“A miserable Abolition trick”

Charles Sumner (R-MA)

We left Charles Sumner coming into the first week after his caning. He had appeared on the rebound, but infection took its tool and doctors now advised him to convalesce for some further time. He gave his statement to the House committee and the physicians drained his wound. This takes us to May 27. He had a visit from Joshua Giddings later on, who found him in good spirits. That night, Sumner took a turn for the worse.

At this point, George Sumner fired Dr. Boyle. That decision mixed reviews. Southerners would argue that Sumner’s brother learned that Boyle’s testimony minimized the Senator’s wounds and canned him in retaliation. George maintained that Boyle simply hadn’t done a good job and claimed he decided before the testimony reached him. From that point Marshall Perry took full charge, calling in a Dr. Harvey Lindsly of Washington to consult. Perry and the new doctor agreed that Sumner’s wound ought to keep draining, which further relieved Sumner’s suffering. He suffered from emotional turbulence previously, which the sources available to me make it hard to parse. By the twenty-ninth, the one week anniversary, George could write Sumner’s friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that they had come through the worse.

For two weeks, Sumner remained “very weak” and suffered a fever that kept him in bed most of the time. He lost weight and spent many a sleepless night. A physician that Sumner’s biographer consulted suspected that the infected wound gave Sumner a dose of anemia. But as the time wore on, Sumner complained less of pain specifically from his wounds. Instead he had more general pain in the back of his head and “a feeling of oppressive weight or pressure on the brain” like “a 56-pounds weight.” He also had weakness in the small of his back, which made walking difficult.

Joshua Giddings (R-OH)

Naturally, Southern newspapers decide Sumner suffered little and now milked it for all he could. The Richmond Whig explained to its readers on May 31 that

we never believed that Sumner was sufficiently hurt to make it necessary for him to take to his bed at all. Least of all do we believe that the well-deserved gutta-perching he received was so severe a character as to detain him in confinement for more than a week. But we believe it is a miserable Abolition trick from beginning to end-resorted to to keep alive and diffuse and strengthen the sympathy awakened for him among his confederates at the North. Nigger-worshipping fanatics of the male gender, and weak-minded women and silly children, are horribly affected at the thought of blood oozing out from a pin-scratch. And Sumner is wily politician enough to take advantage of this little fact.

I’m sorry; that is the word the Whig chose to print.

The paper went on to advise that the Senate dispatch a lone Southerner to see Sumner’s real condition. The site of “a hundredth part of a Southern man” would get Sumner out of his bed and maybe on a walk all the way to Boston.

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