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Charles Sumner 1811-1874

Freedom National; Slavery Sectional


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Charles Sumner.

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Charles Sumner's Freedom National; Slavery Sectional speech.


It follows the full text transcript of Charles Sumner's Freedom National; Slavery Sectional speech, delivered in the Senate of the Unites States - August 26, 1852.


Charles Sumner Speech [The Civil and Diplomatic Appropriations Bill being under consideration, the following amendment was moved by the Committee on Finance]

That where the ministerial officers of the United States have or shall incur extraordinary expenses 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 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 moved the following amendment to the amendment:]

Provided, That no such allowance shall be authorized for any expense incurred in executing the Act of September 18, 1850, for the surrender of fugitives from service to labor; which said Act is hereby repealed.

[On this he took the floor, and spoke as follows:]

MR. SUMNER: MR. President, here is a provision for extraordinary 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 one of the important committees 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 now offer, proposes to remove one chief occasion of these extraordinary expenses. And now, at last, among these final crowded days of our duties here, but at the 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 Greece vainly sought to secure permanence for his imperfect institutions, by providing that citizen, who at any time, attempted an alteration or repeal of any part thereof, should appear in the public assembly with a halter around his neck, ready to be drawn if his proposition failed to be adopted. A tyrannical spirit among us, in unconscious imitation of this antique and discarded barbarism, seeks to surround an offensive institution with a 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 a 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 wrongs and woes of slavery; profoundly believing that, according to the true spirit of the Constitution and the sentiments of the fathers, it can find no place under our National Government - that is in every respect sectional, and in no respect national that is is always everywhere the creature and dependent of the States, and never anywhere the creature or dependent of the Nation, and that the Nation can never, by legislative or other act, impart to it any support, under the Constitution of the United States; with these convictions, I could not allow this session to reach its close, without making or seizing an opportunity to declare myself openly against the usurpation, injustice, cruelty, of the late enactment by Congress for the recovery of fugitive slaves. Full well I know, sir, the difficulties of this discussion, arising from prejudices of opinion and from adverse conclusions, strong and sincere as my own. Full well I know that I am in a small minority, with few here to whom I may look for sympathy or support. Full well I know that I must utter things unwelcome to many in this body, which I cannot do without pain. Full well I know that the institution of slavery in our country, which I now proceed to consider, is as sensitive as it is powerful - possessing a power to shake the whole land with a sensitiveness that shrinks and trembles at the touch. But, while things may properly prompt me to caution and reserve, they cannot change my duty, or my determination to perform it. For this I willingly forget myself, and all my personal consequences. The favor and good-will of my fellow-citizens, of my brethren of the Senate, sir - grateful to me as it justly is - I am ready, if required, to sacrifice. All that I am or may be, I freely offer to this cause.

And here allow me, for one moment, to refer to myself and my position. Sir, I have never been a politician. The slave of principles, I call no party master. By sentiment, education, and conviction, a friend of Human Rights, in their utmost expansion, I have ever most sincerely embraced the Democratic Idea; not, indeed, as represented or professed by any party, but according to its real significance, as transfigured in the Declaration of Independence, and in the injunctions of Christianity. In this Idea I saw no narrow advantages merely for individuals or classes, but the sovereignty of the people and the greatest happiness of all secured by equal laws. Amidst the vicissitudes of public affairs, I trust always to hold fast to this Idea, and to any political party which truly embraces it.

Party does not constrain me; nor is my independence lessened by any relations to the office which gives me a title to be heard on this floor. And here, sir, I may speak proudly. By no effort, by no desire of my own, I find myself a Senator of the United States. Never before have I held public office of any kind. With the ample opportunities of private life I was content. no tombstone for me could bear a fairer inscription that this: "Here lies one who, without the honors or emoluments of public station, did something for his fellowman." From such simple aspirations I was taken away by the free choice of my native Commonwealth, and placed in this responsible post of duty, without personal obligation of any kind, beyond what was implied in my life and published words. The earnest friends, by whose confidence I was first designated, asked nothing from me, and, throughout the long conflict which ended in my election, rejoiced in the position which I most carefully guarded. To all my language was uniform, that I did not desire to be brought forward; that I would do nothing to promote the result; that i had no pledges or promises to offer;