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Title: Charles Sumner Centenary: Historical Address

Author: Archibald Henry Grimké

Release date: February 18, 2010 [eBook #31315]
Most recently updated: January 6, 2021

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Suzanne Shell, Stephanie Eason, and the Online
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The American Negro Academy














The American Negro Academy celebrated the centenary of Charles Sumner at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, Washington, D. C., Friday evening, January 6, 1911. On this occasion the program was as follows: “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” by the choir of the church; Invocation, by Rev. L. Z. Johnson, of Baltimore, Md.; the Historical address was next delivered by Mr. Archibald H. Grimke, President of the Academy, after which Justice Wendell Phillips Stafford made a brief address. A solo, by Dr. Charles Sumner Wormley, was sung; Vice-President Kelly Miller delivered an address. A Poem, “Summer,” by Mrs. F. J. Grimke, was read by Miss Mary P. Burrill. Hon. Wm. E. Chandler made the closing address; after which the Battle Hymn of the Republic was sung by the congregation, led by the choir. The benediction was pronounced by Rev. W. V. Tunnell.

The oil painting of Mr. Sumner which occupied a place in front of the pulpit, was loaned by Dr. C. S. Wormley.



[Pg 3]


Every time a great man comes on the stage of human affairs, the fable of the Hercules repeats itself. He gets a sword from Mercury, a bow from Apollo, a breastplate from Vulcan, a robe from Minerva. Many streams from many sources bring to him their united strength. How else could the great man be equal to his time and task? What was true of the Greek Demigod was likewise true of Charles Sumner. His study of the law for instance formed but a part of his great preparation. The science of the law, not its practice, excited his enthusiasm. He turned instinctively from the technicalities, the tergiversations, the gladiatorial display and contention of the legal profession. To him they were but the ephemera of the long summertide of jurisprudence. He thirsted for the permanent, the ever living springs and principles of the law. Grotius and Pothier and Mansfield and Blackstone and Marshall and Story were the shining heights to which he aspired. He had neither the tastes nor the talents to emulate the Erskines and the Choates of the Bar.

His vast readings in the field of history and literature contributed in like manner toward his splendid outfit. So too his wide contact and association with the leading spirits of the times in Europe and America. All combined to teach him to know himself and the universal verities of man and society, to distinguish the invisible and enduring substance of life from its merely accidental and transient phases and phenomena.

He was an apt pupil and laid up in his heart the great lessons of the Book of Truth. His visit to Europe served to complete his apprenticeship. It was like Hercules going into the Nemean forest to cut himself a club. The same grand object lesson he saw everywhere—man, human society, human thoughts, human strivings, human wrong, human misery. Beneath differences of language, governments, religion,[Pg 4] race, color, he discerned the underlying human principle and passion, which make all races kin, all men brothers. In strange and distant lands he found the human heart with its friendships, heroisms, beatitudes, the human intellect with its never ending movement and progress. He found home, a common destiny wherever he found common ideas and aspirations. And these he had but to look around to behold. He felt himself a citizen of an immense over-nation, of a vast world of federated hopes and interests.

When the plan for this visit had taken shape in his own mind, he consulted his friends, Judge Story, Prof. Greenleaf, and President Quincy, who were not at all well affected to it. The first two thought it would wean him from his profession, the last one that Europe would spoil him, “send him back with a mustache and a walking-stick.” Ah! how little did they comprehend him, how hard to understand that this young and indefatigable scholar was only going abroad to cut himself a club for the Herculean labors of his ripe manhood. He went, saw, and conquered. He saw the promised land of international fellowship and peace, and conquered in his own breast the evil genius of war. He came back proud that he was an American, prouder still that he was a man.

The downfall of the Whigs of Massachusetts, brought about by a coalition of the Free Soil and the Democratic parties, resulted after a contest in the Legislature lasting fourteen weeks, in the election on April 24, 1851, of Charles Sumner to the Senate of the United States. He was just forty, was at the meridian of the intellectual life, in the zenith of bodily vigor and manly beauty. He attained the splendid position by sheer worth, unrivalled public service. Never has political office, I venture to assert, been so utterly unsolicited. He did not lift a finger, scorned to budge an inch, refused to write a line to influence his election. The great office came to him by the laws of gravitation and character—to him the clean of hand, and brave of heart. It was the hour finding the man.

As Sumner entered the Senate the last of its early giants was leaving it forever. Calhoun had already passed away.[Pg 5] Webster was in Millard Fillmore’s cabinet, and Clay was escaping in his own picturesque and pathetic words, “scarred by spears and worried by wounds to drag his mutilated body to his lair and lie down and die.” The venerable representative of compromise was making his exit from one door of the stage, the masterful representative of conscience, his entrance through the other. Was the coincidence accident or prophecy? Were the bells of destiny at the moment “ringing in the valiant man and free, the larger heart, the kindlier hand, and ringing out the darkness of the land”? Whether accident or prophecy, Sumner’s entrance into the Senate was into the midst of a hostile camp. On either side of the chamber enemies confronted him. Southern Whigs and southern Democrats hated him. Northern Whigs and northern democrats likewise hated him. He was without party affiliation, well nigh friendless. But thanks to the revolution which was working in the free states, he was not wholly so. For William H. Seward was already there, and Salmon P. Chase, and John P. Hale, and Hannibal Hamlin. Under such circumstances it behooved the new champion of freedom to take no precipitate step.

A smaller man, a leader less wise and less fully equipped might have blundered at this stage by leaping too hastily with his cause into the arena of debate. Sumner did nothing of the kind. His self-poise and self-control for nine months was simply admirable. “Endurance is the crowning quality,” says Lowell, “And patience all the passion of great hearts.” Certainly during those trying months they were Sumner’s, the endurance and the patience. First the blade, he had to familiarize himself with the routine and rules of the Senate; then the ear, he had to study the personnel of the Senate—and lastly the full corn in the ear, he had to master himself and the situation. Four times he essayed his strength on subjects inferior to the one which he was carrying in his heart as mothers carry their unborn babes. Each trial of his parlimentary wings raised him in the estimation of friends and foes. His welcome to Kossuth, and his tribute to Robert Rantoul proved him to be an accomplished orator.[Pg 6] His speech on the Public Land Question evinced him besides strong in history, argument and law.

No vehemence of anti-slavery pressure, no shock of angry criticism coming from home was able to jostle him out of his fixed purpose to speak only when he was ready. Winter had gone, and spring, and still his silence remained. Summer too was almost gone before he determined to begin. Then like an August storm he burst on the Senate and the Country. “Freedom national: slavery sectional” was his theme. Like all of Mr. Sumner’s speeches, this speech was carefully written out and largely memorized. He was deficient in the qualities of the great debater, was not able usually and easily to think quickly and effectively on his feet, to give and take hard blows within the short range of extemporaneous and hand to hand encounters. Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams were pre-eminent in this species of parliamentary combat. Webster and Calhoun were powerful opponents whom it was dangerous to meet. Sumner perhaps never experienced that electric sympathy and marvellous interplay of emotion and intelligence between himself and an audience which made Wendell Phillips the unrivalled monarch of the anti-slavery platform. Sumner’s was the eloquence of industry rather than the eloquence of inspiration. What he did gave an impression of size, of length, breadth, thoroughness. He required space and he required time. These granted, he was tremendous, in many respects the most tremendous orator of the Senate and of his times.

He was tremendous on this occasion. His subject furnished the keynote and the keystone of his opposition to slavery. Garrison, Phillips, Frederick Douglass and Theodore D. Weld appealed against slavery to a common humanity, to the primary moral instincts of mankind in condemnation of its villanies. The appeal carried them above and beyond constitutions and codes to the unwritten and eternal right. Sumner appealed against it to the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence, to the spirit and letter of the Constitution, to the sentiments and hopes of the fathers, and to the early history and policy of the Country which they[Pg 7] had founded. All were for freedom and against slavery. The reverse of all this, he contended, was error. Public opinion was error-bound, the North was error-bound, so was the South, parties and politicians were error-bound. Freedom is the heritage of the nation. Slavery had robbed it of its birthright. Slavery must be dispossessed, its extension must be resisted.

As it was in the beginning so it hath ever been, the world needs light. The great want of the times was light. So Sumner believed. This speech of his was but a repetition in a world of wrong of the fiat: “Let there be light.” With it light did indeed break on the national darkness, such light as a thunderbolt flashes, shrivelling and shivering the deep-rooted and ramified lie of the century. That speech struck a new note and a new hour on the slavery agitation in America. Never before in the Government had freedom touched so high a level. Heretofore the slave power had been arrogant and exacting. A keen observer might have then foreseen that freedom would also some day become exacting and aggressive. For its advancing billows had broken in the resounding periods and passion of its eloquent champion.

The manner of the orator on this occasion, a manner which marked all of his utterances, was that of a man who defers to no one, prefers no one to himself—the imperious manner of a man, conscious of the possession of great powers and of ability to use them. Such a man the crisis demanded. God made one American statesman without moral joints when he made Charles Sumner. He could not bend the supple hinges of the knee to the slave power, for he had none to bend. He must needs stand erect, inflexible, uncompromising, an image of Puritan intolerance and Puritan grandeur. Against his granite-like character and convictions the insolence of the South flung itself in vain.

Orator and oration revealed as in a magic mirror some things to the South, which before had seemed to it like “Birnam Wood” moving toward “high Dunsinane.” But lo, a miracle had been performed, the unexpected had suddenly happened. The insurgent moral sense of a mudsill and[Pg 8] shopkeeping North had at last found voice and vent. With what awakening terror must the South have listened to this formidable prophecy of Sumner: “The movement against slavery is from the Everlasting Arm. Even now it is gathering its forces to be confessed everywhere. It may not yet be felt in the high places of office and power; but all who can put their ears humbly to the ground will hear and comprehend its incessant and advancing tread.”

This awakening terror of the South was not allayed by the admission of California and the mutinous execution of the Fugitive Slave Law. The temper of that section the while grew in consequence more unreasonable and arrogant. Worsted as the South clearly was in the contest with her rival for political supremacy, she refused nevertheless to modify her pretentions to political supremacy. And as she had no longer anything to lose by giving loose reins to her arrogance and pretentions, her words and actions took on thenceforth an ominously defiant and reckless character. If finally driven to the wall there lay within easy reach, she calculated, secession and a southern confederacy.

The national situation was still further complicated by the disintegration and chaos into which the two old parties were then tumbling, and by the fierce rivalries and jealousies within them of party leaders at the North. All the conditions seemed to favor southern aggression—the commission of some monstrous crime against liberty. Webster had gone to his long account, dishonored and broken-hearted. The last of the three supreme voices of the early senatorial splendor of the republic was now hushed in the grave. As those master lights, Calhoun, Webster and Clay, vanished one after another into the void, darkness and uproar increased apace.

About this time the most striking and sinister figure in American Party history loomed into greatness. Stephen A. Douglas was a curious and grim example of the survival of viking instincts in the modern office seeker. On the sea of politics he was a veritable water-dog, daring, unscrupulous, lawless, transcendently able, and transcendently heartless. The sight of the presidency moved him in much the same[Pg 9] way as did the sight of the effete and wealthy lands of Latin Europe moved his roving, robber prototypes eleven centuries before. It stirred every drop of his sea-wolf’s blood to get possession of it.

His “Squatter Sovereignty Dogma” was in truth a pirate boat which carried consternation to many an anxious community in the free states.

It was with such an ally that the slave power undertook the task of repealing the Missouri Compromise. The organization of the northern section of the Louisiana Purchase into the territories of Kansas and Nebraska was made the occasion for abolishing the old slave line of 1820. That line had devoted all of that land to freedom. Calhoun, bold as he was, had never ventured to counsel the abrogation of that solemn covenant between the sections. The South, to his way of thinking, had got the worst of the bargain, had in fact been overreached, but a bargain was a bargain, and therefore he concluded that the slave states should stand by their plighted faith until released by the free. That which the great Nullifier hesitated to counsel, his disciples and successors dared to do. The execution of the plot was adroitly committed to the hands of Douglas, under whose leadership the movement for repeal would appear to have been started by the section which was to be injured by it. Thus the South would be rescued from the moral and political consequences of an act of bad faith in dealing with her sister section.

The Repeal fought its way through Congress during four stormy months of the winter and spring of 1854. Blows fell upon it and its authors fast and furious from Seward, Chase, Wade, Fessenden, Giddings and Gerrit Smith. But Sumner was the colossus of the hour, the flaming sword of his section. It was he who swung its ponderous broadsword and smote plot and plotters with the terrible strength of the northern giant. Such a speech, as was his “Landmarks of Freedom,” only great national crises breed. It was a volcanic upheaval of the moral throes of the times, a lavatide of argument, appeal, history and eloquence. The august rights and wrath of[Pg 10] the northern people flashed and thundered along its rolling periods.

“Accomplish thou my manhood and thyself,” is the cry of humanity ringing forever in the soul of the reformer. He must needs bestir himself in obedience to the high behest. The performance of this task is the special mission of great men. It was without doubt Sumner’s, for he stood for the manhood of the North, of the slave, of the Republic. For this he toiled strenuously all his life long. It shines in every paragraph of that memorable speech, and of the shorter one in defence of the New England clergy made at midnight on that black Thursday of May, which closed the bitter struggle and consummated the demolition of the old slave wall.

From that time Sumner’s position became one of constantly increasing peril. Insulted, denounced, menaced by mob violence, his life was every day in jeopardy. But he did not flinch nor falter. Freedom was his master, humanity his guide. He climbed the hazardous steps to duty, heedless of the dangers in his way.

His collisions with the slave leaders and their northern allies grew thenceforth more frequent and ever fiercer. Every motion of his to gain the floor, he found anticipated and opposed by a tyrannous combination and majority, bent on depriving him of his rights as a senator. Wherever he turned he faced growing intolerance and malignity. It was only by exercising the utmost vigilance and firmness that he was able to snatch for himself and cause a hearing. Under these circumstances all the powers of the man became braced, eager, alert, determined. It was many against one, but that one was a host in himself, aroused as he then was, not only by the grandeur of his cause, but also by a keen sense of personal indignity and persecution. Whoever else did, he would not submit to senatorial insult and bondage. His rising temper began to thrust like a rapier. Scorn he matched with scorn, and pride he pitted against pride. As a regiment bristles with bayonets, so bristled his speech with facts, which thrust through and through with the merciless truth of history the arrogance and pretentions of the South.[Pg 11] His sarcasm was terrific. His invective had the ferocity of a panther. He upon whom it sprang had his quivering flesh torn away. It was not in human nature to suffer such lacerations of the feelings and forgive and forget the author of them. The slave leaders did not forgive Sumner, nor forget their scars.

Meanwhile the plot of the national tragedy fast thickened, for as the Government at Washington had adopted the “Squatter Sovereignty” scheme of Douglas in settling the territorial question, the two sections precipitated their forces at once upon the debatable land. It was then for the first time that the two antagonistic social systems of the union came into physical collision. Showers of bullets and blood dashed from the darkening sky. Civil War had actually begun. The history of Kansas during this period is a history of fraud, violence and anarchy. Popular sovereignty, private rights and public order were all outraged by the Border Ruffians of Missouri and the slave power.

At this juncture Sumner delivered in the senate a philipic, the like of which had not before been heard in that chamber. His “Crime against Kansas” was another one of his speeches crisis born. It was an outbreak of the explosive forces of the long gathering tempest, its sharp and terrible lightning flash and stroke, the sulphurous vent of the hot surcharged heart of the North. More than one slave champion encountered during its delivery his attention, and must have recoiled from the panther-like glare and spring of his invective and rejoinder. Senator Arthur P. Butler of South Carolina was, on the whole, the most fiercely assaulted of the senatorial group. His punishment was indeed merciless. Impartial history must, however, under all the circumstances of the case, I think, adjudge it just. In that memorable struggle the Massachusetts chieftain used upon his foes not only his tomakawk, but also his scalping knife. No quarter he had received from the slave power, and none now he gave to it or its representatives.

Such a terrible arraignment of the slave power in general, and of Senator Butler in particular demanded an answer. To[Pg 12] it, that power had but one reply, violence, the reply which wrong ever makes to right. And this Preston S. Brooks made two days after its delivery. Mr. Sumner pursuant to an early adjournment of the Senate on an announcement of the death of a member of the lower house, was busy at his desk preparing his afternoon mail, when Brooks, (who by the way was a nephew of Senator Butler) stepping in front of him and with hardly a word of warning, struck him on the head a succession of quick murderous blows with a stout walking-stick. Dazed and stunned, but impelled by the instinct of self-defense, Mr. Sumner tried to rise to grapple with his assailant, but the seat under which his long legs were thrust held him prisoner. Although fastened to the floor with iron clamps, it was finally wrenched up by the agonized struggles of Sumner. Thus released, his body bent forward and arms thrown up to protect his bleeding head, he staggered toward Brooks who continued the shower of blows until his victim fell fainting to the floor. Not then did the southern brute stay his hand, but struck again and again the prostrate and now insensible form of Mr. Sumner with a fragment of the stick.

In the midst of this frightful scene where were the overturned desk, pieces of the broken stick, scattered writing materials, and the blood-stained carpet, lay that noble figure unconscious alike of pain and of his enemies, and of the awful horror of it all. There he lay in the senate chamber of the Republic with blood on his head and face and clothing, with blood, now martyr’s blood, running from many wounds and sinking into the floor. Oh! the pity of it, but the sacrificial grandeur of it also! He was presently succored by Henry Wilson and other faithful friends, and borne to a sofa in the lobby of the Senate where doctors dressed his wounds, and thence he was carried to his lodgings. There suffering, bewildered, almost speechless, he spent the first night of the tragedy and of his long years of martyrdom.

On the wings of that tragedy Sumner rose to an enduring place in the pantheon of the nation. His life became thenceforth associated with the weal of States, his fate with the[Pg 13] fortunes of a great people. The toast of the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table at the banquet of the Massachusetts Medical Society about this time gave eloquent expression to the general concern: “To the Surgeons of the City of Washington: God grant them wisdom! for they are dressing the wounds of a mighty empire, and of uncounted generations.” The mad act of Brooks had done for Sumner what similar madness had done for similar victims—magnified immensely his influence secured forever his position as an imposing, historic figure. Ah! it was indeed the old, wonderful story. The miracle of miracles was again performed, the good man’s blood had turned into the seed-corn of his cause.

No need to retell the tale of his long and harrowing fight for health. There were two sprains of the spine, besides the terrible blows on the head. From land to land, during four years, he passed, pursuing “the phantom of a cup that comes and goes.” As a last resort he submitted himself to the treatment by fire, to the torture of the Moxa, which Dr. Brown-Sequard pronounced “the greatest suffering that can be inflicted on mortal man.” His empty chair, Massachusetts, great mother and nurse of heroes (God give her ever in her need and the Country’s such another son) would not fill. Vacant it glared, voicing as no lips could utter her eloquent protest and her mighty purpose.

The tide of history and the tide of mortality were running meanwhile their inexorable courses. Two powerful parties, the Whig and the American, had foundered on the tumultuous sea of public opinion. A new political organization, the Republican, had arisen instead to resist the extension of slavery to national territory. Death too was busy. Preston S. Brooks and his uncle had vanished in the grave. Harper’s Ferry had become freedom’s Balaklava, and John Brown had mounted from a Virginia gallows to the throne and the glory of martyrdom. Sumner was not able to take up the task which his hands had dropped until the troublous winter of 1859-60. Those four fateful years of suffering had not abated his hatred of slavery. That hatred and the Puritanical sternness and[Pg 14] intolerance of his nature had on the contrary intensified his temper and purpose as an anti-slavery leader. He was then in personal appearance the incarnation of iron will and iron convictions. His body nobly planned and proportioned was a fit servant of his lofty and indomitable mind. All the strength and resources of both he needed in the national emergency which then confronted the Republic. For the supreme crisis of a seventy years’ conflict of ideas and institutions was at hand. At every door and on every brow sat gloom and apprehension.

There was light on but one difficult way, the way of national righteousness. In this storm-path of the Nation Sumner planted his feet. Thick fogs were before and above him, a wild chaotic sea of doubt and dread raged around him, but he hesitated not, neither swerved to the right hand nor to the left. Straight on and up he moved, calling through the rising tumult and the fast falling darkness to his groping and terrified countrymen to follow him.

Nothing is settled which is not settled right, I hear him saying, high above the breaking storm of civil strife. Peace, ever enduring peace, comes only to that nation which puts down sin, and lifts up righteousness. Kansas he found still denied admission to the Union, he presented her case and arraigned her oppressors, in one of the great speeches of his life. Where-ever liberty needed him, there he was, the knight without fear or reproach. From platform and press and Senate he flung himself, during those final decisive months of 1860, into the thickest of the battle. No uncertainty vexed his mind and conscience. Whatever other questions admitted of conciliatory treatment he was sure that the slavery question admitted of none. With him there was to be no further compromise with the evil, not an inch more of concessions would he grant it. Here he took his stand, and from it nothing and no one were able to budge him. If disunion and civil war were crouching in the rough way of the Nation’s duty, the Republic was not to turn aside into easier ways to avoid them. It should on the contrary, regardless of consequences, seek to re-establish itself in justice and liberty.

[Pg 15]He recognized, however, amid the excitement of the times with all his old-time clarity of vision the constitutional limitations of the Reform. He did not propose at this stage of the struggle to touch slavery within the states, because Congress had not the power. To the utmost verge of the Constitution be pushed his uncompromising opposition to it. Here he drew up his forces, ready to cross the Rubicon of the slave-power whenever justificatory cause arose. Such he considered to be the uprising of the South in rebellion. Rebellion with him cancelled the slave covenants of the Constitution and discharged the North from their further observance.

He was at last untrammelled by constitutional conditions and limitations, was free to carry the War into Africa. “Carthago est delenda” was thenceforth ever on his lips. Mr. Lincoln and the Republican party started out to save the Union with slavery. It is the rage now, I know, to extol his marvellous sagacity and statesmanship. And I too will join in the panegyric of his great qualities. But here he was not infallible. For when he issued his Emancipation Proclamation, the South too was weighing the military necessity of a similar measure. Justice was Sumner’s solitary expedient, right his unfailing sagacity. Of no other American statesman can they be so unqualifiedly affirmed. They are indeed his peculiar distinction and glory. Here he is the transcendent figure in our political history. And yet, he was no fanatical visionary, Utopian dreamer, but a practical moralist in the domain of politics. When president and party turned a deaf ear to him and his simple straightforward remedy to try their own, he did not break with them. On the contrary foot to foot and shoulder to shoulder he kept step with both as far as they went. Where they halted he would not stop. Stuck as the wheels of State were, during those dreadful years in the mire and clay of political expediency and pro-slavery Hunkerism, he appealed confidently to that large, unknown quantity of courage and righteousness, dormant in the North, to set the balked wheels again moving.

[Pg 16]An ardent Peace advocate, he nevertheless threw himself enthusiastically into the uprising against the Disunionist. Not to fight then he saw was but to provoke more horrible woes, to prevent which the man of Peace preached war, unrelenting war. He was Anglo-Saxon enough, Puritan and student of history enough to be sensible of the efficacy of blood and iron, at times, in the cure of intolerable ills. But his was no vulgar war for the mere ascendancy of his section in the Union. It was rather a holy crusade against wrong and for the supremacy and perpetuity of liberty in America.

As elephants shy and shuffle before a bridge which they are about to cross, so performed our saviors before emancipation and colored troops. Emancipation and colored troops were the powder and ball which Providence had laid by the side of our guns. Sumner urged incessantly upon the administration the necessity of pouring this providential broadside into the ranks of the foe. This was done at last and treason staggered and fell mortally hurt.

The gravest problem remained, however, to be solved. The riddle of the southern sphinx awaited its Oedipus. How ought local self-government to be reconstituted in the old slave states was the momentous question to be answered at close of the war. Sumner had his answer, others had their answer. His answer he framed on the simple basis of right. No party considerations entered into his straightforward purpose. He was not careful to enfold within it any scheme or suggestion looking to the ascendancy of his section. It was freedom alone that he was solicitious of establishing, the supremacy of democratic ideas and institutions in the new-born nation. He desired the ascendancy of his section and party so far only as they were the real custodians of national justice and progress. God knows whether his plan was better than the plans of others except in simpleness and purity of aim. Lincoln had his plan, Johnson his, Congress its own. Sumner’s had what appears to me might have evinced it, on trial, of superior virtue and wisdom, namely, the element of time, indefinite time as a factor in the work of reconstruction. But it is impossible to speak positively on this[Pg 17] point. His scheme was rejected and all discussion of it becomes therefore nugatory.

Negro citizenship and suffrage he championed not to save the political power of his party and section, but as a duty which the republic owes to the weakest of her children because of their weakness. Equality before the law is, in fact, the only adequate defense which poverty has against property in modern civilized society. Well did Mr. Sumner understand this truth, that wrong has a fatal gift of metamorphosis, its ability to change its form without losing its identity. It had shed in America, Negro slavery. It would reappear as Negro serfdom unless placed in the way of utter extinction. He had the sagacity to perceive that equality before the law could alone avert a revival under a new name of the old slave power and system. He toiled therefore in the Senate and on the platform to make equality before the law the master principle in the social and political life of America.

As his years increased so increased his passion for justice and equality. He was never weary of sowing and resowing in the laws of the Nation and in the mind of the people the grand ideas of the Declaration of Independence. This entire absorption in one loftly purpose lent to him a singular aloofness and isolation in the politics of the times. He was not like other political leaders. He laid stress on the ethical side of statesmanship, they emphasized the economical. He was chiefly concerned about the rights of persons, they about the rights of property. Such a great soul could not be a partisan. Party with him was an instrument to advance his ideas, and nothing more. As long as it proved efficient, subservient to right, he gave to it his hearty support.

It was therefore a foregone conclusion that Sumner and his party should quarrel. The military and personal character of General Grant’s first administration furnished the casus belli. These great men had no reciprocal appreciation the one for the other. Sumner was honest in the belief that Grant knew nothing but war, and quite as honest was Grant in supposing that Sumner had done nothing but talk. The breach, in consequence, widened between the latter and his[Pg 18] party for it naturally enough espoused the cause of the President.

Sumner’s imposing figure grew more distant and companionless. Domestic unhappiness too was eating into his proud heart. His health began to decline. The immedicable injury which his constitution had sustained from the assault of Brooks developed fresh complications, and renewed all of the old bodily suffering. A temper always austere and imperious was not mended by this harassing combination of ills. Alone in this extremity he trod the wine-press of sickness and sorrow. He no longer had a party to lean on, nor a state to support him, nor did any woman’s hand minister to him in this hour of his need. He had left to him nothing but his cause, and to this he clung with the pathos and passion of a grand and solitary spirit. Presently the grass-hopper became a burden, and the once stalwart limbs could not carry him with their old time ease and regularity to his seat in the Senate, which accordingly became frequently vacant. An overpowering weariness and weakness was settling on the dying statesman. Still his thoughts hovered anxiously about their one paramount object. Like as the eyes of a mother about to die are turned and fixed on a darling child, so turned his thoughts to the struggling cause of human brotherhood and equality. For it the great soul would toil yet a little longer. But it was otherwise decried, and the illustrious Defender of Humanity passed away in this city March 11, 1874, leaving to his country and to mankind, as a glorious heritage, the mortal grandeur of his character and achievements.




[On seeing some pictures of the interior of his home.]
Only the casket left, the jewel gone
Whose noble presence filled these stately rooms,
And made this spot a shrine where pilgrims came—
Stranger and friend—to bend in reverence
Before the great, pure soul that knew no guile;
To listen to the wise and gracious words
That fell from lips whose rare, exquisite smile
Gave tender beauty to the grand grave face.

Upon these pictured walls we see thy peers,—
Poet and saint and sage, painter and king,—
A glorious band;—they shine upon us still;
Still gleam in marble the enchanting forms
Whereon thy artist eye delighted dwelt;
Thy fav’rite Psyche droops her matchless face,
Listening, methinks, for the beloved voice
Which nevermore on earth shall sound her praise.

All these remain,—the beautiful, the brave,
The gifted, silent ones; but thou art gone!
Fair is the world that smiles upon us now;
Blue are the skies of June, balmy the air
That soothes with touches soft the weary brow;
And perfect days glide into perfect nights,—
Moonlit and calm; but still our grateful hearts
Are sad, and faint with fear,—for thou art gone!

Oh friend beloved, with longing, tear-filled eyes
We look up, up to the unclouded blue,
And seek in vain some answering sign from thee.
Look down upon us, guide and cheer us still
From the serene height where thou dwellest now;
Dark is the way without the beacon light
Which long and steadfastly thy hand upheld.
Oh, nerve with courage new the stricken hearts
Whose dearest hopes seem lost in losing thee!
Charlotte Forten Grimke.