Charles Sumner explained to the Senate what he meant by the Apology Tyrannical: the insistence that whatever happened in Kansas elections, they stood because Andrew Reeder signed off on them. Reeder made a mistake, but since those elections lacked all reasonable legitimacy due to the massive fraud and intimidation campaign that attended them, ratifying his error would only compound it. Even Reeder accepted that now.
This brought Sumner to the Apology Imbecile,
which is founded on the alleged want of power in the President to arrest the Crime. It is openly asserted, that, under the existing laws of the United States, the Chief Magistrate has no authority to interfere in Kansas for this purpose.
Pierce made that claim himself when push came to shove. Sumner began by noting that this defended the state of affairs in Kansas with no more than a shrug. Stuff happens; what can you do? This “ostentatious imbecility” appeared in no other situation. Impotent Pierce had little trouble dispatching a naval vessel to punish “the cannibals of the Fejee islands” for offenses against Americans. Whatever the Fijians did paled before the enormities worked by Americans upon Americans and Franklin Pierce would not have to reach around the world to set things right. He needed only to stand against Slavery.
For that matter, Sumner noted that the Senate received regular news of filibustering efforts set to sail from New York. Given the time and location, Sumner probably means John Quitman’s Cuban junta. The United States had no difficulty stepping in to preserve American neutrality and its honor among nations, so why would it have such trouble policing affairs within its own limit? Even the Slave Power didn’t mind too much when filibustering got shut down.
The pattern could escape no one:
where the Slave Power is indifferent, the President will see that the laws are faithfully executed; but, in other cases, where the interests of Slavery are at stake, he is controlled absolutely by this tyranny, ready at all times to do, or not to do, precisely as it dictates. Therefore it is, that Kansas is left a prey to the Propagandists of Slavery, while the whole Treasury, the Army and Navy of the United States, are lavished to hunt a single slave through the streets of Boston.
Sumner went on to remind the Senate of the enslaved man he had in mind, Anthony Burns. He quoted to the chamber correspondence between the Marshal in charge of Burns’ rendition, including Pierce’s two-sentence order to use the Army and Navy to carry him back to slavery and a note from his personal secretary checking up on the situation the next day. And now people from the President on down, said he could do nothing for the mere territory Kansas over which Washington held unlimited power, despite his easy ability to reach into the heart of Boston with the armed might of the nation to seize a single man. If Pierce honestly believed a word of that, Sumner found him guilty of “not merely imbecility, but idiocy.”