Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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SUMNER, Charles, was born at Boston, Mass., Jan. 6, 1811, and died at Washington, D. C., March 11, 1874. He was graduated at Harvard in 1830, studied law with Story, whose decisions he afterward reported, was admitted to the bar in 1834, and was for the next three years to lecturer in the Harvard law school. In 1837-40 he was absent in Europe and on his return resumed practice. He had always been an anti-slavery whig, but in 1848 became a free soiler; and a coalition of democrats and free-soilers, in 1851, sent him to the United States senate, where he remained until his death. (See MASSACHUSETTS.) In the senate, Sumner Seward, Hale and Chase were at first the antislavery leaders, and among them Sumner was as pre-eminent for polished oratory and radical independence of thought and speech as Seward was for keen appreciation of popular feeling, Hale for powers of sarcasm, or Chase for sound common sense. Southern leaders seem to have felt considerable contempt for the last three; but an active hatred was developed against Sumner, and resulted in a brutal assault upon him in May, 1856 (See BROOKS, P. S.) In 1860 he resumed his seat in the senate; and in July, 1861, he became chair man of the committee on foreign relations. He was now one of the national leaders of the dominant republican party, and took an active part in anti-slavery legislation, in reconstruction, in the impeachment of president Johnson, and in the prosecution of the Alabama claims upon Great Britain. His assertion of the validity of indirect claims, made with his usual force of argument, made him for some time extremely unpopular in England. In December, 1870, he opposed and defeated president Grant's project for the annexation of San Domingo (see that title): and in 1871, through the influence of the administration, he was removed from the chairmanship of his committee, which was given to Simon Cameron, of Pennsylvania. The ostensible reason for this action, offered by the state department, was an alleged neglect of Sumner to take action on treaties instrusted to him; but this was entirely disproved. His real offense seems to have been his continuing purpose to maintain the cause of the negro race, with little deference to party considerations or to the dignity of party leaders.


—From this time he was an outspoken antagonist of the administration, his finest speeches being made in February, 1872, on the government's sale of arms during the Franco-German war, and in May, 1872, or the president's abuse of the appointing power. In December, 1874, he introduced a resolution to remove from the army register and flags the names of battles with fellow-citizens. For this his state legislature censured him by resolution, but the resolution was rescinded before his death. (See also AMNESTY, CIVIL RIGHTS BILL.)


—See Lester's Life of Sumner; Harsha's Life of Sumner; Pierce's Memorial and Letters of Sumner; and Sumner's Orations and Speeches(1850), Speeches and Addresses(1856), and complete Works(1875), the first four volumes including the years 1845-60, and the last eight the years 1860-68; The most celebrated of his anti-slavery speeches are, "The Crime against Kansas" (4:127), and "The Barbarism of Slavery," (5:1).


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