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"Not one word has fallen from my lips to-day, suggesting in any way a resort to force."
Mr. Sumner was not without defenders, and what they said belongs to this history. Early in the debate Mr. Hale expressed himself strongly.
“I feel that I should be doing injustice to my own feelings, and injustice to my friend, the Senator from Massachusetts, if I were to fail at this time to express the very great gratification with which I listened to his speech. In saying that, I do not mean to pass by entirely the honorable Senator from North Carolina (Mr. BADGER), for I listened to him, as I always do, with great pleasure ; but justice compels me to say that by far the best part of his speech was the extract which he read from a former speech of the honorable Senator from Massachusetts. [Laughter.] I listened to them both with great pleasure ; but, Sir, I feel bound to say to-day, that it is my deliberate conviction that the honorable Senator from Massachusetts, if he were actuated by as corrupt and selfish motives as can possibly be attributed to him, has, so far as his own personal fame and reputation are concerned, done enough by the effort he has made here to-day to place himself side by side with the first orators of antiquity, and as far ahead of any living American orator as Freedom is ahead of Slavery. I believe that he has formed to-day a new era in the history of the politics and of the eloquence of the country, and that in future generations the young men of this nation will be stimulated to effort by the record of what an American Senator has this day done, to which all the appeals drawn from ancient history would be entirely inadequate. Yes, Sir, he has to-day made a draft upon the gratitude of the friends of humanity and of liberty that will not be paid through many generations, and the memory of which shall endure as long as the English language is spoken, or the history of this Republic forms a part of the annals of the world. That, Sir, is what I believe ; and if I had one other feeling, or could indulge in it, in reference to that effort, it would be a feeling of envy, that it was not in me to tread even åt an humble distance in the path which he has so nobly and eloquently illustrated.”
Mr. Chase adopted the argument of Mr. Sumner against the Fugitive Slave Bill, and vindicated him personally.
“The argument which my friend from Massachusetts has addressed to us to-day was not an assault upon the Constitution. It was à noble vindication of that great charter of government from the perversions of the advocates of the Fugitive Slave Act. What has the Senator from Massachusetts asserted ? That the fugitive servant clause of the Constitution is a clause of compact between the
States, and confers no legislative power upon Congress. He has arrayed history and reason in support of this proposition ; and I avow my conviction, now and here, that, logically and historically, his argument is impregnable, entirely impregnable.
“Let me add, Mr. President, that in my judgment the speech of my friend from Massachusetts will mark AN ERA in American history. It will distinguish the day when the advocates of that theory of governmental policy, constitutional construction, which he has so ably defended and so brilliantly illustrated, no longer content to stand on the defensive in the contest with Slavery, boldly attacked the very citadel of its power, in that doctrine of finality which two of the political parties of the country, through their national organizátions, are endeavoring to establish as the impregnable defence of its usurpations."
On the close of the debate, the proposition of Mr. Sumner was rejected by the following vote.
YEAS, Messrs. Chase, Hale, Sumner, and Wade, 4.
Nays, -- Messrs. Adams, Badger, Bayard, Bell, Borland, Bradbury, Bright, Brodhead, Brooke, Butler, Cass, Charlton, Clarke, Clemens, Cooper, Dawson, De Saussure, Dodge, of Iowa, Douglas, Felch, Fish, Geyer, Gwin, Hamlin, Houston, Hunter, James, Jones, of Iowa, King, Mallory, Mangum, Mason, Meriwether, Miller, Morton, Pearce, Pratt, Rusk, Shields, Smith, Soulé, Spruance, Toucey, Underwood, Upham, Walker, and Weller, — 47.
Mr. Seward was absent, — probably constrained by his prominence as a supporter of General Scott.
This speech, when published, found an extensive echo. It was circulated not only through the press, but in large pamphlet editions, amounting to several hundred thousand. It was translated into Ger
Two or more editions appeared in England. In the preface to the English edition of “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” Lord Carlisle associated the speech with that work, and signalized “the closeness of its logic and the masculine vigor of its eloquence.” Lord Shaftesbury, in a letter to the London Times, wrote, “What noble eloquence !” Mr. Combe, the phrenologist, in a letter to a distinguished American, which was published at the time, said : “I have read every word of this speech with pleasure and with pain. The pain arose from the subject,
the pleasure from sympathy with and admiration of the speaker. I have long desired to know the merits of that most cruel and iniquitous enactment, and this speech has made them clear as day."
The London Examiner said: “ Apart from its noble and affecting eloquence, it is one of the closest and most convincing arguments we have ever read on the policy of the earlier and greater, as contrasted with that of the later and meaner statesmen of America." These testimonies might be accumulated. They are introduced only so far as may be important in giving an idea of the contemporaneous reception of this speech. The title had a vogue beyond the speech itself, as it became one of the countersigns of our politics.
Letters also illustrate the speech. Mr. Seward, who was not in his seat at its delivery, wrote, on reading it : “Your speech is an admirable, a great, a very great one. That is my opinion, and everybody around me, of all sorts, confesses it.” Mr. Chase wrote also: “I have read, as well as heard, your truly great speech. Hundreds of thousands will read it, and everywhere it will carry conviction to all willing to be convinced, and will infuse a feeling of incertitude and a fearful looking for judgment in the minds of those who resist the light and toil in the harness of party platforms irreconcilable with justice.” Mr. Wilson, who had not yet been elected to the Senate, wrote: “I have read your glorious speech. How proud I am that God gave me the power to aid in placing you in the Senate! You have exhausted the question. Hereafter all that can be said will be to repeat your speech. It will afford to any one the most complete view of the questions in dispute of anything ever published.” Hon. Stephen C. Phillips, who had taken a leading part in the Free-Soil organization of Massachusetts, wrote: “I regard it as a contribution of inestimable value to our noble cause, worth all the labor, all the time, all the self-sacrifice, and all the misrepresentation it has cost you. It is statesmanlike in all its features, and does all that is necessary to place our simple and entire design in its true light before the country, and before the world, and in the records of history.” Wendell Phillips, while differing on some points, wrote: “I have read your speech with envious admiration. It is admirable, both as a masterly argument and a noble testimony, and will endear you to thousands." These extracts, which might be extended, show the response to this effort.
THURSDAY, 26th August, 1852. — The Civil and Diplomatic Appropriation Bill being under consideration, the following amendment was moved by Mr. Hunter, of Virginia, on the recommendation of the Committee on Finance.
" That, where the ministerial officers of the United States have or shall incur extraordinary expense in executing the laws thereof, the payment of which is not specifically provided for, the President of the United States is authorized to allow the payment thereof, under the special taxation of the District or Circuit Court of the District in which the said services have been or shall be rendered, to be paid from the appropriation for defraying the expenses of the Judiciary."
MR. SUMNER seized the opportunity for which he had been waiting, and at once moved the following amendment to the amendment:
" Provided, That no such allowance shall be authorized for any expenses incurred in executing the Act of September 18, 1850, for the surrender of fugitives from service or labor; which said Act is hereby repealed.”
On this he took the floor, and spoke as follows.
R. PRESIDENT, — Here is a provision for ex
traordinary expenses incurred in executing the laws of the United States. Extraordinary expenses ! Sir, beneath these specious words lurks the very subject on which, by a solemn vote of this body, I was refused a hearing. Here it is; no longer open to the charge of being an “abstraction," but actually presented for practical legislation; not introduced by me, but by the Senator from Virginia [Mr. HUNTER], on the recommendation of an important coinmittee of the Senate ; not brought forward weeks ago, when there was ample time for discussion, but only at this moment, without any reference to the late period of the session. The amendment which I offer proposes to remove one chief occasion of these extraordinary expenses. Beyond all controversy or cavil it is strictly in order. And now, at last, among these final crowded days of our duties here, but at this earliest opportunity, I am to be heard, -- not as a favor, but as a right. The graceful usages of this body may be abandoned, but the established privileges of debate cannot be abridged. Parliamentary courtesy may be forgotten, but parliamentary law must prevail. The subject is broadly before the Senate. By the blessing of God it shall be discussed.
Sir, a severe lawgiver of early Greece vainly sought to secure permanence for his imperfect institutions by providing that the citizen who at any time attempted their repeal or alteration should appear in the public assembly with a halter about his neck, ready to be drawn, if his proposition failed. A tyrannical spirit among us, in unconscious imitation of this antique and discarded barbarism, seeks to surround an offensive institution with similar safeguard. In the existing distemper of the public mind, and at this present juncture, no man can enter upon the service which I now undertake, without personal responsibility, such as can be sustained only by that sense of duty which, under God, is always our best support. That personal responsibility I accept. Before the Senate and the country let me be held accountable for this act and for every word which I utter.
With me, Sir, there is no alternative. Painfully convinced of the unutterable wrong and woe of Slavery, --