Who Does Charles Sumner Think He Is? Douglas Answers Sumner, Part 3

Stephen Douglas

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

Douglas Answers, Parts 1, 2

Furious at Charles Sumner’s Kansas speech, Stephen Douglas accused him of gutter Latin and rehearsing the speech in the dark with a black boy holding a candle so Sumner could practice his gestures. Sumner planned his every insult and drilled himself for their best delivery. The theatrics outraged, but Douglas had more than wounded pride to indict Sumner on. The Senator claimed that many of his proslavery fellows engaged in a “swindle” and crime in opening Kansas to slavery and sought to compound it by blessing the proslavery territorial government with statehood. Three-quarters of the Senate, by Douglas’ count, stood accused of “direliction of duty”.

Sumner should talk about dereliction of duty. Douglas reminded the Senate that the Massachusetts Senator came into the Senate chamber and

put his hand upon the Holy Bible, in the presence of this body, and appealed to Almighty God to witness that he would be faithful to the Constitution

After that, Sumner pledged he would not enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Douglas deemed that a declaration that Sumner would not abide by his oath of office at all. If he could not swear to his oath of office, how could he consider himself fit for the job? And how dare he arraign Senators who had? Yet

still he comes here and arraigns us for crime, and talks about “audacity!” Did mortal man ever witness such audacity in an avowed criminal? He comes here with a pledge to defy the Constitution of his country, and the wrath of god, by not obeying his oath, and then talks about audacity

Douglas demurred from a detailed discussion of Kansas matters, on which he had already opined. He dismissed them with the insistence that the American government had not fallen “so weak, so corrupt, so unjust” as to deserve a revolution against it. All that talk pointed to disunion, which Douglas would not brook. The insults clearly stung and outraged him, but the time had come to reach the matters of substantive contention between them:

You challenge me to this great issue, which you say you have made up between the Negro worshipers and the “slave power,” as you call it. What you call the slave power is simply observance of the Constitution of the country, as our fathers made it. Let us have that fair issue between the parties, and let us discuss that, instead of dealing in denunciation against one another here.

That genuinely put people like Sumner in a difficult position. The Constitution really did give slavery unusual protection and endorsement. It created a duty to yield up fugitive slaves, right there in black and white. It gave slaveholding states extra representatives. It promised to them twenty years of unlimited slave imports. A patriotic politician in the nineteenth century could not inveigh against the Constitution and expect to win or keep office. The standard answer involved inventing an antislavery founding generation who wrote their principles into the Constitution, though they apparently chose to do so in a deeply perverse manner. That doesn’t mean that none of them really believed they had the founders on their side, as everyone does, but it left them with a set of awkward and not entirely convincing arguments that a quick and informed mind -and Douglas had both- could easily pick apart.

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“Is his object to provoke some of us?” Douglas Answers Sumner, Part 2

Stephen Douglas

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

Stephen Douglas began his answer to Charles Sumner with a condemnation of the other senator’s vulgar insults. He claimed that Sumner’s Latin hailed from the gutter, culled from the classics that decent people left well alone. I don’t know if Douglas had any Latin to complain or not, but his argument sounds like the work of a man more annoyed by classical allusions than interested in their content. He loathed Sumner’s invective for its own sake and, not in the least, because it targeted Douglas and his coalition. Accused of fraud, swindling, crime, and infamy “at least a hundred times over,” Douglas resented it and wondered just what Sumner expected to get from such a speech.

Is 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 chastisement? What is the object of these denunciations against the body which we are members?

That sound soon look prescient. Douglas, in effect, accused Sumner of trolling the Senate. He spoke to get a big reaction, which he could take home in a play for sympathy. Sumner obviously intended for his speech to help his political prospects in Massachusetts, but little in his life to date suggests he opposed slavery for cynical political gains. If Sumner vented his genuine feelings, and those of many other antislavery Americans, then they would naturally incline to support him regardless. Likewise Sumner’s foes would accuse him of insincerity or fanaticism in service of his career, at the expense of the Union.

Douglas, speaking spontaneously, also damned Sumner on related grounds. Everyone knew senators could get angry and say things they might regret in the heat of debate. You gave them a pass on such things because everyone has those moments. Sometimes senators goaded one another into outrages. Sometimes they got together and laughed about it later.

But, sir, it happens to be well known, it has been the subject of conversation for weeks, that the Senator from Massachusetts had his speech written, printed, committed to memory, practiced every night before the glass with a Negro boy to hold the candle and watch the gestures, and annoying the borders in the adjoining room until they were forced to quit the house!

The boy probably existed in Douglas’ mind alone, but every senator wrote major addresses in advance. Sumner had a stronger than usual reputation for preparing and memorizing his work, which held true for this speech as for his previous. All of that made Sumner’s accusations premeditated, practiced and honed to a razor’s edge in calm deliberation. Charles Sumner didn’t pop off to the Senate in a moment of pique; he planned it down to the gesture. He even had the temerity to rehearse the speech with other senators, another common practice that carried with it the implication someone might have told him to tone things down and Sumner refused.

 

“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.

 

Cass Answers Sumner

Lewis Cass (D-MI)

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

On May 20, 1856, Charles Sumner finished his Crime Against Kansas speech and sat down. For all the hours he spoke, no one interjected to call him to order. He inveighed against slavery, against South Carolina, against his fellow senators, and ultimately against the Northern Democracy for serving as slavery’s eager lapdogs. He preceded his last volley of insults by citing the precedent of Michigan to argue that Kansas’ free state government deserved admission to the Union. Through all of it, Sumner’s invective struck at the notion of popular sovereignty first advanced by Lewis Cass and later adopted by Stephen Douglas to legislate slavery into Kansas. Cass, as a member of the Jackson Cabinet when Michigan’s statehood came before the nation, as a northern Democrat, and as Michigan’s former territorial governor and present senator, not to mention President Pro Tempore of the chamber, had a few things to say about all that. He rose to give the first answer to Sumner:

I have listened with equal regret and surprise to the speech of the honorable Senator from Massachusetts. Such a speech-the most un-American and unpatriotic that ever grate don the ears of the members of this high body-as I hope never to hear again here or elsewhere.

Yet Cass rose not to take this out on Sumner, however much he deserved “the highest censure and disapprobation.” Instead, he wanted to check Sumner’s history, which the Massachusetts senator “has so misunderstood and misapplied.” Sumner claimed for the people a right “to form conventions with a view to obstruct the authorized laws of the country.” Cass would have none of that, denying such a right to “any portion of the American people.” Conventions Americans might form, but not to array themselves against the established laws. To do that, “unless they succeed” put one right over into “rebellion.”

Charles Sumner (R-MA)

Here Cass makes what must read as a strange proposition today, but in nineteenth century America the right of revolution had a high cachet. You could rebel and make heroes of yourselves in the doing, as the founders did, fair enough. Had the founders failed, they might have ended on the end of a rope. The right of revolution appears always in retrospect, granted to history’s winners. So far, Kansas had not overthrown the territorial government or the United States. Thus Cass felt no obligation to yield to the demands of an illegal assembly of rebels.

But back to history. Michigan, sixty thousand whites strong, asked admission to the Union. Its constitutional convention, however, originated in an act of the legislature. The people in some vague, abstract sense, had nothing to do with it. The Wolverine State did things properly, thank you. The only difficulty came when Michigan claimed its boundary as set by Congress, rather than the one set by Ohio. Ohioans surveyed their northern boundary and helped themselves to Toledo. The tensions came close to a proper battle, with militias called out on both sides. Cass recalled how the Jackson administration feared a war. To defuse things, Congress agreed to admission contingent on a convention of Michiganders signing off on Ohio’s version of the boundary. They refused.

Senator William H. Seward (R-NY)

William Seward pressed: Just how did that first convention come together? Cass thought the governor and legislature did the work. Then coloring outside the lines ensued:

By a spontaneous act of the people, a second convention was called-not to oppose the laws, like the Kansas convention-not to establish another government-not to get up and oppose acts of Congress, or of the Territorial Legislature-not to make a revolution, but to escape from a civil war, to get out of a difficulty merely by saying that the people of the State were willing to accept the proposition of Congress.

They did so unanimously and everyone went home happy, hint hint. If Michigan could suffer a wrong -and Cass admitted the state did, as it had every right to insist on the original border- then Kansas could take a lump or two as well.

“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 Injustice and Civil War: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 13

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

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

We left Charles Sumner telling the Senate that the Remedy of Folly, to disarm the antislavery Kansans and tell them to make do, would not fly. To this point, Sumner has answered the non-solutions of his foes to Kansas’ troubles with a mix of ridicule and reasoned debate. His contempt shines through. For the next non-solution, he had a threat. The new remedy committed an injustice and risked civil war.

The remedy of Injustice and Civil War came in a handy carrying case, a bill before the Senate which would authorize the governor and legislature of Kansas to conduct a census. When that census turned up 98,420 people, they could go ahead and hold a constitutional convention. From there they would write a state constitution and apply for admission to the Union like any other territory did.

In ordinary times, no one would raise an eyebrow at that. Sumner objected on the grounds that, while the proposed law followed normal procedures, it left every judgment in the hands of the proslavery governor and his proslavery legislature. By doing so, the bill’s supporters “recognize the very Usurpation in which the crime ended, and proceed to endow it with new prerogatives.” How much could you trust a census run by the bogus legislature?

Furthermore, the proslavery government of Kansas need not take those steps at all. Nothing in the law obligated them to run the census and move ahead, fairly or otherwise. Since the legislature would not meet again until January of 1857, this solution to Kansas’ troubles promised they would continue at least until January, plus whatever time the census and constitutional convention required, if the legislature chose to go ahead. All that kept Kansas in the spotlight, “this great question open, to distract and irritate the country.”

Even by the standards of Sumner’s foes, this just did not do the job. If they wanted Kansas over and done with, they should not embark on a plan that would leave the question untouched and invite further mayhem for more than half a year. Sumner, understandably, cared less about that detail than they might. He moved on to note the real problem: the Senate bill consolidated proslavery control of the territory.

Pass this Bill, and you enlist Congress in the conspiracy, not only to keep the people of Kansas in their present subjugation, throughout their territorial existence, but also to protract this subjugation into their existence as a State, while you legalize and perpetuate the very force by which slavery has already been planted there.

To underline the point, Sumner noted that the bill endowed a legislature which as a practical measure outlawed political antislavery with the power of decision. It might have set aside the legislature’s test acts to vote in delegate elections to the constitutional convention, but in admitting their injustice for that the Senate only raised the question of why to keep them for anything? Many genuine Kansans lost the franchise under those laws. Many Missourians could come over and vote untroubled by them. In effect, the Senate didn’t mind that but set up a fig leaf to obscure the fact.

In characterizing this Bill as the Remedy of Injustice and Civil War, I give it a plain, self-evident title. It is a continuation of the Crime against Kansas, and as such deserves the same condemnation. It can only be defended by those who defend the Crime. 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 his cap 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.

 

The Remedy of Tyranny: The Crime Against Kansas, Part 11

Charles Sumner (Republican-MA)

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

Charles Sumner ran down and dismissed every excuse given for lawless proslavery extremism in Kansas. He would have nothing of their apologies, tyrannical, imbecile, infamous, or absurd. But as the musical tells us, lacking a plan of one’s own and just hating the alternatives doesn’t make for the best politics…at least if one actually wants to address the question. Obstruction alone serves admirably if one prefers the status quo on a subject. Thus Sumner moved on, in the second day of his speech, to “the TRUE REMEDY”. A true remedy had to do a lot of work, because Stephen Douglas and company had screwed up Kansas so badly. To fix Kansas, Sumner argued they needed a solution that also worked for “Nebraska, Minnesota, Washington, and even Oregon.” He believed, at least for the purposes of the speech, that the entire free territory of the United States now stood open to slavery. I don’t know about Minnesota on that count, but for the rest he has a reasonable claim. Reinstating the Missouri Compromise would at once settle things. Naturally, no one in Congress proposed to do such a thing.

To salve the nation’s wounds, Sumner reviewed four options: First we have the Remedy of Tyranny; next, the Remedy of Folly; next, the remedy of Injustice and Civil War; and fourthly, the Remedy of Justice and Peace. These are the four caskets; and you are to determine which shall be opened by Senatorial votes.

The Remedy of Tyranny meant doing as Stephen Douglas and Franklin Pierce wished. Concede Kansas, and the rest of the nation’s posterity, to slavery and call it good. The territorial government and its oppressive laws must stand. The first chance to do that would come in the contested House election for Kansas’ delegate. If Andrew Reeder prevailed, then so might freedom. If James Whitfield did, slavery followed. Sumner left that to the House, because Senators should mind their own business and respect the other chamber’s prerogatives

But now, while dismissing it, I should not pardon myself, if I failed to add, that any person who founds his claim to a seat in Congress on the pretended votes of hirelings from another State, with no home on the soil of Kansas, plays the part of the Anarcharsis Clootz, who, at the bar of the French convention, understood to represent nations that knew him not, or, if they knew him, scorned him

Sumner then spent the better part of a page likening the advocates of the Remedy of Tyranny to King George, venting against the American colonists.

“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.

“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.