An Anti-Slavery Crusade - Part 4

Part 4

The publication of "The Impending Crisis" created a profound sensation among Southern leaders. So long as the attack upon the peculiar inst.i.tution emanated from the North, the defenders had the full benefit of local prejudice and resentment against outside intrusion. Helper was himself a thorough-going believer in state rights. Slavery was to be abolished, as he thought, by the action of the separate States. Here he was in accord with Northern abolitionists. If such literature as Helper's volume should find its way into the South, it would be no longer possible to palm off upon the unthinking public the patent falsehood that abolitionists of the North were attempting to impose by force a change in Southern inst.i.tutions. All that Southern abolitionists ever asked was the privilege of remaining at home in their own South in the full exercise of their const.i.tutional rights.

Southern leaders were undoubtedly aware of the concurrent publications of travelers and newspaper reporters, of which Olmsted's books were conspicuous examples. Olmsted and Helper were both sources of proof that slavery was bringing the South to financial ruin. The facts were getting hold of the minds of the Southern people. The debate which had been adjourned was on the eve of being resumed. Complete suppression of the new scientific industrial argument against slavery seemed to slave-owners to furnish their only defense.

The Appalachian ranges of mountains drove a wedge of liberty and freedom from Pennsylvania almost to the Gulf. In the upland regions slavery could not flourish. There was always enmity between the planters of the coast and the dwellers on the upland. The slaveholding oligarchy had always ruled, but the day of the uplanders was at hand. This is the explanation of the veritable panic which Helper's publication created. A debate which should follow the line of this old division between the peoples of the Atlantic slave States would, under existing conditions, be fatal to the inst.i.tution of slavery. West Virginia did become a free State at the first opportunity. Counties in western North Carolina claim to have furnished a larger proportion of their men to the Union army than any other counties in the country. Had the plan for peaceable emanc.i.p.ation projected by abolitionists been permitted to take its course, the uplands of South Carolina would have been pitted against the lowlands, and Senator Tillman would have appeared as a rampant abolitionist. There might have been violence, but it would have been confined to limited areas in the separate States. Had the crisis been postponed, there surely would have been a revival of abolitionism within the Southern States. Slavery in Missouri was already approaching a crisis. Southern leaders had long foreseen that the State would abolish slavery if a free State should be established on the western boundary. This was actually taking place. Kansas was filling up with free-state settlers and, by the act of its own citizens, a few years later did abolish slavery.

Republicans naturally made use of Helper's book for party purposes. A cheap abridged edition was brought out. Several Republican leaders were induced to sign their names to a paper commending the publication. Among these was John Sherman of Ohio, who in the organization of the newly elected House of Representatives in 1859 was the leading candidate of the Republicans for the speakership. During the contest the fact that his name was on this paper was made public, and Southern leaders were furious. Extracts were read to prove that the book was incendiary. Millson of Virginia said that "one who consciously, deliberately, and of purpose lends his name and influence to the propagation of such writings is not only not fit to be speaker, but he is not-fit to live." It is one of the ironies of the situation that the pa.s.sage selected to prove the incendiary character of the book is almost a literal quotation from the debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1832.


Both the leading political parties were, in the campaign of 1852, fully committed to the acceptance of the so-called Compromise of 1850 as a final settlement of the slavery question; both were committed to the support of the Fugitive Slave Act. The Free-soil party, with John P. Hale as its candidate, did make a vigorous attack upon the Fugitive Slave Act, and opposed all compromises respecting slavery, but Free-Boilers had been to a large extent reabsorbed into the Democratic party, their vote of 1852 being only about half that of 1848. Though the Whig vote was large and only about two hundred thousand less than that of the Democrats, yet it was so distributed that the Whigs carried only four States, Ma.s.sachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The other States gave a Democratic plurality.

Had there been time for readjustment, the Whig party might have recovered lost ground, but no time was permitted. There was in progress in Missouri a political conflict which was already commanding national attention. Thomas H. Benton, for thirty years a Senator from Missouri, and a national figure, was the storm-center. His enemies accused him of being a Free-Boiler, an abolitionist in disguise. He was professedly a stanch and uncompromising unionist, a personal and political opponent of John C. Calhoun. According to his own statement he had been opposed to the extension of slavery since 1804, although he had advocated the admission of Missouri with a pro-slavery const.i.tution in 180. He was, from the first, senior Senator from the State, and by a peculiar combination of influences incurred his first defeat for reelection in 1851.

Benton's defeat in the Missouri Legislature was largely the result of national pro-slavery influences. In a former chapter, reference was made to the Ohio River as furnishing a "providential argument against slavery." The Mississippi River as the eastern boundary of Missouri furnished a like argument, but on the north not even a prairie brook separated free labor in Iowa from slave labor in Missouri. The inhabitants of western Missouri, realizing that the tenure of their peculiar inst.i.tution was becoming weaker in the east and north, early became convinced that the organization of a free State along their western boundary would be followed by the abolition of slavery in their own State. This condition attracted the attention of the national guardians of pro-slavery interests. Calhoun, Davis, Breckinridge, Toombs, and others were in constant communication with local leaders. A certain Judge W. C. Price, a religious fanatic, and a pro-slavery devotee, was induced to visit every part of the State in 1844, calling the attention of all slaveholders to the perils of the situation and preparing the way for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Senator Benton, who was approached on the subject, replied in such a way that all radical defenders of slavery, both national leaders and local politicians, were moved to unite for his political defeat.

David R. Atchison, junior Senator from Missouri, had been made the leader of the pro-slavery forces. The defeat of Benton in the Missouri Legislature did not end the strife. He at once became a candidate for Atchison's place in the election which was to occur in 1855, and he was in the meantime elected to the House of Representatives in 1852. The most telling consideration in Benton's favor was the general demand, in which he himself joined, for the immediate organization of the western territory in order to facilitate the building of a system of railways reaching the Pacific, with St. Louis as the point of departure. For a time, in 1859, and 1853, Benton was apparently triumphant, and Atchison was himself willing to consent to the organization of the new territory with slavery excluded. The national leaders, however, were not of the same mind. The real issue was the continuance of slavery in the State; the one thing which must not be permitted was the transfer of anti-slavery agitation to the separate States. Henry Clay's proposal of 1849 to provide for gradual emanc.i.p.ation in Kentucky was bitterly resented. It had long been an axiom with the slavocracy that the inst.i.tution would perish unless it had the opportunity to expand. Out of this conviction arose Calhoun's famous theory that slaveowners had under the Const.i.tution an equal right with the owners of all other forms of property in all the Territories. The theory itself a.s.sumed that the act prohibiting slavery in the territory north of the southern boundary of Missouri was unconst.i.tutional and void. But this theory had not yet received judicial sanction, and the time was at hand when the question of freedom or slavery in the western territory was to be determined. Between March and December, 1853, the discovery was made that the Act of 1850 organizing the Territories of New Mexico and Utah had superseded the Compromise of 1820; that a principle had been recognized applicable to all the Territories; that all were open to settlement on equal terms to slaveholders and non-slaveholders; that the subject of slavery should be removed from Congress to the people of the Territories; and that they should decide, either when a territorial legislature was organized or at the time of the adoption of a const.i.tution preparatory to statehood, whether or not slavery should be authorized. These ideas found expression in various newspapers during the month of December, 1853. Though the authorship of the new theory is still a matter of dispute, it is well known that Stephen A. Douglas became its chief sponsor and champion. The real motives and intentions of Douglas himself and of many of his supporters will always remain obscure and uncertain. But no uncertainty attaches to the motives of Senator Atchison and the leaders of the Calhoun section of the Democratic party. For ten years at least they had been laboring to get rid of the Missouri Compromise. Their motive was to defend slavery and especially to forestall a successful movement for emanc.i.p.ation in the State of Missouri.

From early in January, 1854, until late in May, Douglas's Nebraska bill held the attention of Congress and of the entire country. At first the measure simply a.s.sumed that the Missouri Compromise had been superseded by the Act of 1850. Later the bill was amended in such a way as to repeal distinctly that time-honored act. At first the plan was to organize Nebraska as a single Territory extending from Texas to Canada. Later it was proposed to organize separate Territories, one west of Missouri under the name of Kansas, the other west of Iowa under the name of Nebraska. Opposition came from Free-soilers, from Northern Whigs and a few Whigs from the South, and from a large proportion of Northern Democrats. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise came like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky to the people of the North. For a time Douglas was the most unpopular of political leaders and was apparently repudiated by his party. The first name designating the opponents of the Douglas bill was "Anti Nebraska men," for which the name Republican was gradually subst.i.tuted and in 1858 became the accepted t.i.tle of the party.

The provision for two territorial governments instead of one carried with it the idea of a continued balance between slave and free States; Kansas, being on a geographical parallel with the slave States, would probably permit slavery, while Nebraska would be occupied by free-state immigrants. Though this was a commonly accepted view, Eli Thayer of Worcester, Ma.s.sachusetts, and a few others took a different view. They proposed to make an end of the discussion of the extension of slavery by sending free men who were opposed to slavery to occupy the territory open for settlement. To attain this object they organized an Emigrant Aid Company incorporated under the laws of the State. Even before the bill was pa.s.sed, the corporation was in full working order. Thayer himself traveled extensively throughout the Northern States stimulating interest in western emigration, with the conviction that the disturbing question could be peacefully settled in this way. California had thus been saved to freedom; why not all other Territories? The new company had as adviser and co-laborer Dr. Charles Robinson, who had crossed the Kansas Territory on his way to California and had acquired valuable experience in the art of state-building under peculiar conditions.

The first party sent out by the Emigrant Aid Company arrived in Kansas early in August, 1854, and selected the site for the town of Lawrence. During the later months of the year, four other parties were sent out, in all numbering nearly seven hundred. Through extensive advertis.e.m.e.nt by the company, through the general interest in the subject and the natural flow of emigration to the West, Kansas was receiving large accessions of free-state settlers.

Meanwhile the men of Missouri, some of whom had striven for a decade to secure the privilege of extending slavery into the new Territory, were not idle. Instantly upon the removal of legal barriers, they occupied adjacent lands, founded towns, staked out claims, formed plans for preempting the entire region and for forestalling or driving out all intruders. They had at first the advantage of position, for they did not find it difficult to maintain two homes, one in Kansas for purposes of voting and fighting and another in Missouri for actual residence. Andrew H. Reeder, a Pennsylvania Democrat of strong pro-slavery prejudices, was appointed first Governor of the Territory. When he arrived in Kansas in October, 1854, there were already several thousand settlers on the ground and others were continually arriving. He appointed the 29th of November for the election of a delegate to Congress. On that day several hundred Missourians came into the Territory and voted. There was no violence and no contest; the free-state men had no separate candidate. Notwithstanding the violence of language used by opposing factions, notwithstanding the organization of secret societies pledged to drive out all Northern intruders, there was no serious disturbance until March 30, 1855, the day appointed for the election of members of the territorial Legislature. On that day the Missourians came full five thousand strong, armed with guns, bowie-knives, and revolvers. They met with no resistance from the residents, who were unarmed. They took charge of the precincts and chose pro-slavery delegates with one exception. Governor Reeder protested and recommended to the precincts the filing of protests. Only seven responded, however, and in these cases new elections were held and contesting delegates elected.

The Governor issued certificates to these and to all those who in other precincts had been chosen by the horde from Missouri. When the Legislature met in July, the seven contests were decided in favor of the pro-slavery party, the single freestate member resigned, and the a.s.sembly was unanimous.

Governor Reeder fully expected that President Pierce would nullify the election, and to this end he made a journey to Washington in April. On the way he delivered a public address at Easton, Pennsylvania, describing in lurid colors the outrage which had been perpetrated upon the people of Kansas by the "border ruffians" from Missouri, and a.s.serting that the accounts in the Northern press had not been exaggerated.

While Governor Reeder in contact with the actual events in Kansas was becoming an active Free-Boiler, President Pierce in a.s.sociation with Jefferson Davis and others of his party was developing active sympathies with the people of western Missouri. To the President this invasion of territory west of the slave State by Northern men aided by Northern corporations seemed a violation of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and he sought to induce Reeder to resign. This, however, the Governor positively refused to do unless the President would formally approve his conduct in Kansas-an endors.e.m.e.nt which required more fort.i.tude than President Pierce possessed. On his return to Kansas, determined to do what he could to protect the Kansas people from injustice, he called the Legislature to meet at p.a.w.nee, a point far removed from the Missouri border. Immediately upon their organization at that place the members of the Legislature adjourned to meet at Shawnee, near the border of Missouri. The Governor, who decided that this action was illegal, then refused to recognize the a.s.sembly at the new place. A deadlock thus ensued which was broken on the 15th of August by the removal of Governor Reeder and the appointment of Wilson Shannon of Ohio in his place. In the meantime the territorial Legislature had adjourned, having "enacted" an elaborate proslavery code made up from the slave code of Missouri with a number of special adaptations. For example, it was made a penitentiary offense to deny by speaking or writing, or by printing, or by introducing any printed matter, the right of persons to hold slaves in the Territory; no man was eligible to jury service who was conscientiously opposed to holding slaves; and lawyers were bound by oath to support the territorial statutes.

The free-state men, with the approval of Reeder, refused to recognize the Legislature and inaugurated a movement in the fall of 1855 to adopt a const.i.tution and to organize a provisional territorial Government preparatory to admission as a State, following in this respect the procedure in California and Michigan. A convention met in Topeka in October, 1855, and completed on the 11th of November the draft of a const.i.tution which prohibited slavery. On the 15th of December the const.i.tution was approved by a practically unanimous vote, only free-state men taking part in the election. A month later a Legislature was elected and at the same time Charles Robinson was elected Governor of the new commonwealth. In the previous October, Reeder had been chosen Free-soil delegate to Congress. The Topeka freestate Legislature met on the 4th of March, 1856, and after pet.i.tioning Congress to admit Kansas under the Topeka const.i.tution, adjourned until the 4th of July pending the action of Congress. Thus at the end of two years two distinct Governments had come into existence within the Territory of Kansas. It speaks volumes for the self-control and moderation of the two parties that no hostile encounter had occurred between the contestants. When the armed Missourians came in March, 1855, the unarmed settlers offered no resistance. Afterward, however, they supplied themselves with Sharp's rifles and organized a militia. With the advent of Governor Shannon in September, 1855, the proslavery position was much strengthened. In November, in a quarrel over a land claim, a free-state settler by the name of Dow was killed. The murderer escaped, but a friend of the victim was accused of uttering threats against a friend of the murderer. For this offense a posse led by Sheriff Jones, a Missourian, seized him, and would have carried him away if fourteen freestate men had not "persuaded" the Sheriff to surrender his prisoner. This interference was accepted by the Missourians as a signal for battle. The rescuers must be arrested and punished. A large force of infuriated Missourians and pro-slavery settlers a.s.sembled for a raid upon the town of Lawrence. In the meantime the Lawrence militia planned and executed a systematic defense of the town. When the two armies came within speaking distance, a parley ensued in which the Governor took a leading part in settling the affair without a hostile shot. This is known in Kansas history as the "Wakarusa War."

The progress of affairs in Kansas was followed with intense interest in all parts of the country. North and South vied with each other in the encouragement of emigration to Kansas. Colonel Buford of Alabama sold a large number of slaves and devoted the proceeds to meeting the expense of conducting a troop of three hundred men to Kansas in the winter of 1856. They went armed with "the sword of the spirit," and all provided with Bibles supplied by the leading churches. Arrived in the territory, they were duly furnished with more worldly weapons and were drilled for action. About the same time a parallel incident is said to have occurred in New Haven, Connecticut. A deacon in one of the churches had enlisted a company of seventy bound for Kansas. A meeting was held in the church to raise money to defray expenses. The leader of the company declared that they also needed rifles for self-defense. Forthwith Professor Silliman, of the University, subscribed one Sharp's rifle, and others followed with like pledges. Finally Henry Ward Beecher, who was the speaker of the occasion, rose and promised that, if twenty-five rifles were pledged on the spot, Plymouth Church in Brooklyn would be responsible for the remaining twenty-five that were needed. He had already said in a previous address that for the slaveholders of Kansas, Sharp's rifles were a greater moral agency than the Bible. This led to the designation of the weapons as "Beecher's Bibles." Such was the spirit which prevailed in the two sections of the country.

President Pierce had now become intensely hostile towards the free-state inhabitants of Kansas. Having recognized the Legislature elected on March 30, 1855, as the legitimate Government, he sent a special message to Congress on January 24, 1856, in which he characterized as revolutionary the movement of the free-state men to organize a separate Government in Kansas. From the President's point of view, the emissaries of the New England Emigrant Aid a.s.sociation were unlawful invaders. In this position he not only had the support of the South, but was powerfully seconded by Stephen A. Douglas and other Northern Democrats.

The att.i.tude of the Administration at Washington was a source of great encouragement to Sheriff Jones and his a.s.sociates, who were anxious to wreak their vengeance on the city of Lawrence for the outcome of the Wakarusa War. Jones came to Lawrence apparently for the express purpose of picking a quarrel, for he revived the old dispute about the rescuing party of the previous fall. As a consequence one enraged opponent slapped him in the face, and at last an unknown entered the sheriff's tent by night and inflicted a revolver wound in his back. Though the citizens of Lawrence were greatly chagrined at this event and offered a reward for the discovery of the a.s.sailant, the attack upon the sheriff was made the signal for drastic procedure against the town of Lawrence. A grand jury found indictments for treason against Reeder, Robinson, and other leading citizens of the town. The United States marshal gave notice that he expected resistance in making arrests and called upon all law-abiding citizens of the Territory to aid in executing the law. It was a welcome summons to the pro-slavery forces. Not only local militia companies responded but also Buford's company and various companies from Missouri, in all more than seven hundred men, with two cannon. It had always been the set purpose of the free-state men not to resist federal authority by force, unless as a last resort, and they had no intention of opposing the marshal in making arrests. He performed his duty without hindrance and then placed the armed troops under the command of Sheriff Jones, who proceeded first to destroy the printing-press of the town of Lawrence. Then, against the protest of the marshal and Colonel Buford, the vindictive sheriff trained his guns upon the new hotel which was the pride of the city; the ruin of the building was made complete by fire, while a drunken mob pillaged the town.

On May 22, 1856, the day following the attack upon Lawrence, Charles Sumner was struck down in the United States Senate on account of a speech made in defense of the rights of Kansas settlers. The two events, which were reported at the same time in the daily press, furnished the key-note to the presidential campaign of that year, for nominating conventions followed in a few days and "bleeding Kansas" was the all-absorbing issue. In spite of the destruction of property in Lawrence and the arrest of the leaders of the free-state party, Kansas had not been plunged into a state of civil war. The free-state party had fired no hostile shot. Governor Robinson and his a.s.sociates still relied upon public opinion and they accepted the wanton attack upon Lawrence as the best a.s.surance that they would yet win their cause by legal means.

A change, however, soon took place which is a.s.sociated with the entrance of John Brown into the history of Kansas. Brown and his sons were living at Osawatomie, some thirty miles south of Lawrence. They were present at the Wakarusa War in December, 1855, and were on their way to the defense of Lawrence on May 21, 1856, when they were informed that the town had been destroyed. Three days after this event Brown and his sons with two or three others made a midnight raid upon their pro-slavery neighbors living in the Pottawatomie valley and slew five men. The authors of this deed were not certainly known until the publication of a confession of one of the party in 1879, twenty years after the chief actor had won the reputation of a martyr to the cause of liberty. The Browns, however, were suspected at the time; warrants were out for their arrest; and their homes were destroyed.

For more than three months after this incident, Kansas was in a state of war; in fact, two distinct varieties of warfare were carried on. Publicly organized companies on both sides engaged in acts of attack and defense, while at the same time irresponsible secret bands were busy in violent reprisals, in plunder and In both of these forms of warfare, the free-state men proved themselves fully equal to their opponents, and Governor Shannon was entirely unable to cope with the situation. It is estimated that two hundred men were slain and two million dollars' worth of property was destroyed.

The state of affairs in Kansas served to win many Northern Democrats to the support of the Republicans. The Administration at Washington was held responsible for the violence and bloodshed. The Democratic leaders in the political campaign, determined now upon a complete change in the Government of the Territory, appointed J. W. Geary as Governor and placed General Smith in charge of the troops. The new inc.u.mbents, both from Pennsylvania, entered upon their labors early in September, and before the October state elections Geary was able to report that peace reigned throughout the Territory. A prompt reaction in favor of the Democrats followed. Buchanan, their presidential candidate, rejoiced in the fact that order had been restored by two citizens of his own State. It was now very generally conceded that Kansas would become a free State, and intimate a.s.sociates of Buchanan a.s.sured the public that he was himself of that opinion and that if elected he would insure to the free-state party evenhanded justice. Thousands of voters were thus won to Buchanan's support. There was a general distrust of the Republican candidate as a man lacking political experience, and a strong conservative reaction against the idea of electing a President by the votes of only one section of the country. At the election in November, Buchanan received a majority of sixty of the electoral votes over Fremont, but in the popular vote he fell short of a majority by nearly 400,000. Fillmore, candidate of the Whig and the American parties, received 874,000 votes.

There was still profound distrust of the administration of the Territory of Kansas, and the free-state settlers refused to vote at the election set for the choosing of a new territorial Legislature in October. The result was another pro-slavery a.s.sembly. Governor Geary, however, determined to secure and enforce just treatment of both parties. He was at once brought into violent conflict with the Legislature in an experience which was almost an exact counterpart of that of Governor Reeder; and Washington did not support his efforts to secure fair dealings. A pro-slavery deputation visited President Pierce in February, 1857, and returned with the a.s.surance that Governor Geary would be removed. Without waiting for the President to act, Geary resigned in disgust on the 4th of March. Of the three Governors whom President Pierce appointed, two became active supporters of the free-state party and a third, Governor Shannon, fled from the territory in mortal terror lest he should be slain by members of the party which he had tried to serve.


The real successor to John Quincy Adams as the protagonist of the anti-slavery cause in Congress proved to be not Seward but Charles Sumner of Ma.s.sachusetts. This newcomer entered the Senate without previous legislative experience but with an unusual equipment for the role he was to play. A graduate of Harvard College at the age of nineteen, he had entered upon the study of law in the newly organized law school in which Joseph Story held one of the two professorships. He was admitted to the bar in 1834, but three years later he left his slender law practice for a long period of European travel. This three years' sojourn brought him into intimate touch with the leading spirits in arts, letters, and public life in England and on the Continent, and thus ripened his talents to their full maturity. He returned to his law practice poor in pocket but rich in the possession of lifelong friendships and happy memories.

Sumner's political career did not begin until 1847, when as a Whig he not only opposed any further extension of slavery but strove to commit his party to the policy of emanc.i.p.ation in all the States. Failing in this attempt, Sumner became an active Free-Boiler in 1848. He was twice a candidate for Congress on the Free-soil ticket but failed of election. In 1851 he was elected to the United States Senate by a coalition between his party and the Democrats. This is the only public office he ever held, but he was continuously reelected until his death in 1874.

John Quincy Adams had addressed audiences trained in the old school, which did not defend slavery on moral grounds. Charles Sumner faced audiences of the new school, which upheld the inst.i.tution as a righteous moral order. This explains the chief difference in the att.i.tude of the two leaders. Sumner, like Adams, began as an opponent of pro-slavery aggression, but he went farther: he attacked the inst.i.tution itself as a great moral evil.

As a const.i.tutional lawyer Sumner is not the equal of his predecessor, Daniel Webster. He is less original, less convincing in the enunciation of broad general principles. He appears rather as a special pleader marshaling all available forces against the one inst.i.tution which a.s.sailed the Union. In this particular work, he surpa.s.sed all others, for, with his unbounded industry, he permitted no precedent, no legal advantage, no incident of history, no fact in current politics fitted to strengthen his cause, to escape his untiring search. He showed a marvelous skill in the selection, arrangement, and presentation of his materials, and for his models he took the highest forms of cla.s.sic forensic utterance.

Sumner exhibited the ordinary aloofness and lack of familiarity with actual conditions in the South which was characteristic of the New England abolitionist. He perceived no race problem, no peculiar difficulty in the readjustments of master and slave which were involved in emanc.i.p.ation, and he ignored all obstacles to the accomplishment of his ends. Webster's arraignment of South Carolina was directed against an alleged erroneous dogma and only incidentally affected personal morality. The reaction, therefore, was void of bitter resentment. Sumner's charges were directed against alleged moral turpitude, and the cla.s.sic form and scrupulous regard for parliamentary rules which he observed only added to the feeling of personal resentment on the part of his opponents. Some of the defenders of slavery were themselves devoted students of the cla.s.sics, but they found that the orations of Demosthenes furnished nothing suited to their purpose. The result was a humiliating exhibition of weakness, personal abuse, and vindictiveness on their part.

There was a conspiracy of silence on the slavery question in 1852. Each of the national parties was definitely committed to the support of the compromise and especially to the faithful observance of the Fugitive Slave Law. Free-soilers had distinctly declined in numbers and influence during the four preceding years. Only a handful of members in each House of Congress remained unaffiliated with the parties whose platforms had ordained silence on the one issue of chief public concern. It was by a mere accident in Ma.s.sachusetts politics that Charles Sumner was sent to the Senate as a man free on all public questions.

While the parties were making their nominations for the Presidency, Sumner sought diligently for an opportunity in the Senate to give utterance to the sentiments of his party on the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. But not until late in August did he overcome the resistance of the combined opposition and gain the floor. The watchmen were caught off guard when Sumner introduced an amendment to an appropriation bill which enabled him to deliver a carefully prepared address, several hours in length, calling for the repeal of the law.

The first part of this speech is devoted to the general topic of the relation of the national Government to slavery and was made in answer to the demand of Calhoun and his followers for the direct national recognition of slavery. For such a demand Sumner found no warrant. By the decision of Lord Mansfield, said he, "the state of slavery" was declared to be "of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but ONLY BY POSITIVE LAW.... it is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it but positive law." Adopting the same principle, the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi, a tribunal of slaveholders, a.s.serted that "slavery is condemned by reason and the Laws of Nature. It exists, and can ONLY exist, through regulations." So also declared the Supreme Court of Kentucky and numerous other tribunals. This aspect of the subject furnished Sumner occasion for a masterly array of all the utterances in favor of liberty to be found in the Const.i.tution, in the Declaration of Independence, in the const.i.tutional conventions, in the principles of common law. All these led up to and supported the one grand conclusion that, when Washington took the oath as President of the United States, "slavery existed nowhere on the national territory" and therefore "is in no respect a national inst.i.tution." Apply the principles of the Const.i.tution in their purity, then, and "in all national territories slavery will be impossible. On the high seas, under the national flag, slavery will be impossible. In the District of Columbia, slavery will instantly cease. Inspired by these principles, Congress can give no sanction to slavery by the admission of new slave States. Nowhere under the Const.i.tution can the Nation by legislation or otherwise, support slavery, hunt slaves, or hold property in man.... As slavery is banished from the national jurisdiction, it will cease to vex our national politics. It may linger in the States as a local inst.i.tution; but it will no longer engender national animosities when it no longer demands national support."

The second part of Sumner's address dealt directly with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1860. It is much less convincing and suggests more of the characteristics of the special pleader with a difficult case. Sumner here undertook to prove that Congress exceeded its powers when it presumed to lay down rules for the rendition of fugitive slaves, and this task exceeded even his power as a const.i.tutional lawyer.

The circ.u.mstances under which Sumner attacked slavery were such as to have alarmed a less self-centered man, for the two years following the introduction of the Nebraska bill were marked by the most acrimonious debate in the history of Congress, and by physical encounters, challenges, and threats of violence. But though Congressmen carried concealed weapons, Sumner went his way unarmed and apparently in complete unconcern as to any personal danger, though it is known that he was fully aware that in the faithful performance of what he deemed to be his duty he was incurring the risk of

The pro-slavery party manifested on all occasions a disposition to make the most of the weak point in Sumner's const.i.tutional argument against the Fugitive Slave Law. He was accused of taking an oath to support the Const.i.tution though at the same time intending to violate one of its provisions. In a discussion, in June, 1854, over a pet.i.tion praying for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act, Senator Butler of South Carolina put the question directly to Senator Sumner whether he would himself unite with others in returning a fugitive to his master. Sumner's quick reply was, "Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?" Enraged Southerners followed this remark with a most bitter onslaught upon Sumner which lasted for two days. When Sumner again got the floor, he said in reference to Senator Butler's remark: "In fitful phrase, which seemed to come from unconscious excitement, so common with the Senator, he shot forth various cries about 'dogs,' and, among other things, asked if there was any 'dog' in the Const.i.tution? The Senator did not seem to bear in mind, through the heady currents of that moment that, by the false interpretation he fastens upon the Const.i.tution, he has helped to nurture there a whole kennel of Carolina bloodhounds, trained, with savage jaw and insatiable in scent, for the hunt of flying bondmen. No, sir, I do not believe that there is any 'kennel of bloodhounds,' or even any 'dog' in the Const.i.tution." Thereafter offensive personal references between the Senators from Ma.s.sachusetts and South Carolina became habitual. These personalities were a source of regret to many of Sumner's best friends, but they fill a small place, after all, in his great work. Nor were they the chief source of rancor on the part of his enemies, for Southern orators were accustomed to personalities in debate. Sumner was feared and hated because his presence in Congress endangered the inst.i.tution of slavery.

Sumner's speech on the crime against Kansas was perhaps the most remarkable effort of his career. It had been known for many weeks that Sumner was preparing to speak upon the burning question, and his friends had already expressed anxiety for his personal safety. For the larger part of two days, May 19 and 20, 1856, he held the reluctant attention of the Senate. For the delivery of this speech he chose a time which was most opportune. The crime against Kansas had, in a sense, culminated in March of the previous year, but the settlers had refused to submit to the Government set up by hostile invaders. They had armed themselves for the defense of their rights, had elected a Governor and a Legislature by voluntary a.s.sociation, had called a convention, and had adopted a const.i.tution preparatory to admission to the Union. That const.i.tution was now before the Senate for approval. President Pierce, Stephen A. Douglas, and all the Southern leaders had decided to treat as treasonable acts the efforts of Kansas settlers to secure an orderly government. Their plans for the arrest of the leaders were well advanced and the arrests were actually made on the day after Sumner had concluded his speech.

A paragraph in the address is prophetic of what occurred within a week. Douglas had introduced a bill recognizing the Legislature chosen by the Missourians as the legal Government and providing for the formation of a const.i.tution under its initiative at some future date. After describing this proposed action as a continuation of the crime against Kansas, Sumner declared: "Sir, you cannot expect that the people of Kansas will submit to the usurpation which this bill sets up and bids them bow before, as the Austrian tyrant set up the ducal hat in the Swiss market-place. If you madly persevere, Kansas will not be without her William Tell, who will refuse at all hazards to recognize the tyrannical edict; and this will be the beginning of civil war."

To keep historical sequence clear at this point, all thought of John Brown should be eliminated, for he was then unknown to the public. It must be remembered that Governor Robinson and the free-state settlers were, as Sumner probably knew, prepared to resist the general Government as soon as there should be a clear case of outrage for which the Administration at Washington could be held directly responsible. Such a case occurred when the United States marshal placed federal troops in the hands of Sheriff Jones to a.s.sist in looting the town of Lawrence. Governor Robinson no longer had any scruples in advising forcible resistance to all who used force to impose upon Kansas a Government which the people had rejected.

In the course of his address Sumner compared Senators Butler and Douglas to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, saying: "The Senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight, with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight. I mean the harlot Slavery. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition be made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of a.s.sertion is then too great for the Senator."

When Sumner concluded, the gathering storm broke forth. Ca.s.s of Michigan, after saying that he had listened to the address with equal surprise and regret, characterized it as "the most unAmerican and unpatriotic that ever grated on the ears of the members of that high body." Douglas and Mason were personal and abusive. Douglas, recalling Sumner's answer to Senator Butler's question whether he would a.s.sist in returning a slave, renewed the charge made two years earlier that Sumner had violated his oath of office. This attack called forth from Sumner another attempt to defend the one weak point in his speech of 1852, for he was always irritated by reference to this subject, and at the same time he enjoyed a fine facility in the use of language which irritated others.

One utterance in Douglas's reply to Sumner is of special significance in view of what occurred two days later: "Is it his object to provoke some of us to kick him as we would a dog in the street, that he may get sympathy upon the just chastis.e.m.e.nt?" Two days later Sumner was sitting alone at his desk in the Senate chamber after adjournment when Preston Brooks, a nephew of Senator Butler and a member of the lower House, entered and accosted him with the statement that he had read Sumner's speech twice and that it was a libel on South Carolina and upon a kinsman of his. Thereupon Brooks followed his words by striking Sumner on the head with a cane. Though the Senator was dazed and blinded by the unexpected attack, his a.s.sailant rained blow after blow until he had broken the cane and Sumner lay prostrate and bleeding at his feet. Brooks's remarks in the House of Representatives almost a month after the event leave no doubt of his determination to commit murder had he failed to overcome his antagonist with a cane. He had also taken the precaution to have two of his friends ready to prevent any interference before the punishment was completed. Toombs of Georgia witnessed a part of the a.s.sault and expressed approval of the act, and everywhere throughout the South, in the public press, in legislative halls, in public meetings, Brooks was hailed as a hero. The resolution for his expulsion introduced in the House received the support of only one vote from south of Mason and Dixon's Line. A large majority favored the resolution, but not the required two-thirds majority. Brooks, however, thought best to resign but was triumphantly returned to his seat with only six votes against him. Nothing was left undone to express Southern grat.i.tude, and he received gifts of canes innumerable as symbols of his valor. Yet before his death, which occurred in the following January, he confessed to his friend Orr that he was sick of being regarded as the representative of bullies and disgusted at receiving testimonials of their esteem.

With similar unanimity the North condemned and resented the a.s.sault that had been made upon Sumner. From party considerations, if for no other reasons, Democrats regretted the event. Republicans saw in the brutal attack and in the manner of its reception in the South another evidence of the irrepressible conflict between slavery and freedom. They were ready to take up the issue so forcibly presented by their fallen leader. A part of the regular order of exercises at public meetings of Republicans was to express sympathy with their wounded champion and with the Kansas people of the pillaged town of Lawrence, and to adopt ways and means to bring to an end the Administration which they held responsible for these outrages. Sumner, though silenced, was eloquent in a new and more effective way. A half million copies of "The Crime against Kansas" were printed and circulated. On the issue thus presented, Northern Democrats became convinced that their defeat at the pending election was certain, and their leaders inst.i.tuted the change in their program which has been described in a previous chapter. They had made an end of the war in Kansas and drew from their candidate for the Presidency the a.s.surance that just treatment should at last be meted out to hara.s.sed Kansas.

Though Sumner's injuries were at first regarded as slight, they eventually proved to be extremely serious. After two attempts to resume his place in the Senate, he found that he was unable to remain; yet when his term expired, he was almost unanimously reelected. Much of his time for three and a half years he spent in Europe. In December, 1859, he seemed sufficiently recovered to resume senatorial duties, but it was not until the following June that he again addressed the Senate. On that occasion he delivered his last great philippic against slavery. The subject under discussion was still the admission of Kansas as a free State, and, as he remarked in his opening sentences, he resumed the discussion precisely where he had left off more than four years before.

Sumner had a.s.sumed the task of uttering a final word against slavery as barbarism and a barrier to civilization. He spoke under the impelling power of a conviction in his G.o.d-given mission to utilize a great occasion to the full and for a n.o.ble end. For this work his whole life had been a preparation. Accustomed from early youth to spend ten hours a day with books on law, history, and cla.s.sic literature, he knew as no other man then knew what aid the past could offer to the struggle for freedom. The bludgeon of the would-be had not impaired his memory, and four years of enforced leisure enabled him to fulfill his highest ideals of perfect oratorical form. Personalities he eliminated from this final address, and blemishes he pruned away. In his earlier speeches he had been limited by the demands of the particular question under discussion, but in "The Barbarism of Slavery" he was free to deal with the general subject, and he utilized incidents in American slavery to demonstrate the general upward trend of history. The orator was sustained by the full consciousness that his utterances were in harmony with the grand sweep of historic truth as well as with the spirit of the present age.