Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Crime Against Kansas
By Charles Sumner (18111874)
[Born in Boston, Mass., 1811. Died in Washington, D.C., 1874. Speech on the Admission of Kansas, U. S. Senate, 1920 May, 1856.Works of Charles Sumner. 187583.]
SIR, the people of Kansas, bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh, with the education of freemen and the rights of American citizens, now stand at your door. Will you send them away, or bid them enter? Will you push them back to renew their struggle with a deadly foe, or will you preserve them in security and peace? Will you cast them again into the den of Tyranny, or will you help their despairing efforts to escape? These questions I put with no common solicitude, for I feel that on their just determination depend all the most precious interests of the Republic; and I perceive too clearly the prejudices in the way, and the accumulating bitterness against this distant people, now claiming a simple birthright, while I am bowed with mortification, as I recognize the President of the United States, who should have been a staff to the weak and a shield to the innocent, at the head of this strange oppression.
At every stage the similitude between the wrongs of Kansas and those other wrongs against which our fathers rose becomes more apparent. Read the Declaration of Independence, and there is hardly an accusation against the British Monarch which may not now be hurled with increased force against the American President. The parallel has fearful particularity. Our fathers complained that the King had sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance,that he had combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation,that he had abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection, and waging war against us,that he had excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless savages,that our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. And this arraignment was aptly followed by the damning words, that a Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. And surely the President who does all these things cannot be less unfit than a Prince. At every stage the responsibility is brought directly to him. His offence is of commission and omission. He has done that which he ought not to have done, and has left undone that which he ought to have done. By his activity the Prohibition of Slavery was overturned. By his failure to act the honest emigrants in Kansas are left a prey to wrong of all kinds. His activity and inactivity are alike fatal. And now he stands forth the most conspicuous enemy of that unhappy Territory.
As the tyranny of the British King is all renewed in the President, so are renewed on this floor the old indignities which embittered and fomented the troubles of our fathers. The early petition of the American Congress to Parliament, long before any suggestion of Independence, was opposedlike the petitions of Kansasbecause that body was assembled without any requisition on the part of the Supreme Power. Another petition from New York, presented by Edmund Burke, was flatly rejected, as claiming rights derogatory to Parliament. And still another petition, from Massachusetts Bay, was dismissed as vexatious and scandalous, while the patriot philosopher who bore it was exposed to peculiar contumely. Throughout the debates our fathers were made the butt of sorry jest and supercilious assumption. And now these scenes, with these precise objections, are renewed in the American Senate.
With regret I come again upon the Senator from South Carolina [Mr. Butler], who, omnipresent in this debate, overflows with rage at the simple suggestion that Kansas has applied for admission as a State, and, with incoherent phrase, discharges the loose expectoration of his speech, now upon her representative, and then upon her people. There was no extravagance of the ancient parliamentary debate which he did not repeat; nor was there any possible deviation from truth which he did not make,with so much of passion, I gladly add, as to save him from the suspicion of intentional aberration. But the Senator touches nothing which he does not disfigurewith error, sometimes of principle, sometimes of fact. He shows an incapacity of accuracy, whether in stating the Constitution or in stating the law, whether in details of statistics or diversions of scholarship. He cannot ope his mouth, but out there flies a blunder. Surely he ought to be familiar with the life of Franklin; and yet he referred to this household character, while acting as agent of our fathers in England, as above suspicion; and this was done that he might give point to a false contrast with the agent of Kansas,not knowing that, however the two may differ in genius and fame, they are absolutely alike in this experience: that Franklin, when entrusted with the petition of Massachusetts Bay, was assaulted by a foul-mouthed speaker where he could not be heard in defence, and denounced as thief, even as the agent of Kansas is assaulted on this floor, and denounced as forger. And let not the vanity of the Senator be inspired by parallel with the British statesmen of that day; for it is only in hostility to Freedom that any parallel can be found.
But it is against the people of Kansas that the sensibilities of the Senator are particularly aroused. Coming, as he announces, from a State,ay, sir, from South Carolina,he turns with lordly disgust from this newly-formed community, which he will not recognize even as a member of the body politic. Pray, sir, by what title does he indulge in this egotism? Has he read the history of the State which he represents? He cannot, surely, forget its shameful imbecility from Slavery, confessed throughout the Revolution, followed by its more shameful assumptions for Slavery since. He cannot forget its wretched persistence in the slave-trade, as the very apple of its eye, and the condition of its participation in the Union. He cannot forget its Constitution, which is republican only in name, confirming power in the hands of the few, and founding the qualifications of its legislators on a settled freehold estate of five hundred acres of land and ten negroes. And yet the Senator to whom this State has in part committed the guardianship of its good name, instead of moving with backward-treading steps to cover its nakedness, rushes forward, in the very ecstasy of madness, to expose it, by provoking comparison with Kansas. South Carolina is old; Kansas is young. South Carolina counts by centuries, where Kansas counts by years. But a beneficent example may be born in a day; and I venture to declare, that against the two centuries of the older State may be set already the two years of trial, evolving corresponding virtue, in the younger community. In the one is the long wail of Slavery; in the other, the hymn of Freedom. And if we glance at special achievement, it will be difficult to find anything in the history of South Carolina which presents so much of heroic spirit in an heroic cause as shines in that repulse of the Missouri invaders by the beleaguered town of Lawrence, where even the women gave their effective efforts to Freedom. The matrons of Rome who poured their jewels into the treasury for the public defence, the wives of Prussia who with delicate fingers clothed their defenders against French invasion, the mothers of our own Revolution who sent forth their sons covered over with prayers and blessings to combat for Human Rights, did nothing of self-sacrifice truer than did these women on this occasion. Were the whole history of South Carolina blotted out of existence, from its very beginning down to the day of the last election of the Senator to his present seat on this floor, civilization might loseI do not say how little, but surely less than it has already gained by the example of Kansas, in that valiant struggle against oppression, and in the development of a new science of emigration. Already in Lawrence alone are newspapers and schools, including a High School,and throughout this infant Territory there is more of educated talent, in proportion to its inhabitants, than in his vaunted State. Ah, sir, I tell the Senator, that Kansas, welcomed as a Free State, a ministering angel shall be to the Republic, when South Carolina, in the cloak of darkness which she hugs, lies howling.
The Senator from Illinois [Mr. Douglas] naturally joins the Senator from South Carolina, and gives to this warfare the superior intensity of his nature. He thinks that the National Government has not completely proved its power, as it has never hanged a traitor,but, if occasion requires, he hopes there will be no hesitation; and this threat is directed at Kansas, and even at the friends of Kansas throughout the country. Again occurs a parallel with the struggles of our fathers; and I borrow the language of Patrick Henry, when, to the cry from the Senator of Treason! treason! I reply, If this be treason, make the most of it. Sir, it is easy to call names; but I beg to tell the Senator, that, if the word traitor is in any way applicable to those who reject a tyrannical Usurpation, whether in Kansas or elsewhere, then must some new word, of deeper color, be invented to designate those mad spirits who would endanger and degrade the Republic, while they betray all the cherished sentiments of the Fathers and the spirit of the Constitution, that Slavery may have new spread. Let the Senator proceed. Not the first time in history will a scaffold become the pedestal of honor. Out of death comes life, and the traitor whom he blindly executes will live immortal in the cause.
For Humanity sweeps onward: where to-day the martyr stands,
On the morrow crouches Judas, with the silver in his hands;
Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes into Historys golden urn.
Among these hostile Senators is yet another, with all the prejudices of the Senator from South Carolina, but without his generous impulses, who, from his character before the country, and the rancor of his opposition, deserves to be named: I mean the Senator from Virginia [Mr. Mason], who, as author of the Fugitive Slave Bill, has associated himself with a special act of inhumanity and tyranny. Of him I shall say little, for he has said little in this debate, though within that little was compressed the bitterness of a life absorbed in support of Slavery. He holds the commission of Virginia; but he does not represent that early Virginia, so dear to our hearts, which gave to us the pen of Jefferson, by which the equality of men was declared, and the sword of Washington, by which Independence was secured: he represents that other Virginia, from which Washington and Jefferson avert their faces, where human beings are bred as cattle for the shambles, and a dungeon rewards the pious matron who teaches little children to relieve their bondage by reading the Book of Life. It is proper that such a Senator, representing such a State, should rail against Free Kansas.
Such as these are natural enemies of Kansas, and I introduce them with reluctance, simply that the country may understand the character of the hostility to be overcome. Arrayed with them are all who unite, under any pretext or apology, in propagandism of Human Slavery. To such, indeed, time-honored safeguards of popular rights can be a name and nothing more. What are trial by jury, Habeas Corpus, ballot-box, right of petition, liberty in Kansas, your liberty, sir, or mine, to one who lends himself, not merely to the support at home, but to propagandism abroad, of that preposterous wrong which denies even the right of a man to himself? Such a cause can be maintained only by the practical subversion of all rights. It is, therefore, merely according to reason that its partisans should uphold the Usurpation in Kansas.
To overthrow this Usurpation is now the special, importunate duty of Congress, admitting of no hesitation or postponement. To this end must it ascend from the cabals of candidates, the machinations of party, and the low level of vulgar strife. Especially must it turn from that Slave Oligarchy now controlling the Republic, and refuse to be its tool. Let its power be stretched forth into this distant Territory, not to bind, but to release,not for oppression of the weak, but for subversion of the tyrannical,not for prop and maintenance of revolting Usurpation, but for confirmation of Liberty.
Let it now take stand between the living and dead, and cause this plague to be stayed. All this it can do; and if the interests of Slavery were not hostile, all this it would do at once, in reverent regard for justice, law, and order, driving far away all alarms of war; nor would it dare to brave the shame and punishment of this Great Refusal. But the Slave Power dares anything; and it can be conquered only by the united masses of the People. From Congress to the People I appeal.
Already Public Opinion gathers unwonted forces to scourge the aggressors. In the press, in daily conversation, wherever two or three are gathered together, there the indignant utterance finds vent. And trade, by unerring indications, attests the growing energy. Public credit in Missouri droops. The six per cents of that State, which at par should be 102, have sunk to 84,thus at once completing the evidence of Crime, and attesting its punishment. Business is now turning from the Assassins and Thugs that infest the Missouri River, to seek some safer avenue. And this, though not unimportant in itself, is typical of greater change. The political credit of the men who uphold the Usurpation droops even more than the stocks; and the People are turning from all those through whom the Assassins and Thugs derive their disgraceful immunity.
It was said of old, Cursed be he that removeth his neighbors Landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed, it is said, in the city and in the field; cursed in basket and store; cursed when thou comest in, and cursed when thou goest out. These are terrible imprecations; but if ever any Landmark were sacred, it was that by which an immense territory was guarded forever against Slavery; and if ever such imprecations could justly descend upon any one, they must descend now upon all who, not content with the removal of this sacred Landmark, have since, with criminal complicity, fostered the incursions of the great Wrong against which it was intended to guard. But I utter no imprecations. These are not my words; nor is it my part to add to or subtract from them. But, thanks be to God! they find response in the hearts of an aroused People, making them turn from every man, whether President or Senator or Representative, engaged in this Crime,especially from those who, cradled in free institutions, are without the apology of education or social prejudiceuntil upon all such those other words of the Prophet shall be fulfilled: I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people. Turning thus from the authors of this Crime, the People will unite once more with the Fathers of the Republic in just condemnation of Slavery, determined especially that it shall find no home in the National territories, while the Slave Power, in which the Crime had its beginning, and by which it is now sustained, will be swept into the charnel-house of defunct Tyrannies.
In this contest Kansas bravely stands forth, the stripling leader, clad in the panoply of American Institutions. Calmly meeting and adopting a frame of government, her people with intuitive promptitude perform the duties of freemen; and when I consider the difficulties by which she is beset, I find dignity in her attitude. Offering herself for admission into the Union as a FREE STATE, she presents a single issue for the people to decide. And since the Slave Power now stakes on this issue all its ill-gotten supremacy, the People, while vindicating Kansas, will at the same time overthrow this Tyranny. Thus the contest which she begins involves Liberty not only for herself, but for the whole country. God be praised that Kansas does not bend ignobly beneath the yoke. Far away on the prairies, she is now battling for the Liberty of all, against the President, who misrepresents all. Everywhere among those not insensible to Right, the generous struggle meets a generous response . In all this sympathy there is strength. But in the cause itself there is angelic power. Unseen of men, the great spirits of History combat by the side of the people of Kansas, breathing divine courage. Above all towers the majestic form of Washington, once more, as on the bloody field, bidding them remember those rights of Human Nature for which the War of Independence was waged. Such a cause, thus sustained, is invincible.
The contest, which, beginning in Kansas, reaches us, will be transferred soon from Congress to that broader stage, where every citizen is not only spectator, but actor; and to their judgment I confidently turn. To the People, about to exercise the electoral franchise, in choosing a Chief Magistrate of the Republic, I appeal, to vindicate the electoral franchise in Kansas. Let the ballot-box of the Union, with multitudinous might, protect the ballot-box in that Territory. Let the voters everywhere, while rejoicing in their own rights, help guard the equal rights of distant fellow-citizens, that the shrines of popular institutions, now desecrated, may be sanctified anew,that the ballot-box, now plundered, may be restored,and that the cry, I am an American citizen, shall no longer be impotent against outrage. In just regard for free labor, which you would blast by deadly contact with slave labor,in Christian sympathy with the slave, whom you would task and sell,in stern condemnation of the Crime consummated on that beautiful soil,in rescue of fellow-citizens, now subjugated to Tyrannical Usurpation,in dutiful respect for the early Fathers, whose aspirations are ignobly thwarted,in the name of the Constitution outraged, of the Laws trampled down, of Justice banished, of Humanity degraded, of Peace destroyed, of Freedom crushed to earth,and in the name of the Heavenly Father, whose service is perfect Freedom, I make this last appeal.