Chapter 25


The high sheriff of Suffolk County in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, as became such a high official of that State, believed in three things, —law, liberty, and order. Two things he hated above all others,—rum and slavery. One thing he was pledged to absolutely,—equal rights for all.

And when he saw how the error of ownership in men was stirring the people of the land to wrangling and strife, he looked down upon his solemn little nine-year-old son and said to him solemnly: "Some day our children’s heads will be broken on this slavery question."

How really prophetic this utterance of the high sheriff of Suffolk was history has recorded. It came true with startling nearness to his own flesh and blood. It was his son who, thirty-six years after, was to make that prophecy true, as on the floor of Congress he fell stricken down, his head literally broken by the champion of the cause which father and son alike had battled. For the high sheriff of Suffolk County in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, in the year 1820, was Charles Pinckney Sumner, and his nine-year-old son was that Charles Sumner whom men now honor as the




foremost statesman of the Civil War period, the great senator from Massachusetts.

He was the schoolmate and college mate of Wendell Phillips. Like Phillips, handsome and well-bred, a scion of the "blue blood" of Boston,—like Phillips, too, a brilliant lawyer, a powerful speaker, and a logical thinker,—he might have  made himself selfishly rich in his profession. Instead, he preferred principle to profit, and his first public appearance, in 1846, was at Faneuil Hall, like that of Wendell Phillips, at a meeting presided over by that heroic old champion of equal rights, John Quincy Adams, to protest against sending back into slavery a captured fugitive slave.

Freedom is national; slavery is sectional." That was the central thought of all Charles Sumner’s splendid utterances. It was the truth he proclaimed for forty years. It was the keynote to the first articles he published in 1841, to the first speech he made in Congress, and to all the appeals and arguments, the orations, speeches, and public acts, that filled his days from that first speech in Faneuil Hall to the final triumph of the cause he so nobly championed.

But that devotion to principle made the prophecy of his father, the high sheriff of Suffolk, come true, and well-nigh wrought his death.

In Massachusetts the opposition to the extension of slavery in the republic broke in pieces the old Whig



party, which succeeded to Sam Adams’s Revolutionary party and George Washington’s Federalist party, and which was said to take its odd name from the first four letters of its motto: " We Hope In God." Out of some of these pieces was formed first the Liberty party of 1840, and then, in 1848, the Free-soil party—the forerunners of the great Republican party that came into power with Abraham Lincoln.

This Free-soil party Charles Sumner helped to form. It sent him to Congress as a senator from Massachusetts in i8~o, and kept him there until the day of his death, long after the Free-soilers had become Republicans.

In Congress he represented Massachusetts grandly; but still more did he represent liberty and that growing conscience of the republic which finally proclaimed equal rights to all. He was no extremist, like Wendell Phillips, who was sometimes very nearly a fanatic in his actions as an agitator, and said things unwise and seemingly unpatriotic. Charles Sumner was, above all, an American, and so true and high-reaching an American that often his own countrymen misunderstood and misjudged him, because he was restless under anything that seemed to limit American ideals or stain American honor. His faith was founded on the Declaration of Independence; his desire was a right reading of the Constitution.

So at forty Charles Sumner became a senator of the United States. A grand and impressive figure, his very first speech was the expression of his belief: "Freedom is national; slavery is sectional."

For sixteen years he kept that truth before his col



leagues and the country, defying in an unfriendly Senate the whole force of the slavery power.

He stood his ground manfully. Nothing dismayed, nothing disheartened him. Unruffled by detraction, i unharmed by sarcasm, unmoved by threats, he maintained his position, and kept up the fight, stern, solid, unyielding, determined, a strong and sure bulwark of the cause he championed,—" the noblest contribution made by Boston and Massachusetts to the antislavery cause," as has well been said.

Those were the days of arrangement and compromise, when less determined men than Wendell Phillips and Charles Sumner were ready to do anything, concede anything, to avoid trouble. And thus the South got all the benefits, and slavery grew.

But when at last, in violation of constitutional rights and solemn agreements, it was attempted to settle the newly organized Territory of Kansas as a slave State, then Charles Sumner boldly threw down the gage of battle, with the life of Kansas as the prize. " The issue is before us," he exclaimed, with an earnestness that aroused both friend and foe. "To every man in the land it says with clear, penetrating voice: ‘Are you for freedom or are you for slavery?

Massachusetts was deeply interested in this now historic event,—the settlement of Kansas. The freemen of the commonwealth determined to~ make the new Territory a free State. Colonization societies were formed, and emigration and colonization schemes were fostered.

While Massachusetts, with men and money, was help-



ing the cause of freedom in Kansas, Charles Sumner in Congress was doing his part by argument, speech, and vote.

His efforts culminated in his famous two-day speech, in May, 1856, known from its subject as the " Crime against Kansas."

It depicted in strong, unsparing language the wrong against freedom wrought by the slave power in America, especially in the new Territory of Kansas, solemnly pledged to freedom. The speech was pitiless in its invectives and personalities,—" the severe and awful truth which the sharp agony of the nation demanded," said the gentle but determined and liberty-loving Whittier.

It told the truth; it was unanswerable. It was not answered by words; but one Preston S. Brooks of South Carolina, who was a member of the House of Representatives, and a relative of one whom Sumner had there personally arraigned, was stung to madness by the speech of the Massachusetts senator, and vowed vengeance. He strode into the Senate cham



ber, and, while Sumner sat bent over his desk, absorbed in letter-writing, Brooks fell upon him, and with a heavy cane savagely and relentlessly beat the unprotected man over the head until, stunned and bleeding, Charles Sumner fell senseless to the floor.

Thus was the high sheriff’s prophecy fulfilled. But Kansas became a free State. May Kansas never forget at what a cost to Massachusetts her birthright was assured!

Sumner, after years of untold agony and suffering, recovered. But the blow that struck him down awoke the whole land~ to action, and started the movement toward protest and assertion that finally crowned with triumph the long struggle for equal rights.

The attack on Charles Sumner stirred Massachusetts to its center. Indignation meetings were held throughout the commonwealth, and, as was said by Henry Wilson, the other Massachusetts senator, and later Vice-President of the United States, "Of the twelve hundred thousand people of Massachusetts, you cannot find in the State one thousand, administration office holders included, who do not look with loathing and execration upon the outrage on the person of their senator and the honor of their State." Massachusetts at once voted to assume all the expenses of its great senator’s illness; but Sumner, when he heard of this action, as promptly declined the honor. "Whatever Massachusetts can give," he said, "let it all go to suffering Kansas."

Charles Sumner, during his torturing illness, was overwhelmingly reelected to the Senate; and during his four years of absence his vacant seat was Massachusetts’s



eloquent testimony to his sacrifice; for the great senator, as Tacitus said of a similar vacant seat in the Senate of old Rome, "was the more conspicuous because not there."

But he returned at last to do valiant service. And for fourteen years longer, until his death in 1874, he stood boldly for Massachusetts as her most honored senator, the sagest head—saving always the mighty Lincoln—in the councils of the nation which he had, at such a cost, helped into greatness and freedom as the wisest, noblest, grandest champion of the equality of man before the law.