Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Analysis to Or The Me Chanical >> Sumner_P1


law, charles, slavery, boston, months, spent, washington and politics

Page: 1 2 3 4

SUMNER, Charles, American statesman: b. Boston, 6 Jan. 1811i d. Washington, D. C., 11 March 1874. His family was English in origin, Charles being a descendant in the seventh gen eration from William, who came to America about 1635 and settled at Dorchester, Mass. The Sumners lived in the same vicinity for the next 200 years and more, generally as farm ers. The father, Charles Pinckney Sumner (b. 1776; d. 1839), graduated from Harvard in 1796. He was a lawyer, was married to Relief Jacob of Hanover, N. H., in 1810 and had nine children, of whom Charles was the eldest. The father took an active interest in politics, was clerk of the Massachusetts House of Repre sentatives in 1806-07 and 1810-11 and from 1825 to 1839 was sheriff of Suffolk County. He was interested in the temperance movement and was strongly anti-slavery in feeling. He was fond of books, conscientious, earnest, grave and stern. It was not strange, then, that he brought up his son in the old Puritan style and the latter's career shows that he was greatly influenced by his father's training, views and character.

Charles was educated at the famous Boston Latin School, having as schoolmates Robert C. Winthrop and Wendell Phillips. His tastes were those of the scholar and he read widely and became proficient in the classics. He en tered Harvard College in 1826, where he con tinued to excel in the classics, but also devoted much time to history and literature and per fected himself in oratory or I decl aiming' After a year spent in private study and diligent attendance on the lectures and orations of the great Boston orators, Webster, Everett, Choate and Charming, he entered the Harvard Law School in 1831 and received the personal at tention and teaching of Judge Story, an old friend of Sumner's father. His plan of study was thus described in a letter to a friend: 'Six hours, namely, the forenoon, wholly and solely to law ; afternoon, classics; evening, his tory. subjects collateral and assistant to law, etc. Recreation must not be found in idleness or loose reading!' In January 1834 he entered the law office of Benjamin' Rand in Boston. In February he made a journey to Washington, where he received his first impressions of slav ery in the South. His first subscription for a newspaper was for Garrison's Liberator. While in Washington he heard Webster, Clay and Calhoun speak in the Senate, but he still thought he preferred law to politics. During the next three years, 1834-36, he practised law in Bos ton, but without remarkable success. His argu

ments were in the nature of learned essays rather than forcible presentations of the case in a manner to convince juries.

In 1837 he went abroad and spent three years traveling in France, England, Italy and Ger many. In Paris, where he lived five months, attended university lectures, visited the mu scums, galleries and historic places, attended the Chamber of Deputies and law courts, went into society and met many eminent persons. He next spent 10 months in England and met the famous men of the day, Carlyle, Words worth, Macaulay, etc. In Italy he studied Italian literature. Then he spent several months in Germany and finally returned to America in May 1840. His foreign travel un fitted him for his chosen profession, to some extent, and still further intensified his longings for the scholar's career.

During his absence abroad the slavery ques tion had become a burning issue, though up to this time he had but slight interest in politics or in the great public questions of the period. From 1841, however, his letters commence to show evidence of more positive views on the slavery question and more determination to oppose the further spread and influence of this institution. His humanitarianism showed itself in his interest in popular education and in the support of Horace Mann, in the work for the blind, in that for the improvement of prison discipline and in his opposition to war under all circumstances. In 1843 he commenced to write against slavery, and contended, in oppo sition to many, that it was a national rather than merely a local evil: that the nation was responsible and that it might to a large extent remove the evil by abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia and in the Territories, by compelling the rendition of fugitive slaves, by preventing the slave trade, by remedying the laws of slave States which abridged the right of free negroes in free States, by stip ulating the conditions of admitting new States and by amending the Constitution so as to abolish slavery. Sumner made his real debut in public life by a Fourth of July oration in Boston, 1845, on the oTrue Grandeur of Na tions,' in which he bitterly denounced wars of all kinds as dishonorable. Four months later he made his first anti-slavery speech at a meeting in Faneuil Hall to protest against the annexation of Texas.

Page: 1 2 3 4