“Those obscene, vulgar terms” Douglas Answers Sumner, Part 1

Stephen Douglas

The Crime Against Kansas: Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15Full text

After Lewis Cass finished taking Charles Sumner to task for misrepresenting the history of Michigan, Stephen Douglas had his turn. Sumner and Douglas never got on well and the senator from Illinois indulged in a slow burn for the two days Sumner spoke. He opened with a promise to the Senate that he wouldn’t render a detailed reply to The Crime Against Kansas. He wouldn’t say anything at all

but for the personalities in which he [Sumner] has indulged, evincing a depth of malignity that issued from every sentence, making it a matter of self respect with me to repel the assaults which have been made.

Douglas dismissed Sumner’s arguments as old news, a common and usually true complaint of him. Sumner excelled in rhetorical craftsmanship, not ideological innovation. Douglas had dealt with all that, twice over, just in the past year. Instead he compared Sumner’s speech to a quilt, made of “all the old calico dresses of various colors that have been in the house from the days of their grandmothers.” At the end of the day, everyone looked duly impressed with the new work, which had not a stitch of new work in it. Gentle Readers, if any of you know a quilter then you know they would have some words with Douglas about that.

Andrew Butler (D-SC)

Which brought Douglas to one of Sumner’s favorite rhetorical flourishes, which he often included against the advice of friends who warned him that readers would check out:

We have had another dish of the classics served up-classic allusions, each one only distinguished for its lasciviousness and obscenity, each one drawn from those portions of the classics which all decent professors in respectable colleges cause to be suppressed, as unfit for decent young men to read. I cannot repeat the words. I should be condemned as unworthy of entering decent society, if I repeated those obscene, vulgar terms which have been used at least a hundred times in that speech. It seems that his studies of the classics have all been in those haunts where ladies cannot go, and where gentlemen never read Latin.

You might read that and think Sumner went to the things that makes classics infamous and delightful to modern readers: the open talk of sex, particularly the sort not much approved of by nineteenth century moralists. To the best of my knowledge, and I don’t think I would miss a hundred uses, Sumner didn’t go there. He might have gotten an adult content warning for reference to the harlot of slavery, that unchaste mistress of Andrew Butler, but so far as I can tell Sumner didn’t get that idea from his Latin. It might have come by way of Don Quixote, but then Douglas’ reference to Latin doesn’t make sense. I suspect Douglas, burning with anger, didn’t care about the details. Sumner used a lot of Latin to dress up what he deemed a vile speech, so Sumner’s Latin could go straight to hell.


“This last appeal,” The Crime Against Kansas, Part 15

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14Full text

Charles Sumner told the Senate that they could deny Kansas’ free state movement its statehood only by bastardizing Michigan’s. Both states had wildcat constitutions and state governments that presented themselves to Congress and asked admission to the Union. If Michigan could come in to general approval, pending the revision of some boundary disputes, when why not Kansas? Nobody held it against Michigan that the state colored outside the lines a little bit, so any reasonable person could see that admitting the Topeka government as Kansas would come and go to no great harm. By contrast, denying it cast doubt on the wisdom of admitting the Wolverine State.

Sumner moved on to argue from principle as well as precedent:

the fundamental principle of American institutions, so embodied in the Declaration of Independence, by which Government is recognized as deriving its just powers only from the consent of the governed, who may alter or abolish it when it becomes destructive of their rights.

Stephen Douglas

The territorial government of Kansas prosecuted an organized campaign of destruction to the rights of antislavery whites, to say nothing of the rights of black Americans. It lacked the consent of the governed, who attended the free state polls regularly but largely ignored the government’s elections. By the American creed, Kansans had every right to cast it off and make their own. Nowhere in the Declaration of recent history could Sumner find an American precedent for choosing the other path, to endorse tyranny over whites as a principle for the foundation of government. He could find one only by looking abroad, or across the Senate floor at Stephen Douglas.

Douglas and the other proslavery men in the Senate stood, Sumner argued, on the ground of the Holy Alliance,

which declares that “useful and necessary changes in legislation and in the administration of States ought only to emanate from the free will and the intelligent and well-weighed conviction of those whom God has rendered responsible for power.”

Sumner put this principle against the Declaration “and bid them grapple!” With the propositions carried forth by Seward’s bill for free Kansas and Douglas’ for the proslavery government, they needed too the grapple on the floor of the Senate. In an era that took political contention as a source of popular entertainment, some constituency probably existed which would delight in seeing Seward and Douglas literally throwing each other around.

William H. Seward in 1851

From that metaphor, Sumner moved on to his summation. He repeated his insults against Butler, “incoherent phrases, discharged the loose expectoration of his speech,” and lines about South Carolina’s “shameful imbecility from Slavery”. Then Douglas came in for a review, adding “the superior intensity of his nature.” Sumner checked in with James Mason over the Fugitive Slave Act before finishing:

The contest, which, beginning in Kansas, has reached us will soon be transferred from Congress to a broader state, where every citizen will be not only spectator, but acting; and to their judgment I confidently appeal.

In other words, vote Republican in 1856 and this problem will get sorted

In just regard for free labor in that Territory, which is sought to blast by unwelcome association with the slave, whom it is proposed to task and sell there; in stern condemnation of the Crime which has been consummated on that beautiful soil; in rescue of fellow-citizens, now subjugated to a tyrannical Usurpation; in dutiful respect for the early Fathers, whose inspirations are now ignobly thwarted,; in the name of the Constitution, which has been outraged-of laws trampled down-of Justice banished-of Humanity degraded-of Peace destroyed-of Freedom crushed to earth; and in the name of the Heavenly Father, whose service is perfect Freedom, I make this last appeal.

The Remedy of Folly: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 12

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11Full text


Charles Sumner would have none of this notion of fixing Kansas by calling it all a fait accompli and castigating antislavery Kansans for protesting the illegitimacy of the government erected over them by proslavery men out of Missouri. They had sacred rights of self-government, the patrimony of all white American men freshly promised to them by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. To cede that meant knuckling under to tyranny, just as bad King George demanded of Americans.

The second solution Sumner’s foes offered, “which, indeed, is also a Remedy of Tyranny; but its Folly is so surpassing as to eclipse even its Tyranny.” This time around, perfidy came not from Franklin Pierce -he must have needed a break; few presidents have done better at doing worse- but Andrew Butler of South Carolina. Butler’s “single contribution” deserved to have his name on it, but Sumner gave it “a more suggestive synonym.” In other words: Butler, thy name is folly.

Sumner quoted the other Senator directly:

The President of the United States is under the highest and most solemn obligations to interpose; and if I were to indicate the manner in which he should interpose in Kansas, I would point out the old common law process. I would serve a warrant on Sharpe’s rifles, and if Sharpe’s rifles did not answer the summons, and come into court on a day certain, or if they resisted the sheriff, I would summon the posse comitatus, and would have Colonel Sumner’s regiment to be a part of that posse comitatus.

Butler wanted Pierce to order the seizure of antislavery arms and send the Army and militia down upon them if they refused, largely as happened in Kansas even as Sumner spoke. He proposed Wilson Shannon’s solution: disarm the antislavery side and leave them at the mercy of the proslavery party.

Andrew Butler (D-SC)

Per Sumner, that would deprive antislavery Kansans of their “tutelary protector against the red man and the beast of the forest.” They had a Second Amendment right on top of that, which a former judge of many years ought to know. Had Butler forgotten his law? His past honors could not make it look any better: Andrew Butler wanted freedom’s friends in Kansas stripped of the means to defend themselves before savage foes. Sumner reiterated nineteenth century racism in putting the Native Americans among them and in the company of wild animals. He went a step further, by implication, and lumped the proslavery whites in together with the lot. Maybe Sumner didn’t view them as exactly equivalent -they had white skin, after all- but he took enough care in his writing to mean the audience to draw the inference.

The Apology Absurd: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 9

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8Full text

Charles Sumner did not have a high opinion of the defenses that Stephen Douglas and others had for all the injustice and mayhem that had taken place in Kansas. The seizure of the territorial government by force, threats, and massive voter fraud by Missourians entirely disqualified it as a legitimate organization to his mind. But Douglas, Andrew Butler, and other senators defended them all the same. It thus fell to Sumner to pick their defenses apart. First he dismissed the Apology Tyrannical, which held that once governor Andrew Reeder recognized the election results they had to stand. Then he cast aside the Apology Imbecile, where the proslavery senators averred that -whatever happened in Kansas- the Congress and Presidency had no power to intervene.

That brought Sumner to what he called the Apology Absurd

which is indeed, in the nature of a pretext. It is alleged that a small printed pamphlet, containing the “Constitution and Ritual of the Grand Encampment and Regiments of the Kansas Legion,” was taken from the person of one George F. Warren, who attempted to avoid detection by chewing it.

Samuel Newitt Wood

Gentle Readers, I wish I could tell you more of this story. A spot check revealed other references, but only to the bare fact of Warren chowing down. You may remember the Constitution and Ritual from past posts. The Kansas Legion, aka the Kansas Regulators, organized as a paramilitary force to defend antislavery Kansans and occasionally burn down proslavery homesteads. Jacob Branson and Samuel Wood served in it. The Free State leadership denied knowledge or approval, officially. Maybe that passed scrutiny in Washington and among people sympathetic to the cause, but their connection appears more like an open secret in Kansas.

Sumner’s foes argued that the Legion justified harsh measures on the part of proslavery men. They had something like a terrorist organization about and it required dealing with. That position makes perfect sense for a proslavery Missourian or Kansas who equates opposing slavery with incitement to race war. They had to do what they did to save the community from ruin, essentially in self-defense.

To answer that, Sumner first dismissed the Legion as a “poor mummery of a secret society, which existed only on paper.” If it did exist, though, it proposed only to enlist antislavery men to defend the Constitution of the United States. How could any patriotic American object to such a goal?

Secret societies, with their extravagant oaths, are justly offensive; but who can find, in this mistaken machinery, any excuse for the denial of all rights to the people of Kansas? This whole “cock and bull story” never really happened to begin with, but if it did then so what? Sumner dismissed the Apology Absurd with “the derision which triviality and absurdity justly receive.”


“Piling one mass of elaborate error upon another mass” The Crime Against Kansas, Part 5

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4Full text

Charles Sumner went for the low blow. Andrew Pickens Butler, an elderly man, had then-recently suffered a stroke that left him with some facial paralysis. As a result, he tended to drool and spray when he spoke. Sumner went beyond criticizing the politics and morals of his proslavery oratory and damned him for “loose expectoration.” This went somewhat beyond the ordinary bounds of political invective, even in an era when making fun of disabilities didn’t arouse the kind of opprobrium it might now. Hearing all of this while angrily pacing the Senate chamber, Stephen Douglas told a reporter “That damn fool will get himself killed by some other damn fool.”

Of course Sumner had choice words for Douglas too. The Little Giant made the Kansas-Nebraska Act with his enthusiasm for the Pacific railroad, his political ambitions, and his eagerness to sweep aside Native Americans. “[T]he squire of Slavery” defended his course on Kansas in a “labored address,”

piling one mass of elaborate error upon another mass-constrained himself, as you will remember, to unfamiliar decencies of speech. Of that address I have nothing to say at this moment

Anthony Burns

And if you believe that, Sumner has some beachfront property in Kansas that you may like. Most of The Crime Against Kansas responds to Douglas and others. To open that, five pages in, Sumner engaged in a lengthy recapitulation of Kansas history from “the Missouri discussion” on down. He indicted Franklin Pierce and slavery’s friends in Congress for trampling over the rules of the House and Senate to organize the territory with slavery permitted and took swipes at the blue lodges. He made all the familiar accusations of conspiracy and rehearsed the attacks upon democracy in the territory. He called out Pierce further for claiming impotence to enforce law and order within Kansas against proslavery lawlessness when the president exerted himself eagerly to enforce it in Massachusetts to deliver up Anthony Burns.

At length -nine pages in, now- Sumner came to the Wakarusa War:

in the latter days of November, 1855, a storm, long brewing, burst open the heads of the devoted people. […] like the Heathen of old, they [proslavery Missourians] raged, particularly against Lawrence, already known, by the firmness of its principles and the character of its citizens, as the citadel of the good cause. On this account they threatened, in their peculiar language, to “wipe it out.” Soon the hostile power was gathered for this purpose.

Wilson Shannon

That this all arose out of a proslavery man murdering an antislavery man and led to a proslavery force marching against an antislavery town made the whole thing downright perverse, and multiplied its evil in Sumner’s mind. Wilson Shannon “[t]he weak Governor, with no faculty higher than servility to slavery” only compounded the error further by giving official license to the mob. The Senator passed over the role Shannon played in defusing the situation, though considering how heavily he contributed to bringing things to that dire point one can hardly grant him much credit. He tried to clean up the mess only after making it.

Loose Expectorations: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 4

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2, 3Full text

Andrew Butler, that “Heroic knight! Exalted Senator! A second Moses come for a second exodus!” always had a good word for his mistress, the harlot Slavery. Charles Sumner would not let the Senate soon forget that. There among them sat a man happy to defend the practice of selling children at auction. Many others did the same, but not all of them both played an important supporting role in repealing the Missouri Compromise and remained in the Senate for Sumner to castigate. Like some of those others, Butler had laid into Sumner. Sumner hit back:

the Senator, in the unrestrained chivalry of his nature, has undertaken to apply opprobrious words to those who differ from him on this floor.

That opprobrium included calling Sumner and company sectional fanatics. Standing against the theft of Kansas by proslavery fraud made for “an uncalculating fanaticism.” Sumner damned the attacks as untrue and unoriginal and turned them back on Butler, painting him as the ardent sectionalist and returning to his theme of freedom national. Butler’s “too great a perversion of terms” could not stand.

Many pages and a day later, Sumner returned to Butler again. The Senator, while absent then from the Senate, remained,

omnipresent in this debate, overflowed with rage at the simple suggestion that Kansas had applied for admission as a State; and, with incoherent phrases, discharged the loose expectoration of his speech […] The Senator touches nothing which he does not disfigure-with error, sometimes of principle, sometimes of fact. He shows an incapacity of accuracy, whether in stating the Constitution or in stating the law […] He cannot open his mouth, but out there flies a blunder

Andrew Butler (D-SC)

On the face of it, Sumner insulted Butler in no more unusual a manner than he would anyone else. One can easily imagine him indicting Franklin Pierce or Daniel Webster with similar words. Sumner’s “loose expectoration” remark would, strictly speaking, fit anybody speaking incautiously. Andrew Butler suffered from partial facial paralysis, which gave him a speech impediment. Disability, not rage or fanaticism, afflicted the Senator’s oratory.

Many historians believe that Sumner drew the assault on his person that would come shortly with those words. Calling attention to a man’s disability attacked him in a way that indicting his politics did not. Sketching him as a bumbling fool and making the disability a centerpiece of that portrayal made it all the worse. Nineteenth century Americans didn’t have our scruples about mocking the unfortunate, but Sumner probably still exceeded the bounds of good taste by a wide margin. Often politicians could flay one another viciously and then kick back for a few drinks after Congress let out. Sometimes they even delighted in the insults they threw back and forth as a kind of game. Butler and Sumner’s friendship likely had some of that element to it, at least at the start. Maybe it could have again, but Butler died in 1857 and Sumner remained largely absent from Washington for the next few years.

“I mean the harlot, Slavery” The Crime Against Kansas, Part 3

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

Prologue, Parts 1, 2Full text

We left Charles Sumner at the verge of the most famous part of his Crime Against Kansas. He set down the preliminaries, took a trip through Antiquity and Norse myth, and came back up with a plan for the oration. Before he got into the meat of it, though, he had to say a few words about the men who brought such ruin to Kansas. Likening Stephen Douglas, architect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler. Butler lived in the F Street Mess with David Rice Atchison and friends back in the heady days when they told the Little Giant he needed to give them a big slavery win or give up on organizing the territory west of Missouri. He also became Sumner’s friend when the two came to sit beside one another.

Sumner likened the pair to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza -he took a copy of Don Quixote out of the Library of Congress to get the details right- and set them out together in pursuit of the same cause. Butler played the lead role:

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.

Andrew Butler (D-SC)

Sumner meant to cast Butler as a fool and more than hint at sexual depravity. One doesn’t go to harlotry for a reference otherwise and such accusations were common in the farther left antislavery circles. Slavery turned the entire South into one great brothel, where white men young and old ran wild with lust. They might seize an enslaved woman by force or coerce her by threats, spoken and otherwise, but they would have their way. Southerners themselves occasionally complained of it, but if the man in the big house or a son or relative wanted to demonstrate their virility few objected too loudly. Enslavers bought black women specifically to rape often enough to sustain a steady trade in “fancy” slaves, but even those who bought them for other reasons could claim it as a fringe benefit. Like a depressing multitude of men in most places and eras, they argued that men could not contain their sexual urges. In the South, black women provided a convenient way to express them without sullying the “purity” of white women or raising the ire of their male relations.

Andrew Butler always had a good word for slavery and always rushed to its defense. To impugn bondage drew his wrath like nothing else, Sumner averred. If the nation would not serve slavery its due commerce in marriages sundered and the sale of “little children at the auction-block” then the nation must fall and Butler would leave the charge out of the Union: “Heroic knight! Exalted Senator! A second Moses come for a second exodus!”


“A madness for slavery” The Crime Against Kansas, Part 2

Charles Sumner (Free Soil-MA)

Prologue, Part 1Full text

We left Charles Sumner warning the Senate that events in Kansas threatened to draw the country into civil war. To avert that calamity, freedom must prevail in the nation’s most troubled territory. Everyone in the Senate could see that coming, given Sumner’s extensive record and the subject at hand. But you couldn’t fill three hours by stating the obvious. Nobody, at Washington or back in Massachusetts, would have sat up and took notice for the mere news that Sumner opposed slavery. To understand “the crime” which Sumner called on the Senate “to judge,” one had to go to its source and from which it continued to issue:

In its perpetration was needed a spirit of vaulting ambition which would hesitate at nothing; a hardihood of purpose which was insensible to the judgment of mankind; a madness for slavery which should disregard the Constitution, the laws, and all the great examples of our history; also a consciousness of power such as comes from the habit of power

Stephen Douglas

Sumner went on to describe this as a vast political movement rather than the perfidy of one man or a small cabal. He meant the Slave Power entire as his enemy, but one can’t read this and not immediately think of Stephen Douglas as the man in the spotlight. He managed the Kansas-Nebraska bill to its passage. He defended it and the proslavery government erected on force and fraud. If Sumner saw the Slave Power in general as “the criminal” in all its “heartless, grasping, and tyrannical” ways, then Douglas served as its criminal mastermind.

The Senator continued with a digression into Norse mythology, then came up for air with a summary of his intentions. Sumner would first explain the crime against Kansas “in its origin and extent,” then proceed to the excuses made for it before finishing off with “the TRUE REMEDY.” (Original emphasis.) Not that he wanted to rush right in, mind:

before entering upon the argument, I must say something of a general character, particularly in response to what has fallen from Senators who have raised themselves to eminence on this floor in championship of human wrongs; I mean the Senator from South Carolina, [Mr. Butler.] and the Senator from Illinois, [Mr. Douglas.] who, though unlike as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, yet, like this couple, sally forth together in the same cause.

Andrew Butler (D-SC)

In other words, Sumner aimed tear into Butler and Douglas thoroughly. He does so for the better part of two pages in the pamphlet edition. Here come all the famous lines of the speech, with Sumner’s invective at its finest. Most, though not all, historians believe that in those pages Sumner wrote the next four years of his life: an attack, a lengthy convalescence, and lingering trauma that made him a martyr to the antislavery cause. A minority believe that all which transpired would have happened much the same without the personal insults. We can’t know, but either way they bear a close examination.

Threats, Dogs, and Whips

Charles Sumner (Free Soil-MA)

Charles Sumner damned Stephen Douglas as a Northern man with Southern principles, a doughface, for his Kansas-Nebraska Act. Douglas hit back, noting how Sumner had gone in all of a year from castigating the Compromise of 1850 to praising it as restoring the peace that Kansas-Nebraska would undo. The Massachusetts Senator had such purity of principle that he supported an old proslavery hand like Martin Van Buren for president in 1848. But Sumner’s oratory left a mark. Even a senator from North Carolina congratulated Sumner on everything about it save choosing the wrong side. The Masachusetts papers lit up with praise for Sumner again.

The satisfaction reached even into Bay State Whiggery. The Massachusetts Whigs supported the Compromise of 1850 with held noses, taking the lump on Daniel Webster’s word that they had to do it to save the nation. With the South bent on new conquests, Godlike Daniel safely in the ground, and land that Massachusetts farmers might want to move off to at stake, the situation changed. They turned on their man in the Senate, Edward Everett, when he came out against the bill in a late and feeble manner. Kidney stones took him off the floor for a vote and his former supporters mocked him for it. Adoring letters poured in for Sumner from old allies and former Everett men alike. Delighted, Sumner read them aloud to the Sewards. Inspired, he even entered into spontaneous debate for a while.

Anthony Burns

The Kansas-Nebraska Act became law all the same. When the Anthony Burns affair erupted at almost the same moment, proslavery men blamed Sumner for inciting riot in Boston with his speeches in Washington. Sumner received threats on his safety, which prompted a future governor of Connecticut to offer his services as a bodyguard. Less reassuringly, a correspondent informed the Senator that if he died he would become a martyr to freedom.

Sumner, a large man, responded to the threats on his life by ensuring they reached the attention of the newspapers and otherwise ignored them. He walked about Washington, never a friendly place for outspoken antislavery men, unarmed and unaccompanied. He looked forward to stepping up his rhetorical attacks on slavery, but his new colleague from Massachusetts -Everett resigned courtesy of those kidney stones- got the jump on him with a new petition for repealing the Fugitive Slave Law. He promptly withered under a counterattack built around the fact that some of the signers participated in Burns’ rescue. Sumner stepped in to defend him.

Andrew Butler (D-SC)

As Sumner finished up his latest condemnation of the law, Andrew Butler came into the Senate chamber. He listened to his friend and the proverbial steam shot from his ears. Denouncing Sumner’s speech as one not becoming the Senate, he demanded to know if Massachusetts would render over a single fugitive if the Congress repealed the law. The state had a constitutional obligation, so would it do its duty? Trial or no, whatever process instituted, would Massachusetts deliver a person into slavery or would all that folderol just obscure a flat refusal to abide by the Constitution?

Sumner answered, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?” Then the fireworks really started. Sumner profaned his oath to support and defend the Constitution. He had gone mad. The Senate should expel him. Sumner fought back, castigating his critics as men of “plantation manners” who treated the Senate itself like answered to their whips. The vicious debate spawned serious talk of expelling Sumner as a perjurer and traitor, but the matter dropped when the adherents learned they lacked the necessary majority.


“They cannot afford to be generous or even just.”

Charles Francis Adams

The Senate gagged Charles Sumner, denying him the customary permission to speak on behalf of a motion he presented for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. The man with three backbones had shown his backbone at last. His fellow senators, citing their parties’ commitment to the finality of the Compromise of 1850, told Sumner that he shouldn’t take this personally. They had to do what they had to do, just as he did in bringing the resolution to the floor to begin with. Before the vote, Sumner had every expectation that he would speak. He got on well with Southern men. His oratory had won praise before. Senate custom stood on his side. In rising to ask the chamber to take up his resolution, Sumner got in his only words on the subject:

As a Senator, under the responsibilities of my position, I have deemed it in my duty to offer this resolution. I may seem to have postponed this duty to an inconvenient period of the session; but had I attempted it at an earlier day, I might have exposed myself to a charge of a different character. It might have been said, that, a new-comer and inexperienced in this scene, without deliberation, hastily, rashly, recklessly, I pushed this question before the country. This is not the case now. I have taken time, and, in the exercise of my most careful discretion, at last ask the attention of the Senate. I shrink from any appeal founded on a trivial personal consideration; but should I be blamed for delay latterly, I may add, that, though in my seat daily, my bodily health for some time past, down to this very week, ash not been equal to the service I have undertaken. I am not sure that it is now, but I desire to try.

Did you hear that, William Lloyd Garrison? Sumner had good reasons to delay, including personal illness. David Donald, citing Sumner’s letters, names the sickness as diarrhea and attributes it to Sumner’s nerves. He might have the right of it. One doesn’t want to give a lengthy speech while cramped up or likely to have dire need of a recess midway through. Now, at last, and against his better judgment given continuing infirmity, Sumner would speak. The Senate need only let him and they would hardly refuse a man who deliberated so long and confessed to such a weakness.

But they did, blindsiding Sumner. Charles Francis Adams wrote Sumner on August 1 explaining how he had gone wrong:

The result at which you arrived is not in the least surprising to me. You are in your nature more trusting than I, and therefore expected more. Where slavery is concerned I have not a particle of confidence in the courtesy, honor, principles, or veracity of those who sustain it, either directly by reason of selfish interest, or more remotely through the servility learned by political associations. In all other cases I should yield them a share of confidence. I should not, therefore, had I been in your place, have predicated any action of mine upon the grant by them of any favor whatever. They cannot afford to be generous or even just. If you can get even that to which you have a clear right, you will do pretty well; but to get it you will have to fight for it.

Adams spoke from experience, both in his own career and upbringing and as a Northern man in general. To a significant degree, the political progress of the free states during the last decade of the antebellum involved their moving from an innocence like Sumner’s, or at least an indifference, to a hardened awareness like Adams already preached in 1852.