Charles Sumner

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The age of Chivalry has gone. An age of Humanity has come.
Painfully convinced of the unutterable wrongs and woes of slavery; profoundly believing that, according to the true spirit of the Constitution and the sentiments of the fathers, it can find no place under our National Government.

Charles Sumner (January 6, 1811March 11, 1874) was an American politician and statesman from Massachusetts. An academic lawyer and a powerful orator, Sumner was the leader of the antislavery forces in Massachusetts and a leader of the Radical Republicans in the United States Senate during the American Civil War and Reconstruction, working to punish the ex-Confederates and guarantee equal rights to the Freedmen.

Quotes[edit]

  • If a man has done evil in his life, he must not be complimented in marble.
    • As quoted in Simon, James F., Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney (2006), Simon and Schuster, p. 268.

1840s[edit]

  • The true greatness of a Nation cannot be in triumphs of the intellect alone. Literature and art may widen the sphere of its influence ; they may adorn it; but they are in their nature but accessaries. The true grandeur of humanity is in moral elevation, enlightened and decorated by the intellect of man. The truest tokens of this grandeur in a State are the diffusion of the greatest happiness among the greatest number, and that passionless God-like Justice, which controls the relations of the State to other States, and to all the people, who are committed to its charge.
    • "True Grandeur of Nations," oration before the authorities of the City of Boston (July 4, 1845)
  • The age of Chivalry has gone. An age of Humanity has come. The Horse, whose importance more than human, have the name to that early period of gallantry and war, now yields his foremost place to Man. In serving him, in promoting his elevation, in contributing to his welfare, in doing him good, there are fields of bloodless triumph, nobler far than any in which Bayard or Du Guesclin conquered.

1850s[edit]

  • With me, sir, there is no alternative. Painfully convinced of the unutterable wrongs and woes of slavery; profoundly believing that, according to the true spirit of the Constitution and the sentiments of the fathers, it can find no place under our National Government — that it is in every respect sectional, and in no respect national — that it is always and everywhere the creature and dependent of the States, and never anywhere the creature or dependent of the Nation, and that the Nation can never, by legislative or other act, impart to it any support, under the Constitution of the United States ; with these convictions, I could not allow this session to reach its close, without making or seizing an- opportunity to declare myself openly against the usurpation, injustice, and cruelty, of the late enactment by Congress for the recovery of fugitive slaves. Full well I know, sir, the difficulties of this discussion, arising from prejudices of opinion and from adverse conclusions, strong and sincere as my own. Full well I know that I am in a small minority, with few here to whom I may look for sympathy or support. Full well I know that I must utter things unwelcome to many in this body, which I cannot do without pain. Full well I know that the institution of slavery in our country, which I now proceed to consider, is as sensitive as it is powerful — possessing a power to shake the whole land with a sensitiveness that shrinks and trembles at the touch. But, while these things may properly prompt me to caution and reserve, they cannot change my duty, or my determination to perform it. For this I willingly forget myself, and all personal consequences. The favor and good-will of my fellow-citizens, of my brethren of the Senate, sir, — grateful to me as it justly is — I am ready, if required, to sacrifice. All that I am or may be, I freely offer to this cause.
    • "Freedom National, Slavery Sectional," speech in the Senate (July 27, 1852)
  • To make a law final, so as not to be reached by Congress, is, by mere legislation, to fasten a new provision on the Constitution. Nay, more; it gives to the law a character which the very Constitution docs not possess. The wise fathers did not treat the country as a Chinese foot, never to grow after infancy; but, anticipating Progress, they declared expressly that their great Act is not final. According to the Constitution itself, there is not one of its existing provisions — not even that with regard to fugitives from labor — which may not at all times be reached by amendment, and thus be drawn into debate. This is rational and just. Sir, nothing from man's hands, nor law, nor constitution, can be final. Truth alone is final.
    • "Freedom National, Slavery Sectional," speech in the Senate (July 27, 1852)
  • 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. For her, his tongue is always profuse in words.

1860s[edit]

  • I have fought a long battle with slavery; and I confess my solicitude when I see any thing that looks like concession to it. It is not enough to show me that a measure is expedient: you must show me also that it is right. Ah, sir -- can any thing be expedient which is not right? From the beginning of our history the country has been afflicted with compromise. It is by compromise that human rights have been abandoned. I insist that this shall cease. The country needs repose after all its trials: it deserves repose. And repose can only be found in everlasting principles. It cannot be found by inserting in your constitution the disfranchisement of a race.
    • Final speech in the U.S. Senate on Constitutional Amendment (March 9, 1866).

Quotes about Sumner[edit]

  • If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished. By the time the north shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that? It is not a supposable case. War will break out everywhere like hidden fire from the earth. We will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth, and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination. We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa or Saint Domingo. Join the north and what will become of you? They will hate you and your institutions as much as they do now, and treat you accordingly. Suppose they elevate Charles Sumner to the presidency? Suppose they elevate Frederick Douglass, your escaped slave, to the presidency? What would be your position in such an event? I say give me pestilence and famine sooner than that.

External links[edit]

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