- Back to Home »
- Memorial Services: Tribute to the Honorable Charles Sumner
TRIBUTE TO THE
Hon. Charles Sumner,
ST. Phillip’s A. M. E. Church,
March 18th, 1874
Hon. H. M. Turner, LL. D.,
Hon. J. M. Simms,
Address of Dr. Turner.
My friends, we meet to-day to commemorate and mourn the loss of one of the greatest Americans ever born and nurtured upon our world-famed soil, our grief at the loss of Hon. Charles Sumner fins no expression in words, no relief in tears, and no comfort in the sighs of millions.
A statesman who stood head and shoulders above any of his day and generation. A scholar who had no superior in legal lore or moral ethics. A philanthropist whose capacious affections and great heart encircled the children of every race, clime, and nationality. A citizen whose character was untarnished, a reformer who stood as a watch tower in the van-guard of a revolutionary host. A gentleman who culture, refinement and urbanity blended with an aristocratic demeanor, singularly constituting him a model among equals. An orator whose chaste diction and flowery eloquence will be the emulation of coming generations.
A hero whose war weapons were bloodless missiles, but terribly invincible, and fearfully destructive on the field of combat.
A philosopher whose analytical acumen comprehended every phase of human character, and sifted the deeds of kingdoms.
A beacon whose flambeau lit up the path of progress and civilization.
A cosmopolitan who had no bounds to his generosity, and would have rather been the benefactor of a hottentot than the companion of a prince – but to be short, one of the noblest specimens of humanity of any age, in the history of the world, fell in death from the apex of glory when all that was mortal of Chas. Sumner died.
About twenty-three years ago, a tall, spare looking man, crowned with a majestic brow, and presenting the aspects of great natural ability and the highest acquirable attainments, walked into the senate of the United States, possibly to the consternation of many, and after taking the oath of office, sat down in the midst of those he was destined to eclipse both in glory and renown in a few years. In close proximity sat Samuel P. Chase and John P. Hale. This trio the constituted the only free soil exponents in the Senate. They were the nucleonic forces of those fearful issues which were in a short time to change the land marks of our country, and baptise the nation with freedom. Up to this time the right of petition was partially denied if it involved the subject of human rights, and those in the Sentae who dared to present them were classed among fanatics, agitators, and the most inimical foes the country had.
But for one to so far forget his calling as to attack the wrongs of slavery, was to make himself such an unnatural piece of hybrid monstrosity, that no vocabulary could furnish a name with which to entitle him.
The reputation of Mr. Sumner, though small at that time, had nevertheless, acquired sufficient celebrity to indicate his future course in the Senate; therefore, to thwart any mischievous designs on his part to the special institution whose advocates were always exceedingly sensitive, the pro-slavery senators resorted to every conceivable parliamentary strategy to prevent him getting the floor; but in due time he obtained it, and from the day he delivered his maiden speech to the day of his death he was the grand master of the Senate Chamber.
In a conversation with Chief – Justice Chase in Washington city in 1869, he told me when only three of them were in the Senate (meaning three Abolitionists) they were pointed out and looked at as wild beasts in a cage, but, said he, “Sumner kept them all busy.”
For three quarters of a century the Congress of the United States had never had a fearless champion of liberty. True there had been men there who had assumed timid positions favoring free speech, colonization, &c., but there had never been a man there who took bold grounds in favor of a free country.
Mr. Sumner came on the stage of political action, just as Webster, Clay, and Calhoun were passing off. I think he came in the same day Mr. Clay went out, never to return. This was a trio of great men who had long been the bulwarks of what was fast becoming an obsolescent era in the history of our country. For over a quarter of a century their expositons [sic] of the Constitution of the United States, ranked equal to a decision from the supreme court of a nation. But the Missouri compromise, admission of Texas, and the Wilmot proviso, blended with the doctrine of squatter-sovereignty, which were to grow out of the Kansas – Nebraska struggle, was destined, under an over-ruling Providence, to embolden the advocates of liberty, and usher in a brighter dispensation, and thus the cause of liberty required a Sumner – a man like Bonaparte with iron nerves, and a will as defiant as the Word of God – a man whose erudition none could gainsay, but whose gigantic intellect towered above them all. God always raises up great heroes when there is great work to be done, for duty and responsibility must correspond. One of the best evidences of human affairs remaining in status quo, at least for a time, is to see little men coming to the surface. God never places third rate officers to man his vessels when a fearful gale and angry billow are just ahead.
When Mr. Sumner was called from the ranks of the private citizen to the Senate without having to serve an apprenticeship in the lower house of Congress, or in the executive chair of his State, any one familiar with the history of nations and kingdoms might have known it was portentous of a gathering action.
True, the friends of liberty had able representatives in the persons of Mr. Hale and the late Chief Justice of the United States, but they lacked the dash, the vim, the snap, the dare, the popular defiance and sledge hammer and battle axe ability, and power, commensurate to the emergency of battle, though great men as they undoubtedly were. But in Mr. Sumner all these characteristics and qualities happily blended, and made him the match of all the learned sophists, of all the time serving political weather-cooks, of all the blatten mouth braggarts and bombastic blusterers, of all the wiry tongue rhetoricians and pseudo-logicians, that this or any other country could produce, of all the fabricated fiction, or labyrinthine mazes with which the sharpers of tyranny could festoon their theories. Too noble to do wrong, too great to be mean, too wise to make a blunder, too high to countenance a low act, too solid to be a trickster, too pure to be a politician, too just to be partial, too brave to cower before men or devils, too spotless to be slandered in the most calumnious age the world ever witnessed, armed with the helmet of right, and panoplied with a code of principles, as irreversible as the flowing current of the Mississippi river, he stood out as grand and as majestic before the world as thundering Sinai did, when the shuddering hosts of Israel trembled at its base. A vital amazement an intellectual prodigy, a human creature with superhuman traits, such was Sumner, the man of destiny, molded out of the matrix of heaven by the command of God, to front the reformatory measures born in the middle of the nineteenth century, and well did he do the work assigned. What staggered Hale and disheartened Chase, only fired the soul of the great Sumner.
The Southern statesman for years had swayed a scepter of political power over this country, till in many respects they regarded themselves as lords of the manor, but in Mr. Sumner they had an antagonist they were unable to cope with in learning or baffle in argument. But South Carolina the pestiferous State of my nativity, was so bent upon silencing his otherwise impregnable batteries, that she resorted to the bludgeon in the hands of Preston S. Brooks. The sequence was, that in May 1856, Mr. Sumner was knocked down in the Senate Chamber, drenched in his own blood, and the skull that enclosed the finest brain in the world was fractured for life, but this was only the harbinger of greater results. While Mr. Sumner was for a short time silent from the brutal effects of a cowardly assault upon his person, the silence was counter-balanced by the thunders of a hundred volcanoes, which spit forth angry, smoke, and seething lava in terrible ebullitions to the consternation of every like ruffian, for the whole North was mad, and even the South was mantled in shame and had to censure her own hero.
But the blood of the saints are said to be the seed of the Church, and so it was in this case, the blood of Mr. Sumner proved to be the seed of liberty, for although he so far recovered as to be able to resume his seat in that body, when he returned, he went with a feeble constitution, but a stronger will and a greater soul, where both he and the blood he shed so profusely, plead the cause of the oppressed. From that time till the overthrow of slavery, Mr. Sumner spoke to man but his blood spoke to God, Mr. Sumner marshaled the armies of the nation against the institution of slavery, but his blood marshaled the armies of heaven.
The trio of so-called fanatics above referred to, Sumner, Chase and Hale, could not have made the impression in years with the most learned and elaborate arguments that was made in a day after Sumner fell by the fatal-aimed blow of a ruffian, and wallowed in his own blood.
Mr. Sumner was no politician, he was every whit a statesman; like Webster, he was an orator, but unlike Webster he was inflexible; like Everit [Everett] he was a philosopher, learned and sagacious; but unlike Everit, he was an impartial philanthropist, with a heart as wide as immensity. Like Clay, he knew what would serve the people as a temporary panacea, but unlike Clay he made no compromises. Like Calhoun he ransacked the dusty records of ages to glean the assembled wisdom of the world; but unlike Calhoun, he used his knowledge to help the poor, needy, and oppressed, and no to perpetuate a vicious aristocracy at the expense of others of the same blood, and none the better by race. Like Bacon, he reasoned on transcendental theories, to aid the cause of justice and refute the wild heresies of his day; but unlike Bacon, he carried a spotless record of the tomb. Like Fox, he was censured for his course by the same power that gave him elevation; but unlike Fox, Massachusetts bowed at his feet and begged pardon.
He was too great to be a politician, for he had no policy, he was as far above political wire-pulling and intrigue, as the heavens are above earth. And yet he was the master politician of the age, because his policy was even handed right. Yes, square right between man and man, founded on the golden rule which was manufactured in heaven, “Do unto to others, as ye would them do to you.”
Nor would I have you to understand Mr. Sumner to be some later day spawn or plastic fungus, who like a mushroom, sprang up, and under the afflatus of a constituency, adopted a popular course merely for the sake of office; to the contrary, I have the most masterly argument ever delivered in this country; made by him long before he ever thought of the Senate, which he made in favor of mixed schools. It was really he who opened the schools of Massachusetts to the indiscriminate use of the colored, and broke down the walls of distinction. At that time, too, he was in the flush vigor of a young man, and no position assumed could have been more odious and unprospective (sic). Thus showing, beyond doubt, that he never did cater to public sentiment, if that sentiment was vitiated and contrary to the rule of right.
And while he was a friend of all men, a world-wide benefactor, a cosmopolitan in the fullest sense of the term, with inclinations and predilections as impartial as the sun-beams, which fall indiscriminately upon all races and climes. He would, nevertheless, seem to be the special friend of the colored race; yet, he was no more our friend than he would have been of the Jew, the Irishman, the German, the Italian, or the Frenchman, had they been in our condition. Jesus said when he was on earth, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And again he said, the whole need not a physician but that they are sick. Mr. Sumner did not feel that white men needed his help like the poor negro whose mouths were locked and whose hands were tied, yet, his great abilities were not by any means restricted to our race, for when the nation stood in need of one to champion her cause, measure arms with the diplomats of the world, and vindicate her honor with foreign powers, to whom did she look but to Carles [sic] Sumner? the man who could read and translate the languages of all civilized nations on the globe, the man who understood all treaties, all the international laws and the man above all others in America, who was respected by the great men of every civilized nation in the world.
The truth is, Mr. Sumner hated slavery, because he thought it was wrong per se, and subversive of the end, for which his country had been released from British tyranny. White slavery or black slavery were equally obnoxious to him, and on the other hand he believed as both revelation and reason teaches, that the negro was the image of God set in ebony, and in a fair race would win distinction as well as other people. He did not believe in crippling a man and condemning him for being lame, therefore he said give the negro fair play and then if he fails condemn him, but not hamstring you and then ridicule your inactivity.
Such is an epitome of the creed of that great statesman, however, as he saw the colored race the most needy, he gave us the most assistance, for he was in deed and in truth our hero – our champion.
And while we can name a host of true friends – friends who have been tried and found steadfast and immovable, none more so than his colleague for many years, Vice-President Wilson, I do not know of any who could measure arms with Mr. Sumner. He began at home in Massachusetts, and although he found no actual slaves there when he mounted the arena of manhood; he found the cold hand of discrimination, and fought till he had driven it out.
When he went to Washington he found it the abode of slaves and the den of oppression; he mustered the armies of Jehovah and flayed the monster, for like Hercules he held the poison – fanged viper by the neck till the horrid reptile twitched in death.
He fired the hearts of the North on the one side, and of the South on the other, and opened a chasm which could never close till the negro passed through it on his way to Canaan. He, in conjunction with Thaddeus Stevens, Horace Greely and others, held the rod over the great Lincoln, and whipped him step by step and from corner to corner during the late bloody war, till he issued his world-renown proclamation of emancipation.
At the end of the war he with Chief Justice Chase and Thaddeus Stevens at his side, led the crusade against the admission of the South to representation, till the negro had his oath in the court house, and was clothed with the ballot. These being obtained, he turned his attention to the district of Columbia, and crushed out all distinctions between races and colors so completely that any one visiting the national capitol to-day, would be astonished to learn that such a hydra-headed monster ever stalked at large in that beautiful city.
When President Johnson sent General Grant, who was no statesman or politician at the time, through the South on a tour of inspection, and he (General Grant) returned and reported things all quiet and peaceable between the whites and blacks, it was Mr. Sumner who rose up in the Senate and told the country that the report was white-washed, and so counterbalanced or counteracted the effects of the report as to turn the tide of popular sentiment in favor of those who stood in need of the protection of the general Government. But on no subject did Mr. Sumner display the majesty of a statesman, and dwell in such convincing power as he did on giving the negro the ballot. Here he showed the resources of his exhaustless intellect as no other statesman living did or could. He challenged the world – he met our foes from every clime and of every dialect, he rebutted their objections by quotations from the reformers of all nations, he made the moralists, the poets, the theologians, the jurists, the scientialists, and the axiomatics of every age and clime contribute to this object. He could spare blood to wash the Senate of the United States, and brain-force to deluge the world with ideas. True, he never led a party, but he led the nation – he was greater than a party, besides he lived too far in advance of his contemporaries to lead a party, however noble its aims and commendable its cause; but like a pilot boat he found the channel for the ship of State, and dragged her after him with a slow but a sure glide.
Mr. Sumner had no personal relations he could not sever when they stood in the way of duty, for he would fight his personal friends as hard when he thought them wrong as he would his bitterest foes. Nor did he couch before either power or popularity, he cared no more for a President than for a peasant, if he thought them wrong, duty first and friendship second was his motto. He pinched President Johnson so during his treacherous administration that on one occasion the President got tight, and named him personally in a drunken carousal from the steps of the White House. He even frightened President Grant so about San Domingo that he was been afraid to mention the name since.
Mr. Sumner was not only a man of the finest theories, but he gave practicalization to all his professions. He professed to be a humanitarian, and he carried it out to the very letter, While he lived in the most superb splendor, in a mansion in which there was nothing wanting in the range of human conception, yet that mansion was as free to the blackest negro as to an English lord.
While his high polish and great refinement made him an aristocrat in the eyes of the masses, yet he felt as much gratification in taking a black man by the arm and perambulating the streets, as he would to be in the train of royal pomp. A few years ago, when on a visit to Washington with Mr. Simms, from whom you will hear in a few moments, we had an occasion to visit one of the public buildings in company with Mr. Sumner; and to my astonishment the greatest statesman the sun ever shone upon, walked up between us and locked our arms, and proceeded through the streets and buildings as unconcernedly as if had been in company with his senatorial collegues [sic]; he thought no more of asking a black man to dine at his table, than he did of the whitest man on earth.
Mr. Sumner did not live for himself either, he lived to be a blessing to the poor and needy. The lst time I saw his majestic brow and stately person was last spring in Washington, at which time I called upon him to pay my respects as I usually did; our conversation soon turned upon the fight, he waged against the President. I told him, that I like thousands of other colored men in the country; loved him, but could not endorse his rabid fight on the president, though I did not doubt, but the President had faults. Well, he said, “that was natural; but if my attack upon the President does no other good, it will drive him to stand by colored people more firmly, to prove that my predictions were false. But said he, a great many of his pap-fed supporters think they have killed me off, but I am perfectly willing to go down, if the colored people can go up, for I am only living for them now; and I can only hope to see the labors of my life crowned with the passage of the civil rights’ bill, then and not till then, can I feel that the cause for which so much blood have been shed is complete.” (Great applause.)
How Christ-like these words, how full of righteousness Mr. Sumner felt years ago, that he was to be one of the chief instruments in the hands of God, of crowning this nation with the diadem of justice. In a conversation between him and myself and several others, who called upon him in 1863, he remarked, “that my blood kindled this fire, (meaning the war,) and when it needed recruiting, John Brown gave his to rekindle it, and it will be utterly impossible now to extinguish it with compromises.” A great many northern papers at that time was advocating the policy of offering some overtures to the South, and ending further destruction of life on the battlefield. But the last humanitarian act, for which the distinguished Senator labored with such indefatigable devotion, as to merit the praise, the love the honor and admiration of our race forever, was in trying to secure the passage of the Civil Rights’ Bill, and thus abolish all distinctions between races, colors and nationalities, as well as to give his country what few, if any, upon the face of the globe can claim, a code of cosmopolitan laws. In this the great senator rises to a grandeur that will enshrine his name in the affections of men of every clime. Generations now sleeping in the womb of the future, will come forth with richer words and swifter pens to fringe his name with glittering gems.
When the kings and queens of earth shall be forgotten or remembered in contempt, and the heroes of the battle field shall no longer be admired, the name of Sumner shall still glow upon the pages of history; and the poet-muse shall weave it into song, while the reformers of all nations will quote his remarks as the preachers of the gospel quote from the sacred scriptures. The only shadow that fell over the dying couch of Mr. Sumner, was the black prejudiced, which had stayed the passage of that bill; for this he had labored for years and waited with patience. I have no doubt but his bludgeon-fractured head and worn-out frame would have died a year sooner, had that bill been passed. It made the soul linger in the body and loth [sic] to quit its hold. He would rise up from a bed of prostration and crawl to the Senate Chamber, to watch his Civil Rights’ Bill. The desire of seeing that bill become a law was a greater stimulant to his shattered constitution than all the medical excitives (sic) known to pharmacology, for he was the unquestionable father of civil rights; it was never thought of till he raised the question. He had even then to educate both colors to its importance and worth. Many colored people at first thought such a measure premature and useless, and, I am sorry to say, I was one.
For I never could understand the necessity and indispensability of such a measure being enacted, till I read it in Mr. Sumner’s speeches. In this God made him the schoolmaster of the nation. Thus he comprehended the wants of the negro better than thousands of themselves, and the wants of the country better than any statesman, living or dead, nor did this knowledge or desire desert him even in his dying hour; the aim of his life became the charms of his death. There stood George T. Downing, the President of our Civil Rights Associations for the United States, a man, too, of culture, taste and ability, in the name of his race, to minister to the physical wants of our departing hero. Mr. Sumner looked through Mr. Downing as an astronomer does his telescope, and saw behind him five millions of his race suffering under the effects of civil proscription; and the hero of civil rights then cast his dying eyes to Mr. Hoar and said, “Do not let the Civil Rights’ Bill fail.” Again his life sinks down beneath the turbid waters of death, and all seems still and quiet, for his pulse has refused to beat; but once more he surges to the top, and whispers from the very jaws of death, “Do not forget the bill.” And again he sinks, to rise no more forever.
And thus ends the career of the greatest statesman living or dead; dead did I say? O heavens can it be, Charles Sumner dead? – how cold that word, -- is the great Sumner gone? – shall we see his majestic form no more? – is his voice hushed forever? – have we lost our best friend, (God excepted?) – who can fill his place? – shall we ever see it filled? – no, no, no, for the world can only produce one Charles Sumner in a dispensation, never, never will we look upon his like again. O God, but for thee, I should despair to-day and say let me fo too, [sensation and weeping, Mr. Simms leaves the stand to weep.] But I trust his mantle will fall on some of his compeers, and that another shall lead the measures he inaugurated to a full and complete consummation. Congress can only honor him by the passage of this bill, any memorial services in Congress that does not involve the passage of his civil rights bill, will be a farce, a fizzle and a dishonor of the sacred name of Charles Sumner.
Among the great men of the world, we reckon the names of Cicero, Caesar, Socrates, Charlemagne, Cromwell, Hamden, Tell, Bonaparte, Burke, Pitt, Fox, Washington, Toussaint, Louverture, Webster, Brougham, and a host of other statesmen, reformers, poets, philosophers, scientists, inventors and benefactors. But high above them all we may hang the name of Hon. Charles Sumner, whose spotless life, whose industrious record, whose great abilities, whose triumphant career, and whose heaven-born principles will only be written when the lightening holds the pen and the azure heavens unrolls the scroll of immensity. Farewell thou fallen hero, -- farewell to thy noble heart, -- farewell Charles Sumner. (Weeping and cheering.)
 On May 22, 1856 Preston S. Brooks physically attacked Sumner as a reaction to an anti-slavery speech. More information about this incident can be found at, https://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1851-1900/South-Carolina-Representative-Preston-Brooks-s-attack-on-Senator-Charles-Sumner-of-Massachusetts/
 “San Domingo” refers to the Santo Domingo or Haitian Revolution.