoms of a painful character warned him against such an attempt." The speech he had intended to pronounce, but could not, he left in a written form for publication, and went to Europe, seeking rest, uncertain whether he would ever return alive. In it he reiterated all the reasons which had forced him to oppose the administration and the candidates of his party. They were unchanged. Then followed an earnest and pathetic plea for universal peace and reconciliation. He showed how necessary the revival of fraternal feeling was, not only for the prosperity and physical well-being, but for the moral elevation of the American people and for the safety and greatness of the Republic. He gave words to his profound sympathy with the Southern States in their misfortunes. Indignantly he declared, that "second only to the wide-spread devastations of war were the robberies to which those States had been subjected, under an administration calling itself Republican, and with local governments deriving their animating impulse from the party in power; and that the people in these communities would have been less than men, if, sinking under the intolerable burden, they did not turn for help to a new party, promising honesty and reform."
He recalled the reiterated expression he had given to his sentiments, ever since the breaking out of the war; and closed the recital with these words: "Such is the simple and harmonious record, showing how from the beginning I was devoted to peace, how constantly I longed for reconciliation; how, with every measure of equal rights, this longing found utterance; how it became an essential part of my life; how I discarded all idea of vengeance and punishment; how reconstruction was, to my mind, a transition period, and how earnestly I looked forward to the day when, after the recognition of equal rights, the Republic should again be one in reality as in name. If there are any who ever maintained a policy of hate, I never was so minded; and now in protesting against any such policy, I act only in obedience to the irresistible promptings of my soul."
And well might he speak thus. Let the people of the South hear what I say. They were wont to see in him only the implacable assailant of that peculiar institution, which was so closely interwoven with all their traditions and habits of life, that they regarded it as the very basis of their social and moral existence, as the source of their prosperity and greatness; the unsparing enemy of the Rebellion, whose success was to realize the fondest dreams of their ambition; the never-resting advocate of the grant of suffrage to the colored people, which they thought to be designed for their own degradation. Thus they had persuaded themselves that Charles Sumner was to them a relentless foe.
They did not know, as others knew, that he whom they cursed as their persecutor had a heart beating warmly and tenderly for all the human kind; that the efforts of his life were unceasingly devoted to those whom he thought most in need of aid; that in the slave he saw only the human soul, with its eternal title to the same right and dignity which he himself enjoyed; that he assailed the slavemaster only as the oppressor who denied that right; and that the former oppressor ceasing to be such, and being oppressed himself, could surely count upon the fulness of his active sympathy freely given in the spirit of equal justice; that it was the religion of his life to protect the weak and oppressed against the strong, no matter who were the weak and oppressed, no matter who were the strong. They knew not, that while fiercely combating a wrong, there was not in his heart a spark of hatred even for the wrong-doer who hated him. They knew not how well he deserved the high homage involuntarily paid to him by a cartoon during the late presidential campaign — a cartoon, designed to be malicious, which represented Charles Sumner strewing flowers on the grave of Preston Brooks. They foresaw not, that to welcome them back to the full brotherhood of the American people, he would expose himself to a blow, wounding him as cruelly as that which years ago levelled him to the ground in the Senate Chamber. And this new blow he received for them. The people of the South ignored this long. Now that he is gone, let them never forget it.
From Europe Mr. Sumner returned late in the fall of 1872, much strengthened, but far from being well. At the opening of the session he reintroduced two measures which, as he thought, should complete the record of his political life. One was his Civil Rights Bill, which had failed in the last Congress, and the other, a resolution providing that the names of the battles won over fellow-citizens in the war of the Rebellion, should be removed from the regimental colors of the army, and from the army register. It was in substance only a repetition of a resolution which he had introduced ten years before, in 1862, during the war, when the first names of victories were put on American battle-flags. This resolution called forth a new storm against him. It was denounced as an insult to the heroic soldiers of the Union, and a degradation of their victories and well-earned laurels. It was condemned as an unpatriotic act.
Charles Sumner insult the soldiers who had spilled their blood in a war for human rights! Charles Sumner degrade victories and depreciate laurels won for the cause of universal freedom! How strange an imputation!
Let the dead man have a hearing. This was his thought: No civilized nation, from the republics of antiquity down to our days, ever thought it wise or patriotic to preserve in conspicuous and durable form the mementos of victories won over fellow-citizens in civil war. Why not? Because every citizen should feel himself with all others as the child of a common country, and not as a defeated foe. All civilized governments of our days have instinctively followed the same dictate of wisdom and patriotism. The Irishman, when fighting for old England at Waterloo, was not to behold on the red cross floating above him the name of the Boyne. The Scotch Highlander, when standing in the trenches of Sebastopol, was not by the colors of his regiment to be reminded of Culloden. No French soldier at Austerlitz or Solferino had to read upon the tricolor any reminiscence of the Vendée. No Hungarian at Sadowa was taunted by any Austrian banner with the surrender of Villages. No German regiment, from Saxony or Hanover, charging under the iron hail of Gravelotte, was made to remember by words written on a Prussian standard that the black eagle had conquered them at Koniggratz and Langensalza. Should the son of South Carolina, when at some future day defending the Republic against some foreign foe, be reminded by an inscription on the colors floating over him, that under this flag the gun was fired that killed his father at Gettysburg? Should this great and enlightened Republic, proud of standing in the front of human progress, be less wise, less large-hearted, than the ancients were two thousand years ago, and the kingly governments of Europe are to-day? Let the battle-flags of the brave volunteers, which they brought home from the war with the glorious record of their victories, be preserved intact as a proud ornament of our State-houses and armories. But let the colors of the army, under which the sons of all the States are to meet and mingle in common patriotism, speak of nothing but union, — not a union of conquerors and conquered, but a union which is the mother of all, equally tender to all, knowing of nothing but equality, peace and love among her children. Do you want conspicuous mementos of your victories? They are written upon the dusky brow of every freeman who was once a slave; they are written on the gate-posts of a restored Union; and the most glorious of all will be written on the faces of a contented people, reunited in common national pride.
Such were the sentiments which inspired that resolution. Such were the sentiments which called forth a storm of obloquy. Such were the sentiments for which the Legislature of Massachusetts passed a solemn resolution of censure upon Charles Sumner, — Massachusetts, his own Massachusetts, whom he loved so ardently with a filial love, — of whom he was so proud, who had honored him so much in days gone by, and whom he had so long and so faithfully labored to serve and to honor! Oh, those were evil days, that winter; days sad and dark, when he sat there in his lonesome chamber, unable to leave it, the world moving around him, and in it so much that was hostile, — and he prostrated by the tormenting disease, which had returned with fresh violence, — unable to defend himself, — and with this bitter arrow in his heart! Why was not that resolution held up to scorn and vituperation as an insult to the brave, and an unpatriotic act — why was he not attacked and condemned for it when he first offered it, ten years before, and when he was in the fulness of manhood and power? If not then, why now? Why now? I shall never forget the melancholy hours I sat with him, seeking to lift him up with cheering words, and he, — his frame for hours racked with excruciating pain, and then exhausted with suffering, — gloomily brooding over the thought that he might die so!
How thankful I am, how thankful every human soul in Massachusetts, how thankful every American must be, that he did not die then! — and, indeed, more than once, death seemed to be knocking at his door. How thankful that he was spared to see the day, when the people by striking developments were convinced that those who had acted as he did, had after all not been impelled by mere whims of vanity, or reckless ambition, or sinister designs, but had good and patriotic reasons for what they did; — when the heart of Massachusetts came back to him full of the old love and confidence, assuring him that he would again be her chosen son for her representative seat in the House of States; — when the lawgivers of the old Commonwealth, obeying an irresistible impulse of justice, wiped away from the records of the Legislature, and from the fair name of the State, that resolution of censure which had stung him so deeply, — and when returning vigor lifted him up, and a new sunburst of hope illumined his life! How thankful we all are that he lived that one year longer!
And yet, have you thought of it, if he had died in those dark days, when so many clouds hung over him, — would not then the much vilified man have been the same Charles Sumner, whose death but one year later afflicted millions of hearts with a pang of bereavement, whose praise is now on every lip for the purity of his life, for his fidelity to great principles, and for the loftiness of his patriotism? Was he not a year ago the same, the same in purpose, the same in principle, the same in character? What had he done then that so many who praise him to-day should have then disowned him? See what he had done. He had simply been true to his convictions of duty. He had approved and urged what he thought right, he had attacked and opposed what he thought wrong. To his convictions of duty he had sacrificed political associations most dear to him, the security of his position of which he was proud. For his convictions of duty he had stood up against those more powerful than he; he had exposed himself to reproach, obloquy and persecution. Had he not done so, he would not have been the man you praise to-day; and yet for doing so he was cried down but yesterday. He had lived up to the great word he spoke when he entered the Senate: "The slave of principle, I call no party master." That declaration was greeted with applause, and when, true to his word, he refused to call a party master, the act was covered with reproach.
The spirit impelling him to do so was the same conscience which urged him to break away from the powerful party which controlled his State in the days of Daniel Webster, and to join a feeble minority, which stood up for freedom; to throw away the favor and defy the power of the wealthy and refined, in order to plead the cause of the down-trodden and degraded; to stand up against the slave-power in Congress with a courage never surpassed; to attack the prejudice of birth and religion, and to plead fearlessly for the rights of the foreign-born citizen at a time when the know-nothing movement was controlling his State and might have defeated his own re-election to the Senate; to advocate emancipation when others trembled with fear: to march ahead of his followers, when they were afraid to follow; to rise up alone for what he thought right, when others would not rise with him. It was that brave spirit which does everything, defies everything, risks everything, sacrifices everything, comfort, society, party, popular support, station of honor, prospects, for sense of right and conviction of duty. That is it for which you honored him long, for which you reproached him yesterday, and for which you honor him again to-day, and will honor him forever.
Ah, what a lesson is this for the American people, — a lesson learned so often, and, alas! forgotten almost as often as it is learned! Is it well to discourage, to proscribe in your public men that independent spirit which will boldly assert a conscientious sense of duty, even against the behests of power or party? Is it well to teach them that they must serve the command and interest of party, even at the price of conscience, or they must be crushed under its heel, whatever their past service, whatever their ability, whatever their character may be? Is it well to make them believe that he who dares to be himself must be hunted as a political outlaw, who will find justice only when he is dead? That would have been the sad moral of his death, had Charles Sumner died a year ago.
Let the American people never forget that it has always been the independent spirit, the all-defying sense of duty which broke the way for every great progressive movement since mankind has a history; which gave the American Colonies their sovereignty and made this great Republic; which defied the power of slavery, and made this a Republic of freemen; and which — who knows — may again be needed some day to defy the power of ignorance, to arrest the inroads of corruption, or to break the subtle tyranny of organization in order to preserve this as a Republic! And therefore let no man understand me as offering what I have said about Mr. Sumner's course, during the last period of his life, as an apology for what he did. He was right before his own conscience, and needs no apology. Woe to the Republic when it looks in vain for the men who seek the truth without prejudice and speak the truth without fear, as they understand it, no matter whether the world be willing to listen or not! Alas for the generation that would put such men into their graves with the poor boon of an apology for what was in them noblest and best! Who will not agree that, had power or partisan spirit, which persecuted him because he followed higher aims than party interest, ever succeeded in subjugating and moulding him after its fashion, against his conscience, against his conviction of duty, against his sense of right, he would have sunk into his grave a miserable ruin of his great self, wrecked in his moral nature, deserving only a tear of pity? For he was great and useful only because he dared to be himself all the days of his life; and for this you have, when he died, put the laurel upon his brow!
From the coffin which hides his body, Charles Sumner now rises up before our eyes an historic character. Let us look at him once more. His life lies before us like an open book which contains no double meanings, no crooked passages, no mysteries, no concealments. It is clear as crystal.
Even his warmest friend will not see in it the model of perfect statesmanship; not that eagle glance which, from a lofty eminence, at one sweep surveys the whole field on which by labor, thought, strife, accommodation, impulse, restraint, slow and rapid movement, the destinies of a nation are worked out, — and which, while surveying the whole, yet observes and penetrates the fitness and working of every detail of the great machinery; — not that ever calm and steady and self-controlling good sense, which judges existing things just as they are, and existing forces just as to what they can accomplish, and while instructing, conciliating, persuading and moulding those forces, and guiding them on toward an ideal end, correctly estimates comparative good and comparative evil, and impels or restrains as that estimate may command. That is the true genius of statesmanship, fitting all times, all circumstances, and all great objects to be reached by political action.
Mr. Sumner's natural abilities were not of the very first order; but they were supplemented by acquired abilities of most remarkable power. His mind was not apt to invent and create by inspiration; it produced by study and work. Neither had his mind superior constructive capacity. When he desired to originate a measure of legislation, he scarcely ever elaborated its practical detail; he usually threw his idea into the form of a resolution, or a bill giving in the main his purpose only, and then he advanced to the discussion of the principles involved. It was difficult for him to look at a question or problem from more than one point of view, and to comprehend its different bearings, its complex relations with other questions or problems; and to that one point of view he was apt to subject all other considerations. He not only thought, but he did not hesitate to say that all construction of the Constitution must be subservient to the supreme duty of giving the amplest protection to the natural rights of man by direct national legislation. He was not free from that dangerous tendency to forget the limits which bound the legitimate range of legislative and governmental action. On economical questions his views were enlightened and thoroughly consistent. He had studied such subjects more than is commonly supposed. It was one of his last regrets that his health did not permit him to make a speech in favor of an early resumption of specie payments. On matters of international law and foreign affairs he was the recognized authority of the Senate.
But some of his very shortcomings served to increase that peculiar power which he exerted in his time. His public life was thrown into a period of a revolutionary character, when one great end was the self-imposed subject of a universal struggle, a struggle which was not made, not manufactured by the design of men, but had grown from the natural conflict of existing things, and grew irresistibly on and on, until it enveloped all the thought of the nation; and that one great end appealing more than to the practical sense, to the moral impulses of men, making of them the fighting force. There Mr. Sumner found his place and there he grew great, for that moral impulse was stronger in him than in most of the world around him; and it was in him not a mere crude, untutored force of nature, but educated and elevated by thought and study; and it found in his brain and heart an armory of strong weapons given to but few; vast information, legal learning, industry, eloquence, undaunted courage, an independent and iron will, profound convictions, unbounded devotion and sublime faith. It found there also a keen and just instinct as to the objects which must be reached and the forces which must be set in motion and driven on to reach them. Thus keeping the end steadily, obstinately, intensely in view, he marched ahead of his followers, never disturbed by their anxieties and fears, showing them that what was necessary was possible, and forcing them to follow him, — a great moving power, such as the struggle required.
Nor can it be said that this impatient, irrepressible propulsion was against all prudence and sound judgment, for it must not be forgotten, that, when Mr. Sumner stepped into the front, the policy of compromise was exhausted; the time of composition and expedient was past. Things had gone so far, that the idea of reaching the end, which ultimately must be reached, by mutual concession and a gradual and peaceable process, was utterly hopeless. The conflicting forces could not be reconciled; the final struggle was indeed irrepressible and inevitable, and all that could then be done was to gather up all the existing forces for one supreme effort, and to take care that the final struggle should bring forth the necessary results.
Thus the instinct and the obstinate, concentrated, irresistible moving power which Mr. Sumner possessed was an essential part of the true statesmanship of the revolutionary period. Had he lived before or after this great period, in quiet, ordinary times, he would perhaps never have gone into public life, or never risen in it to conspicuous significance. But all he was by nature, by acquirement, by ability, by moral impulse, made him one of the heroes of that great struggle against slavery, and in some respects the first. And then when the victory was won, the same moral nature, the same sense of justice, the same enlightened mind, impelled him to plead the cause of peace, reconciliation and brotherhood, through equal rights and even justice, thus completing the fulness of his ideal. On the pedestal of his time he stands one of the greatest of Americans.
What a peculiar power of fascination there was in him as a public man! It acted much through his eloquence, but not through his eloquence alone. His speech was not a graceful flow of melodious periods, now drawing on the listener with the persuasive tone of confidential conversation, then carrying him along with a more rapid rush of thought and language, and at last lifting him up with the peals of reason in passion. His arguments marched forth at once in grave and stately array; his sentences like rows of massive doric columns, unrelieved by pleasing variety, severe and imposing. His orations, especially those pronounced in the Senate before the war, contain many passages of grandest beauty. There was nothing kindly persuasive in his utterance; his reasoning appeared in the form of consecutive assertion, not seldom strictly logical and irresistibly strong. His mighty appeals were always addressed to the noblest instincts of human nature. His speech was never enlivened by anything like wit or humor. They were foreign to his nature. He has never been guilty of a flash of irony or sarcasm. His weapon was not the foil, but the battle-axe. He has often been accused of being uncharitable to opponents in debate, and of wounding their feelings with uncalled for harshness of language. He was guilty of that, but no man was less conscious of the stinging force of his language than he. He was often sorry for the effect his thrusts had produced, but being always so firmly and honestly persuaded of the correctness of his own opinions, that he could scarcely ever appreciate the position of an opponent, he fell into the same fault again. Not seldom he appeared haughty in his assumptions of authority; but it was the imperiousness of profound conviction, which, while sometimes exasperating his hearers, yet scarcely ever failed to exercise over them a certain sway. His fancy was not fertile, his figures mostly labored and stiff. In his later years his vast learning began to become an encumbering burden to his eloquence. The mass of quoted sayings and historical illustrations, not seldom accumulated beyond measure and grotesquely grouped, sometimes threatened to suffocate the original thought and to oppress the hearer. But even then his words scarcely ever failed to chain the attention of the audience, and I have more than once seen the Senate attentively listening while he read from printed slips the most elaborate disquisition, which, if attempted by any one of his colleagues, would at once have emptied the floor and galleries. But there were always moments recalling to our mind the days of his freshest vigor, when he stood in the midst of the great struggle, lifting up the youth of the country with heart-stirring appeals, and with the lion-like thunder of his voice shaking the Senate chamber.
Still there was another source from which that fascination sprung. Behind all he said and did there stood a grand manhood, which never failed to make itself felt. What a figure he was, with his tall and stalwart frame, his manly face, topped with his shaggy locks, his noble bearing, the finest type of American Senatorship, the tallest oak of the forest! And how small they appeared by his side, the common run of politicians, who spend their days with the laying of pipe, and the setting up of pins, and the pulling of wires; who barter an office to secure this vote, and procure a contract to get that; who stand always with their ears to the wind to hear how the administration sneezes, and what their constituents whisper, in mortal trepidation lest they fail in being all things to everybody! How he towered above them, he whose aims were always the highest and noblest; whose very presence made you forget the vulgarities of political life; who dared to differ with any man ever so powerful, any multitude ever so numerous; who regarded party as nothing but a means for great ends, and for those ends defied its power; to whom the arts of demagogism were so contemptible, that he would rather have sunk into obscurity and oblivion than descend to them; to whom the dignity of his office was so sacred that he would not even ask for it for fear of darkening its lustre!
Honor to the people of Massachusetts who, for twenty-three years, kept in the Senate, and would have kept him there ever so long, had he lived, a man who never, even to them, conceded a single iota of his convictions in order to remain there! And what a life was his! A life so wholly devoted to what was good and pure! There he stood in the midst of the grasping materialism of our times, around him the eager chase for the almighty dollar, no thought of opportunity ever entering the smallest corner of his mind, and disturbing his high endeavors; with a virtue which the possession of power could not even tempt, much less debauch; from whose presence the very thought of corruption instinctively shrunk back; a life so spotless, an integrity so intact, a character so high, that the most daring eagerness of calumny, the most wanton audacity of insinuation, standing on tiptoe, could not touch the soles of his shoes!
They say that he indulged in overweening self-appreciation. Ay, he did have a magnificent pride, a lofty self-esteem. Why should he not? Let wretches despise themselves, for they have good reason to do so; not he. But in his self-esteem there was nothing small and mean; no man lived to whose very nature envy and petty jealousy were more foreign. Conscious of his own merit, he never depreciated the merit of others; nay, he not only recognized it, but he expressed that recognition with that cordial spontaneity which can only flow from a sincere and generous heart. His pride of self was like his pride of country. He was the proudest American; he was the proudest New Englander; and yet he was the most cosmopolitan American I have ever seen. There was in him not the faintest shadow of that narrow prejudice which looks askance at what has grown in foreign lands. His generous heart and his enlightened mind were too generous and too enlightened not to give the fullest measure of appreciation to all that was good and worthy, from whatever quarter of the globe it came.
And now his home! There are those around me who have breathed the air of his house in Washington, — that atmosphere of refinement, taste, scholarship, art, friendship, and warm-hearted hospitality; who have seen those rooms covered and filled with his pictures, his engravings, his statues, his bronzes, his books and rare manuscripts — the collections of a lifetime — the image of the richness of his mind, the comfort and consolation of his solitude. They have beheld his childlike smile of satisfaction when he unlocked the most precious of his treasures and told their stories.
They remember the conversations at his hospitable board, genially inspired and directed by him, on art, and books, and inventions, and great times, and great men, — when suddenly sometimes, by accident, a new mine of curious knowledge disclosed itself in him, which his friends had never known he possessed; or when a sunburst of the affectionate gentleness of his soul warmed all hearts around him. They remember his craving for friendship, as it spoke through the far outstretched hand when you arrived, and the glad exclamation: "I am so happy you came," — and the beseeching, almost despondent tone when you departed: "Do not leave me yet; do stay awhile longer, I want so much to speak with you!" It is all gone now. He could not stay himself, and he has left his friends behind, feeling more deeply than ever that no man could know him well but to love him.
Now we have laid him into his grave, in the motherly soil of Massachusetts, which was so dear to him. He is at rest now, the stalwart, brave old champion, whose face and bearing were so austere, and whose heart was so full of tenderness; who began his career with a pathetic plea for universal peace and charity, and whose whole life was an arduous, incessant, never-resting struggle, which left him all covered with scars. And we can do nothing for him but commemorate his lofty ideals of Liberty, and Equality, and Justice, and Reconciliation, and Purity, and the earnestness and courage and touching fidelity with which he fought for them; so genuine in his sincerity, so single-minded in his zeal, so heroic in his devotion!
Oh, that we could but for one short hour call him up from his coffin, to let him see with the same eyes which saw so much hostility, that those who stood against him in the struggles of his life are his enemies no longer! That we could show him the fruit of the conflicts and sufferings of his last three years, and that he had not struggled and suffered in vain! We would bring before him, not only those who from offended partisan zeal assailed him, and who now with sorrowful hearts praise the purity of his patriotism; but we would bring to him that man of the South, a slaveholder and a leader of secession in his time, the echo of whose words spoken in the name of the South in the halls of the National Capitol we heard but yesterday; words of respect, of gratitude, of tenderness. That man of the South should then do what he deplored not to have done while he lived, — he should lay his hand upon the shoulders of the old friend of the human kind and say to him: "Is it you whom I hated, and who, as I thought, hated me? I have learned now the greatness and magnanimity of your soul, and here I offer you my hand and heart."
Could he but see this with those eyes, so weary of contention and strife, how contentedly would he close them again, having beheld the greatness of his victories!
People of Massachusetts! he was the son of your soil, in which he now sleeps; but he is not all your own. He belongs to all of us in the North and in the South, — to the blacks he helped to make free, and to the whites he strove to make brothers again. Let, on the grave of him whom so many thought to be their enemy, and found to be their friend, the hands be clasped which so bitterly warred against each other. Let upon that grave the youth of America be taught, by the story of his life, that not only genius, power and success, but more than these, patriotic devotion and virtue, make the greatness of the citizen! If this lesson be understood, followed, more than Charles Summer's living word could have done for the glory of America will then be done by the inspiration of his great example. And it will truly be said, that although his body lies mouldering in the earth, yet in the assured rights of all, in the brotherhood of a reunited people, and in a purified Republic, he still lives and will live forever.