Secession Era Editorials Project

The Provocation to the Assault.

Portland, Maine, Advertiser [Republican]

(29 May 1856)

If you would see the sure and unmistakable evidences of MEAN souls, look at the semi-apologies made in some of the Northern administration papers, for the brutal and cowardly assault made on Senator Sumner. It was "ill-advised and unfortunate," says the Boston Post! "Painful affair," says another of the same stripe, -- while others say that it was decidedly wrong, but then there was great provocation! The Argus expressed itself in decided terms of disapprobation of the assault, but it couldn't close without adding --

We are far from extenuating the inflammatory and seditious speech which instigated the attack.

And then in its next issue, it copied approvingly from the Washington Star, a miserable paragraph, from which we quote the following:

His personal vilification and abuse of Senator Butler, than whom a more considerate and higher toned gentleman never graced a seat in the national councils, caused a blush of shame to mantle the cheeks of all present who respect the character of the body before whom it was uttered; because it was wholly unjust and untrue, and, in style, far better suited to some low doggery in a region of country wherein billingsgate is uttered with impunity, because it is not customary there to resent and punish such language personally.

Fortunately Mr. Sumner's speech will speak for itself -- and it will show very clearly that its character is as grossly misrepresented in this paragraph, as is the character of Mr. Butler. Mr. Butler, that considerate and high-toned gentleman, is a notorious drunkard, and more violent and abusive towards opponents, in a controversy, than any man who ever before held a seat in that body. Witness, for example, the exhibition he has just made of himself in the Senate, and for which he felt himself compelled to apologise. -- He may be very pleasant, friendly and agreeable, so long as one agrees with him and in no way disturbs his slave-driver's temper -- but the moment any one opposes his views on the slavery question, he is little better than a mad man.

It is true that Mr. Sumner, in his speech, used the weapon of ridicule, but that, by universal consent, is as lawful and proper a weapon as argument. There is nothing in it so severe or ore personal than some remarks made by Mr. Webster on various occasions. We all remember that in his great speech in reply to Hayne, most decidedly the best political speech he ever made, he said:

I employ no scavengers -- no one is in attendance on me, tendering such means of retaliation; and if there were, with an ass's load of them, with a bulk as large as that which the gentleman himself has produced, I would not touch one of them.

It is well known that another Senator was "in attendance" on Mr. Hayne, furnishing him with, and referring him to, the pamphlets, &c., to which Mr. Webster referred. In view of this fact, there is nothing in Mr. Sumner's speech so personally offensive, as this declaration of Mr. Webster's about scavengers! We remember, too, Mr. Webster's terribly scathing castigation of C. J. Ingersoll, compared with which Mr. Sumner's speech may be called mild, and at another time he took occasion to compare Mr. Cass to Snug, the Joiner!

But we find this subject ably treated in an article from the Boston Transcript, part of which we copy:--

[Boston Transcript article omitted]

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