Charles Sumner was born in
Boston and died in Washington D.C.
He was Massachusetts' senator from 1852 until 1874.
Senator Charles Sumner, c. 1861.
Library of Congress.
Alongside Webster and Everett, Sumner is viewed as one of
the three most remarkable New England statesmen and orators
of the nineteenth century.
Experts even feel that Sumner
had "a mind of such force and dignity that it would have
made him a power in his generation, even if he had never
attempted oratory at all."
He was "at all times greatly
admired for his moral courage and for the strength of his
The following article and details on Charles Sumner, his
life and career, are provided
courtesy of Charles Hanson Sumner,
director of the Sumner
Family Association. Thank you!
So much has been written about
Senator Charles Sumner that only highlights can be given in
this brief space.
Excerpts from the preface to
The Life and Times of Charles Sumner, by
"the biography of a champion of human rights," seem to
provide a starting place.
This book presents
"... the life,
character, and public career of an
accomplished scholar, an incorruptible
statesman, and an eloquent defender of human
In every age men have arisen, and,
by the force of an original genius and a
lofty aspiration, have come to stand as
heralds in the fore-front of national
progress. Their high mission has been to
point with a prophetic finger to the coming
issues; to sway and elevate with a
commanding eloquence the public mind; to
meet the exigencies of the times; and to
pursue, unterrified by power and above the
reach of bribery, their own elected course
with an unfaltering steadiness to the end
He stood forth pre-eminent as a prophet,
as a leader, as a counsellor, as an
unflinching friend of the oppressed; and to
his brave outlook over the whole field of
contest, to his extensive knowledge of
political history, to his grand ideal of a
perfect commonwealth, and to his impassioned
eloquence, must be in part ascribed the
ardor which inspired our Union army, and the
success which crowned the contest.
grandly spoke and fought for freedom: but
none more eloquently, more learnedly, more
effectively, enunciated its eternal
principles than he; nor more profoundly and
persistently instilled into the public mind
its justice, grandeur, and necessity."
Charles Sumner — Early Years
Charles Sumner was
born in Boston, Mass., 6 January 1811.
He entered the
Boston Latin School at ten.
At fifteen he
entered Harvard, and he was graduated at 19 in
the class of 1830.
He then attended
law school and spent three years in Europe.
Charles Sumner — Family
On October 27, 1866,
Charles Sumner married Alice Mason
Cooper, daughter of
Jonathan Mason of Boston and
widow of William Sturgis
divorced 10 May 1873. There were no children.
Charles Sumner — Political Career
The True Grandeur of Nations, made him
famous. He delivered this speech before the authorities of the city of Boston on
July 4, 1845.
The Free Soil
Party nominated him for Congress in 1848, but he
In 1851 he was elected to the
Senate of the United States.
He crusaded for
prison reform and Horace
Mann's public school
In his first session of Congress,
on August 26, 1852, he
Freedom National; Slavery Sectional
speech, which set the course for his future.
He was the sole member who consistently spoke
out against slavery.
His denunciation of the
Kansas-Nebraska Bill (Sumner's
The Crime Against Kansas
speech on May 19, 1856) and its authors,
Stephen A. Douglas and
Andrew P. Butler, resulted in the cowardly
attack on him in the Senate in 1856 which caused
his Senate chair to remain vacant for three
years as a symbol pleading for free speech and
resistance to slavery. (The Senate desk is or
was in the possession of Mrs. G. Lynn Sumner,
Pawling, New York. It is believed the desk is
now in the Sumner School Museum in Washington,
The bitter debate
with Douglas and Butler, which resulted in the
assault on Sumner by Congressman Brooks, had
almost, if not quite, as much to do with forcing
the Civil War as the John Brown raid itself.
Upon the admission of Kansas as a state, Sumner delivered a great speech,
The Barbarism of
His foreign experience resulted in his
being appointed chairman of the Committee on
Foreign Relations in 1861 when our relations
with England were critical to the outcome of the
He was a confidant of
Lincoln, and his advice was influential in the
He was instrumental in
establishment of Freedmen's Bureaus and
enlistments of Negroes into the Union Army.
During the dark days of the Civil War he was a
pillar of strength for the North.
than any other person he was responsible for
keeping England and France from intervening, and
thus it could be said that he saved the Union.
Later he set forth an indictment against England
for its actions during our Civil War.
the North for its
failure to give Negroes the vote in the North
while forcing suffrage upon the South. He spoke
Andrew Johnson in the impeachment
hearings and opposed
President Grant's attempt
to annex Santo Domingo.
Charles Sumner — Death
His death occurred on March 11, 1874, at 63 in
Washington, D.C. Sumner was buried in a family plot
at Mt. Auburn Cemetery near Boston. His last
words were reported to be an admonition to work
for the passage of a civil rights bill.
Greenleaf Whittier composed a poem in his honor.
He was eulogized by Senator Carl Schurz.
the trustees of his estate was
The Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Ralph Waldo Emerson, a dear friend,
said of him, "Sumner had the whitest soul of any
man I knew."
The funeral was attended by the
Vice President, the Justices of the Supreme
Court, the President of the Senate, the Speaker
of the House, the Governor of Massachusetts, and
innumerable other friends and officials, plus a
contingent of two thousand Colored citizens.
Charles Sumner left money to Harvard for an annual prize for
the best dissertation on universal peace.
he said in his first Senate address was
particularly true of his
"The slave of principles, I call no party