Secession Era Editorials Project

No Title.

New York, Tribune [Republican]

(24 May 1856)

The assault on Senator Sumner reverberates through the land, causing throughout the Free States the intensest excitement and indignation. Other men have been as causelessly assailed, and as wantonly, if not as savagely, beaten; but the knocking-down and beating to bloody blindness and unconsciousness of an American Senator while writing at his desk in the Senate Chamber is a novel illustration of the ferocious Southern spirit. It carries home to myriads of understandings a more vivid, if not a wholly original perception, of the degradation in which the Free States have consented for years to exist. The degradation was as real years ago, but never before so palpable as now. When a citizen of a Northern State so thoroughly subservient to the Slave Power as Edward Everett could be opposed in the Senate and well nigh rejected as Minister to England, because he had once, under the pressure of a strong local feeling, avowed, as a candidate for Congress, some abstract opposition to Slavery, it was high time for the North to unite in declaring that this sort of inquisition must be stopped -- that, so long as devotion to Slavery was not made a barrier to Executive station, devotion to Freedom should not be. But the North has always lacked manly self-assertion, especially in the Senate, where a majority of her seminal representatives voted, only a few weeks since, to kick out the petition of Free Kansas for admission, on some paltry pretext of informality, and surrender her citizens to the unchecked brutalities and inflamed indignation of the Border Ruffians.

The beating of private citizens or the butchery of Irish waiters by the Southern Oligarchy, have made no impression on the public mind at all comparable in breadth or vividness with that which has been and will be produced by the assault of which Mr. Sumner has been the victim. Widely known in both hemispheres as among the first of American scholars and orators, his career as a Senator has conferred renown even on the glorious commonwealth of which he is the foremost representative. Elected as the champion of no interest, no clique, no party, but simply of the great idea of Impartial Freedom, he has been eminently faithful to his high calling. Nobody could infer from his votes or speeches that he was ever, in the party sense, a Whig or a Democrat; but no one can doubt that he is an earnest and fearless contemner of Slavery. But four years in public life, he has already done much to redeem the term Abolitionist from the unmerited odium which an age of baseness, self-seeking and infidelity to Revolutionary tradition and Republican principle has contrived to cast upon it. He has elevated the range and widened the scope of Senatorial debate, summoning Poetry and Literature to the elucidation of the gravest and dryest political propositions, while by careful preparation and a finished oratory he has attracted thousands to hear and to consider elemental truths with the enunciation of which the corrupt and servile atmosphere of the Federal metropolis has been agitated far too seldom. There is no man now living who within the last five years has rendered the American People greater service or won for himself a nobler fame than Charles Sumner.

It is high time that this People should take a stand not only against the immediate perpetrators of ruffian assaults but against their confederates and apologists in public life and in the Press. As long as words sincerely spoken can be pleaded as an apology for blows, we shall be regarded by impartial observers as barbarians -- and justly so regarded. So long as our truly civilized and refined communities succumb to the rule of the barbarian elements in our political system, we must be judged by the character and conduct of our accepted masters. The youth trained to knock down his human chattels for "insolence" -- that is, for any sort of resistance to his good pleasure -- will thereafter knock down and beat other human beings who thwart his wishes -- no matter whether they be Irish waiters or New England Senators. Once admit the idea of the predominance of brute force -- of the right of individual appeal from words to blows -- and human society becomes a state of war, diversified by interludes of fitful and hollow truce. And they who, as legislators, editors, public speakers, or in whatever capacity, suggest apologies for ruffian assaults, or intimate that words can excuse them, make themselves partners in the crime and the infamy.


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