Charles Pinckney Sumner [his father] was graduated from Harvard in 1796; studied law with Josiah Quincy; was clerk in the Massachusetts house of representatives, 1806-07 and 1810-11; was sheriff of Suffolk county, and was prominent in the temperance anti-slavery and anti-Masonic movement.
Charles Sumner attended the public schools of Boston, failed to obtain an appointment in the U.S. Military academy, and in September, 1826, entered Harvard college. He excelled in history, literature and the classics, and won a second Bowdoin prize by an essay on "The Present Character of the Inhabitants of New England." He was graduated in 1830, and returned to his father's house in Boston. He studied and taught school, and was graduated from the Harvard Law school, LL.B., 1834.
In the autumn of 1845, he was made a member of the Whig state committee appointed to organize the opposition to the admission of Texas with a slave constitution, and he drew up the resolutions presented at a meeting [p.73] in Faneuil Hall, Nov. 4, 1845: "That the Government and Independence of the United States are founded on the adamantine truths of equal rights and the brotherhood of all men." This movement failed of its purpose, for in December, 1845, Texas was admitted as a slave state, and from this time Sumner was a leader of the anti-slavery movement. On Feb. 4, 1846, in Faneuil Hall, he urged the withdrawal of the troops from Mexico, and on February 18, delivered a lecture on "White Slavery in the Barbary States." He was a delegate to the Massachusetts state convention, Sept. 29, 1847; opposed the nomination of General Taylor at the Whig convention held at Worcester, Mass., in May, 1848, and supported the candidacy of Martin Van Buren at the Free Soil national convention held at Buffalo, Aug. 9, 1848. He was the Free Soil nominee for representative in the 30th congress against Robert C. Winthrop, and although defeated he gained wide national reputation by the campaign. He was the Free Soil candidate for representative in the 31st congress to fill the vacancy caused by the appointment of Robert C. Winthrop to the U.S. senate to complete the term of Daniel Webster, appointed secretary of state by President Fillmore, but Sumner was defeated by Samuel A. Eliot, the Whig candidate. He was a member of the Massachusetts Free Soil convention of Oct. 3, 1850, and was nominated for U.S. senator in 1851, receiving the unanimous vote of the Free Soil members of the legislature and two-thirds of the vote of the Democratic members.
He was elected, April 24, 1851, and took his seat, Dec. l, 1851. His first important speech in the senate delivered Aug 26, 1852, "Freedom National, Slavery Sectional," created a profound impression, and on Feb. 21, 1854, he opposed the Kansas-Nebraska bill in a speech that reviewed the history of slavery, and prophesied the breaking of the slave power. The debate between Senator Butler of South Carolina and Senator Sumner, which then followed, increased the personal hostility felt toward him by the pro-slavery party, and the feeling in the senate was so strong that a proposal to expel him was seriously considered. On May 19 and 20, 1856, Senator Sumner delivered a speech on the "Crime against Kansas," in which he attacked in scathing terms the position taken by Senators Butler and Douglas, and added bitter personalities. This speech was called by Longfellow "the greatest voice, on the greatest subject, that has been uttered since we became a nation."
On May 22, the senate having adjourned early, Senator Sumner remained writing letters and was personally assaulted by Representative Preston S. Brooks, a nephew of Senator Butler, who struck him a series of blows on the head with a flexible cane, causing him to fall to the floor. The house of representatives by a party vote refused to expel Brooks, but he resigned his seat, and was unanimously re-elected. Sumner was unable to take his seat in the senate in December, 1856, and talked of resigning; but was re-elected Jan. 13, 1857, and on Feb. 26, 1857, he took his seat for one day, in order to vote on the tariff bill. On March 7, 1857, he sailed for France for medical advice, arriving at Paris, March 23, and spending over seven months in Europe. He returned to Boston, Nov. 19, 1857, resuming his seat in the senate, Dec. 7, 1857, but was obliged to return to Paris where he underwent severe medical treatment. He was absent from the senate until Dec. 5, 1859, and after resuming his seat he took part in no debates until June 4, 1860, when he delivered a speech on "The Barbarism of Slavery." Following the lead of South Carolina, which passed the ordinance of secession, Dec. 20, 1860, the Southern states successively withdrew from the Union, and on Feb. 8, the Confederate States constitution was adopted.
Senator Sumner opposed any form of compromise between the North and South. He was made chairman of the committee on foreign affairs, and on Nov. 8, 1861, when Captain Wilkes, in command of the U.S.S. San Jacinto, stopped the British steamer Trent and took from her Mason and Slidell, envoys from the Confederate States to England and France, he urged their surrender in a speech, Jan. 9, 1862. On Sept. 10, 1863, he delivered a speech in New York city on "Our Foreign Relations," which did much toward keeping the good will of England and France. He was a staunch supporter of President Lincoln and was re-elected to the senate for a third term in 1863. He urged the emancipation of the slaves, and on Feb. 8, 1864, he introduced a bill to repeal all fugitive slave laws, which was passed by the house June 13, and by the senate, June 28, 1864. The Freedmen's bureau bill passed, May 25, 1864, and Sumner proposed: "That every freedman shall be treated in every respect as a freedman with all proper remedies in courts of justice; and no power or control shall be exercised with regard to him, except in conformity with law." The amendment was adopted, and upon Senator Sumner fell the burden of supporting the bill at every stage. He introduced the first bill to reform civil service, April 30, 1864; proposed a national tax on the circulation and capital of national banks; advocated the establishment of a branch mint in Oregon; opposed imposts on books and educational appliances; and proposed a bill to incorporate a national academy of literature and art. In the presidential campaign of 1864 he took an active part in supporting Lincoln and Johnson, speaking in several cities. He moved the admission of a colored man, J. S. Rock, of Boston, to the supreme court bar, and the motion was granted by Chief-Justice Chase. On June 1, 1865, he delivered in Boston a eulogy on Abraham Lincoln, and urged his views on Negro suffrage as essential to hastening reconstruction. He strongly opposed President Johnson, and his policy of reconstruction, and voted for all the articles of impeachment.
He was married in October, 1866, to Alice Mason Hooper of Boston, but in September, 1867, they separated and later were legally divorced.
On Dec. 13, 1866, a bill giving suffrage to colored men in the District of Columbia was passed by the senate. On Feb. 15, 1867, Senator Sumner was appointed a member of the committee of seven, to decide on the pending proposition relative to suffrage and moved amendment to the effect that all citizens within a proper residence should be voters. His amendment was passed by the committee, and the suffrage bill was passed Feb. 16, after an all night sessions. He was opposed to the election of General Grant to the Presidency, and early in the administration he opposed the Johnson-Clarendon treaty with England, and the acquisition of Santo Domingo, This opposition caused a personal rupture with President Grant and Secretary Fish, and Sumner's removal as chairman of the committee on foreign affairs followed March 10, 1871. On March 24, he introduced resolutions calling for the withdrawal of the naval force from Santo Domingo, and in the face of a vigorous attempt to prevent the adoption of the resolution he gained the floor, and delivered a speech in which he severely censured the President for his course in the matter, and on April 5, the Santo Domingo project was abandoned. With Senators Trumbull, Sclmrz and Fenton, he became known as an anti-administration Republican and he opposed the re-election of Grant, and supported Horace Greeley, on the ground float "principles must be preferred to party." His health breaking down, in September, 1872, he sailed for Europe. On reaching England he found that he had been nominated as the Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts, and he at once cabled his refusal to accept the nomination. On his return to the senate in November, he was so ill that he asked to be excused from service on committees, but on the opening day of the session he offered a bill that "the names of battles with fellow-citizens be not contained in the army register or placed on the regimental colors of the United States."
He delivered his last public oration at the New England dinner in New York, Dec. 22, 1873, and on Jan. 27, 1874, he made his last appeal in the senate for civil rights for colored citizens. The civil rights bill was passed by the senate, May 22, 1874, but failed in the house. At his death he was the senior U.S. senator in consecutive service, having been elected four times. The honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by Yale in 1856, and by Harvard and Amherst in 1859. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; a member of the American Philosophical society, and of the Massachusetts Historical society. A bust of Sumner by Thomas Crawford, 1839, is the property of the Boston Art Museum; one by Martin Milmore (1874) is in the state house, Boston; a bronze statue by Thomas Ball (1878) was placed in the Public Gardens, Boston, and a statue by Anne Whitney (1877) stands opposite the Harvard Law school, Cambridge. In selecting names for a place in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, New York university, October, 1900, his name, in class M, "Rulers and Statesmen," received 26 votes, 13 of the 37 names in the class standing higher. See his "Life and Public Services," by Charles Edwards Lester (April, 1874), and his "Memoirs, Life and Works," by Edward Lillie Pierce, his literary executor, two volumes of which were published in 1877, the last two completing the series of 15 volumes being published in 1893.
He died in Washington, D.C., March 11, 1874, and was buried in Mount Auburn cemetery, Mass."
The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable
Americans: page 7374
| Top of Page | Home | Heritage | Fam Histories - Mom's | Surnames | Other Stuff | What's New | E Mail |
Copyright 1998 Norris Taylor