(Italicized text is from “Memoir of Charles Sumner”)
Returning to the U. S. Senate four years after being severely beaten in the Senate Chamber by Preston Bookes – a congressman from South Carolina – Charles Sumner delivered a speech to the Senate titled, The Barbarism of Slavery, during the debate of the bill to admit Kansas as a free state.
Except for a couple of campaign style speeches in the House, it was the last speech on American slavery made in Congress until discussions on emancipation. The speech drew public attention more than any made in Congress or elsewhere during the year. It was printed entire in the leading newspapers of the great cities East and West, and was issued in several pamphlet editions, one of which had the sanction of the National Republican Committee. Whether regarded as timely or not, it was accepted as an exhaustive exposition of American slavery altogether unmatched in our history.
Southern members of Congress – such as Hammond of South Carolina, Hunter and Mason of Virginia, Brown and Davis of Mississippi – recently had not hesitated to defend slavery as a normal condition of society, beneficial to both races, even ennobling to the white race, and the just basis of republican justice.
Sumner thought the time had come to meet in the Senate these – and other – audacious assumptions once and for all, and to treat with absolute plainness and directness of language the principle, motive, and character of slavery, and its baleful effects as seen in the practices of slaveholders and the habits of slave society, — each statement to be supported by facts, the whole to be an argument which would defy answer at the time, or in any future discussion in Congress or elsewhere. It was in his mind to show to the country and mankind that what the pro-slavery party vaunted as the finest product of civilization was none other than essential barbarism. No such speech had as yet been made by any statesman; no one in Congress, not even Sumner himself, had hitherto attempted more than to treat the institution as related to a pending measure, or incidentally to emphasize one or more of its features. An assault on American slavery all along the lines in the Senate, where it was most strongly intrenched, required courage and rare equipment at all points in moral and political philosophy, in history and law. Such a treatment of the subject was, however, not at the time agreeable to Republican politicians; they feared, sincerely enough, that [click to continue…]