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Title: Senatorial Character - A Sermon in West Church, Boston, Sunday, 15th of March, - After the Decease of Charles Sumner.
Author: Bartol, C. A. (Cyrus Augustus), 1813-1900
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Senatorial Character - A Sermon in West Church, Boston, Sunday, 15th of March, - After the Decease of Charles Sumner." ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

produced from scanned images of public domain material

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    | Transcriber's Note:                                         |
    | The last sentence of the first paragraph on page 9 is       |
    | likely missing text. A consultation of another source has   |
    | the same content.                                           |
    |                                                             |
    | On page 15, the word cotemporary, meaning "One who lives    |
    | at the same time with another; a contemporary", is correct. |
    |                                                             |

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"_He made him to teach his senators wisdom._"--Psalms cv, 21, 22.

The common theory of the pulpit is of a place devoted to expound some
old situation, abstract scheme of salvation, or article in a creed. It
has a higher end,--to give the meaning of the scenes of real life, in
which we observe the actors and play ourselves a part. If history be
philosophy teaching by example, and of all history biography be the
soul, then human character, when rare and conspicuous in its traits or
achievements, gives as pattern or warning the chief lesson. Christian
edification comes less signally from hair-splitting, dogmatic
distinction than from contemplating for imitation or admonition the
lives of Enoch and Solomon, Paul and Peter, Jesus and John. So I take
to-day the death of the most eminent civilian of Massachusetts for my

As the King in Egypt chose Joseph to teach his senators wisdom, no man
of late years has equalled Charles Sumner as an instructor or
influence in the Senate of the United States.

An instinct of nature prompts us to make some account and sum up the
significance of any one's career, privately, on the domestic stage,
or before the people, if he has challenged attention in a larger

It may be useful to make some discriminating estimate of Mr. Sumner's
contributions to the public good, the legislature of a free State in a
great Union being the monarch that for so long a period continued to
elect him to his high office.

However opinions may differ of his prudence or ability, the weight of
his word or importance of his position none will doubt.

Our messenger of the lightning had no greater task this last week in
the world than to wait at his threshold and run with news every hour
over the wires of his estate.

His principal peers at his bedside and his colored clients flocking
for inquiry at his door showed a feeling of love and sympathy reaching
from the highest to the lowest class.

In culture he was a match for nobles, in temper he was a champion of
the oppressed and friend to the poor.

I suppose no American name is more widely known and celebrated in all
civilized lands.

Great Britain and France will feel the shock of his decease.

That one of our political pillars has fallen will be known at the
Court of St. Petersburg and among the counsellors of Berlin.

Italy and Spain, with their Republican struggles and aims, will miss
an advocate on this side the sea.

Castelar will mourn the departure of a companion in arms in the
peaceful battles of reform, as Cavour might have felt through the
cable from him for emancipation an electric touch.

South America, with her strange mixture of barbarism with liberation,
will be conscious of owing some honor to the obsequies of a
sympathizer with all that is generous in her aspirations.

Hayti will deplore the decease of a supporter of her rights more
powerful than any on her own shores.

A flutter of pain and sorrow will pass through that whole flock of
islands alighted, as in the great harbor of our land, betwixt the Gulf
of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

So it will be because not only a man, a citizen of the Commonwealth
and foremost trustee in the Congress of the country, but a cosmopolite
is dead, deserving that name as truly as any man who, since the
settlement of these colonies, has lived within their bounds.

What is the reason of the wide consequence of this event?

Not in the man's extraordinary original power.

Nature did not intend aught intellectually pre-eminent in his

It had no organic strength to strike out new paths in action or

It fell into ways other agents had broken.

Mr. Sumner was not even an aboriginal abolitionist; he joined and did
yeoman's service in the antislavery ranks.

He startled the soldiers, twenty-nine years ago, in Boston, with his
extreme doctrine of peace; but he followed Ladd and others, with
copious illustration, but no new sentiment or novel idea.

Of origination there is no speck in his reflections or spark in his

His mind is parasitical, his discourse full of precedents, quotations,
classic scenes, and historic allusions, sometimes savoring of
schoolboy recitations, sophomoric and declamatory, stilted and
grotesque. Yet he is in the list of wonderful men. Others thought and
he was led to fancy some resemblance in his feature and person to
Edmund Burke, which the portrait of Mr. Burke might actually suggest;
but this resemblance to the great English Commoner was but skin-deep,
with little hint of the deep sea line that fathomed every question, or
the impassioned imagination which cast the light of flame on every
measure, and kindled with magnetic sympathy, against the French
Revolution and for American privilege, now one and now another portion
of the British realm.

Mr. Sumner was perhaps a greater lover of freedom in its principle as
an inherent right and claim of all mankind than Mr. Burke; but Burke
had pre-eminent genius in politics, Sumner only accomplished talent,
though in the later light of a more humane era put to service in a
grander cause.

Shakespeare, Milton, Bacon, Newton, Burke, William Blake: such would
be our shining classification for poetry, philosophy, science,
politics, art, in the mother land.

But for native force we should think of many persons before Sumner in
his own field of study and pursuit.

He had not the majestic sweep of Webster, the weight or heat of that
mountain with its base of granite and flame, the fiery eloquence of
Clay, the close grip of John Quincy Adams in argument, or the subtile
felicity and gleam of primary perception which William Henry Seward
brought for the enlivening of debate.

He never could have invented the New-Yorker's phrase of _The
Irrepressible Conflict_ as applied to the Free and Slave States, or
the Illinoisian Abraham Lincoln's grander adaptation of Scripture,--_A
house divided against itself cannot stand: I do not expect the house
to fall, but to cease to be divided._

Mr. Sumner quoted abundantly, but he is not for any rhetorical merits
or ideal inventions in the whole range of his voluminous works
quotable, however rich in his right to be cited for the spirit and
design on every page.

He stands not strong among men of strength, thinkers and benefactors
at first hand, germinators of thought and heroism in the van of the
race,--such as bear the stamp of a primitive and primeval energy, like
Abraham, Noah, Moses, David and Paul, Buddha and Mohammed, Socrates
and Plato, in the East; Garrison and John Brown among ourselves.

He was an orator of the conceptions of his predecessors and superiors,
an arguer of the case, a sheriff to execute a writ.

One name I do not mention in this comparison, because, being neither
ancient nor modern, it is greatest of all.

But if his were a secondary mind, a vine round a stouter trunk, how
like some such creeper it towered and grew, appropriated nourishment
and vigor from the old decaying boughs, till at length, with superior
toughness and tenacity, it could breast every breeze, and stood
proudly alone!

Yet his understanding was that not of the revealer, but the scholar to
the last. He imparted what he learned; he knew what he had been told.
His delivery was not, like Patrick Henry's, a bolt from Heaven to rend
the obstacle and burn up opposition, but a crystal stream flowing
smoothly from some rock that had garnered up the mountain-dew and the
rain; and he completely informed if he did not like Fisher Ames
irresistibly charm.

But in the moral region lay the real greatness of the man. His
conscience was original and he had no original sin.

No imputation on his purpose but cleared away like the cloud from a
breath on spotless steel, leaving the metal bright as before.

He was as incorruptible as he honorably said to me was Fessenden, his
great rival in the Senate; and when he also one day, speaking of his
limited means, remarked: "I have never had the art to get my hands
into the Treasury," I was fain to answer, "You the whole man are in
the Treasury yourself." He was indeed in our politics a fund and
never-broken bank of moral wealth. Justice was his inspiration. He was
a prophet by equity. Righteousness was his genius; and humanity, in
any lack of imagination, his insight and foresight. He was without
spot. He wore ermine though he sat not on the bench. John Jay had not
cleaner hands, nor John Marshall a more honest will; Hamilton and
Jefferson were no more patriotic in contending than he in every legal
or congressional strife; and Story, his favorite teacher, and whose
favorite pupil he was, no more opulent in knowledge or innocent in its

As an antagonist, handling questions of motive or policy, he was as
frank as the lion-hearted Richard and simple as a child.

From those early debates to which I listened, on prison discipline,
thirty years ago, to his latest speech on the Centennial Exhibition,
this candor, amounting to generosity and magnanimity, was plain as the

He had no tricks, no management, no intrigue. He showed his hand.

Could he not prevail by openness and sincerity, he would not prevail
at all.

If he started no new ideas or measures that have been adopted
precisely in the way he conceived, or shape he gave, he mightily
sustained all good ones, and of their goodness he would not abate a

Of this rectitude benignity was the crown. Sternly exposing what he
thought mean or unworthy in any proceeding or adversary, his severity
was in his argument and rhetoric rather than in the feeling of his
soul. Without a sweet disposition no man could have had such a smile.
Without some grandeur of design no man ever displayed such a
countenance and port, handsome and sublime. In his intentness and
earnestness, he did not suspect the liability of his expressions to
the charge of a vindictiveness he was unconscious of in his own
breast. It was like a philippic of Demosthenes; it was a Ciceronian
oration against some Catiline, real or supposed. A poetic sort of
revenge was all he meant to take, although his language to opponents,
whom perhaps he sometimes mistook, may be subject to blame. Pity he
was so devoid of humor to recommend or soften his strokes!

His old peace doctrine, doubtless, mainly prompted his battle-flag
resolution, while the time of offering it and his nearly
contemporaneous break with his party seemed to betray an unfair and
personal bias of which he was unaware.

Sensible of his great and long importance to the government, an
egoistic, assuming, imperious, irascible inclination may to some have
appeared to be disclosed; but he ingenuously felt he had a title to be
consulted and that it was a slight and insult to set him aside. Let
the administration that refused him as an instrument beware lest it
become a hammer in the hands of inferior men, whose success will be
suicide, and itself the tool! This may an inspiration from his coffin
prevent! Massachusetts has honored herself at least as much as she did
her son, and cast from yonder halls one ray of comfort on his seat in
the Senate and on his death-bed in rescinding the censure on his
course; for his memory is among her trophies,--no banner more so that
hangs beneath the cupola above the marble floor,--and she is the
inheritor of his renown; for if "Providence made Washington childless
that the country might call him father," Sumner is without offspring
that the State may be his mourner.

This freedom from all selfish heat or hate, one distinction of the
statesman from the politician, is a trait too rare to pass without
emphasis and applause.

An example, indeed, to the ordinary run of village contrivers, caucus
packers, and municipal aspirants, of a man who never pulled a wire,
rolled a log, laid a pipe, listened in a lobby, whispered in the ear
what might not be proclaimed on the house-top, held a man by the
button, or blew any trumpet but of the public good, however in his
magnificent self-respect he might be falsely accused of wishing to
blow only his own!

If a jealous personal honor ever had apology or excuse, it was how
ample and entire in the case of a man--the only one in our
annals--appointed to wear the shining crown of martyrdom before his
translation, to get up out of his own blood and recover from the foul
assassin's bludgeon after medical tortures of the surgeon's moxa in
combustion on his disabled spine, such as Sequard says he never
applied to any other living creature.[A]

So he rose to bear the same unflinching testimony, no more groaning
under the fire of reproach than of the burning cotton; and if proud of
his position, with perfect consistency modest too.

I did not and at this distance of cooling time do not approve all the
phraseology he employed on that senatorial occasion; but his weapons
were words, and, however rough and affronting, for the right: those of
his foes, equally gross and injurious, were for the wrong; and the
assault of brutal force came to disturb the equation, in violation of
all parliamentary privilege, with Douglas and his piratical compeers,
with ill-disguised pleasure and half-pretended unconcern, looking on
their own ignominy, crime, and shame, while the martyr that all but,
yet not quite, expired, after years of suffering comes back, a
resurrection witness not disposed of, and the assailant and would-be
executioner dies long first, in Northern and Southern disgrace and his
own remorse.

At the same height with Milton in his blindness, Sumner, with his torn
and aching nerves, like a soldier who will not leave the field for
loss of blood, resumed the conflict, struggling with disappointment
and sorrow in age and loneliness, still moving ever immediately
against all the powers of evil and works of the devil, his white
plume, like that of the French Prince he quoted, floating ever ahead
to follow; like ex-President, Representative Adams, in his armor to
the very edge and last of earth, like Buckle, talking in his agony of
his book, and commending to survivors in Congress his beloved Civil
Rights' Bill, dealing out well-directed blows for his race of every
color and tribe till the instant the final stroke came to cut body and
spirit apart. Truly, the halo of angelic glory hangs not only around
the heads of dead saints! Such a man might be tempted to claim the
honor of his fellow-men, and a lofty self-esteem and aspiration to the
highest dignities hardly misbecame him, who, like Cato, was wrapped in
conscious integrity, and established in the respect of all
praiseworthy persons such a place. After the famous eulogy in his Phi
Beta Kappa oration, of Pickering, Story, Allston, and Channing, the
toast of John Quincy Adams was: "The memory of the scholar, jurist,
artist, and divine,--and not the memory, but the long life of the
kindred genius that has embalmed them all." Yet it has come for him
also to a memory, and a noble one now.

As a humble cotemporary I copy not others' impressions, but simply set
down my own. Among his associates, the fault commonly found with
Sumner is not that he was implacable--none easier to propitiate--but
impracticable; not an idealist, but ideologist and doctrinary dreamer
of a peace and freedom on earth which he put into no effective and
satisfactory form; for ten thousand besides him recommended the
Emancipation, which John Quincy Adams held justifiable as a war
measure, and Lincoln proclaimed.

But though the greatness of rulers and social founders is in what they
establish and bring to pass, yet in default of this rare achievement,
which happens seldom in the course of ages to any man, a certain
impracticability is in others in many exigencies a blessing to be
thankful for, a virtue to applaud. In the collisions of interest with
principle are plenty to trim, compromise, and compound as oligarchs or
demagogues bid; but as the merit of some substances is the lack of
ductility, so how oft we must lean on unmalleable men, whose back-bone
is not supple as a universal joint, who will not "crook the pregnant
hinges of the knee where thrift may follow fawning," and who, in a
noble discontent with all yet undertaken or done, summon to worthier
performance towards never-attained perfection in betterment of the
common lot. Mr. Rubinstein was displeased with the preacher who said,
"Men must be expected to do no more than they can." "No," said the
artist, "that doctrine letting down the standard is worse than actual
vice. We can forgive the last, not the first!" Men must do the
_impossible_,--a word which Napoleon told his officer was beastly,
never to be spoken, and in his dictionary not found. "With God all
things are possible," and that means possible to whoever works with
Him. Said the pianist to his pupils, "If you do not expect or intend
to write finer music than Beethoven, you have no business to compose
at all." Mr. Sumner aimed at the sun; and the feeling of philanthropic
duty with which he stirred the body politic out of the custom of
chronic oppression and old habit of wrong was of more precious
consequence than carrying any particular scheme. With this
earnestness, that would not stop short of improving the world, I was
struck in my last conversation with him on the threatened Spanish war.
If he did not interest or magnetize everybody, all individuals, like
Crittenden or Clay, few cared more for their kind; and this broad
benevolence, as well as special affection, lays hold on immortality.
Who shall say such as Agassiz and Sumner are dead? "A great man has
fallen," said my friend: no, a good man has risen.

Death brings simplicity and reality. As it approaches, learning and
philosophy go; goodness and conscience are left, the last guests in
the feast of life at the table of the heart. In Sumner the
_sentiment_, foremost always, blooms at the pillow where last he laid,
"so tired and weary," his head; and sentiment, as well as science, has
eternal claim. He extends courtesy to callers, opens his eye while it
could open, waves his hand while it had strength to move, says _Sit
down_ to his old associate, tries to speak when the lips no longer
obey the will, and sends a legacy of love and reverence more precious
than any gold to his old friend. _Cold_ was he indeed?

For his noble affections, how we shall remember the solitary and
little-related man, with no children, when he was sad, to play with in
his house! His thirst for knowledge, his bent to investigate and study
whatever had been said and done in the world, would have made him an
antiquarian save for his patriotic and humanitarian zeal.

What a lover and knower he was of pictures, bronzes, manuscripts, old
books, curious relics of the past, all memorials in all time of his
fellow-men! Such research is a sort of humanity. Yet no man's
sympathies were more in the present than his, or more eager to
stretch after a perfected civilization in the future.

Indeed, the millennial day shone so upon him through the vista of hope
as to dazzle and blind him, like Saul on the road to Damascus, to the
immediate possibilities of action and direct bearings of his theme.

If there were any defect in his style, it was a certain lack of
proportion, or an exceeding uniform stress, a straining forward
against the leash of irrefragable circumstance, till in the ardor of
pursuit the perspective of the subject was lost.

But whatever might be the lesser vices, the great virtues were in his
judgment and thought.

He was an admirable inciter. How we needed incentives! He hallooed to
a grander chase than any huntsman's. He was the Lamartine of America,
_our_ orator of the human race. The Senate floor was to him a popular
rostrum and sacred stump. He advocated every great cause if he found
the key of none.

He roused England and the United States, kindling into white heat,
like dry wood, after such long seasoning, the Alabama difficulties,
and compelling an attention which doubtless was good for both parties,
although his extravagant statement of the doctrine of consequential
damages could not settle the question, and failed of the seal and
sanction of international law. More human than divine, his
inspiration came from without rather than from within. The first time
I saw him, forty years ago, with the same characteristic ornate and
fervent language, and garnish of Latin references, he elucidated to me
the difference between a pettifogger or litigious searcher for
cases--a _præco actionum_ as he called him--and a jurist of the Judge
Story stamp.

Already he saw in faith the career for which he turned aside from
every flattering offer that would divert him, conscious of superior
ability to serve at the highest posts to which Democrat joined hands
with Free Soiler to lead. Strange that the seemingly accidental, shall
I say insincere, vote of a coalition should have furnished the most
distinguished and perhaps longest continued Senator of the land!

His empty chair on the Senate floor, drew, last week, at the
obsequies, the spectators' eyes.

But it was unoccupied that he might fill a higher seat prepared,
waiting for, and needing, not the undying part but the everlasting
whole; for we are not _whole_ till we drop our dust! Three
funeral-sensations, I remember,--of Webster, the man of power,
Lincoln, the man of providence, and Sumner, as I delight to call him,
the man of purity.

If the shadow of no demise ever brooded over this region as a huge
pall, a black sheet let down from the sky, like that of the great
New-Englander; and if no public sorrow in our day and generation was
ever keener than when the martyr-president gave up the ghost at the
revengeful stroke of the monster of political slavery, expiring, like
a leviathan, under his hand; never was a more genuine tribute than
will be laid on the Senator's tomb, or a completer satisfaction in an
ended testimony and finished work, whatever part he left for us to
finish. Several years ago, forced by illness away from the theatre of
public duties and affairs into a country refuge, as the sounds came
softened by distance from the arena at the capitol where the
combatants struggled together, however pleasantly fell the counsels of
moderation and prudence on my ear, I recognized the clarion of Sumner,
urging to absolute truth and honor, and, far or near, resounding above
them all.

Here was a man that could not bend or yield, alloy or qualify,
surrender or retreat. Here was an incorruptibility proof against
bribes, and too original in legislatives halls, an originality, if not
of suggestion yet of heroic act. Here was an obstinacy not of will,
but idea; for ideas are more obstinate than any human will in the
world. Here was a necessity not of whim but duty, such as was laid on
the great apostle to the Gentiles to preach the Gospel, and drove
Luther to the Diet of Worms. I aim at simple truth as I speak. Such
stubbornness will surely accomplish great results and always fetch an
echo from the human breast. I abstain from overstatement. Love must
not falsify or exaggerate. It is no compliment to exalt another by
belying ourselves. Our friend belongs to history now; and the
offerings of a discriminating respect are part of its material. I must
think of him less as hewn by the Divinity than carving himself. Like
one of the straws a swallow bears to build its nest, let my poor word
go to the fashioning by many hands, of the niche of his fame. His head
had its limits; but there was no outside to his heart! The great man's
servant, secretary, keeper of his house, farmer of his estate, has
something valuable to say of him; and the humblest coeval's
contribution will not be refused or despised. Voicing the feeling of
no party, for him or against, I but touch the ground of that secret
respect to his character and aim which not only favorers but foes are
constrained, unitedly, unanimously, instinctively, to pay.

    "Little heeds he what is said;
    They have done with all below;"

Such were the commonplaces of the old theology founded on the notion
of a senseless rest of the dead, or their departure to an infinite
distance from our earthly abode. But we reconsider such views. He, who
was so sensitive to his fellow-citizens' regard, can hardly be
insensible now, or unconscious of our sincere honor. I would speak as
in his presence and to his ear! His clear voice will be no longer
heard in our assemblies, or his commanding form cast its welcome
shadow through our streets.

But the moral stature, with which, as in mental height, he transcended
the common sons of men, shall be seen and felt.

Nor can the recollection for ages pass how, as a brave knight, with
superb courage, horsed on ideas for the saving of the land, he flung
defiance from boldness unsurpassed at the giant wrong,--that dragon
and old serpent, the form Satan took for us, the _Barbarism of
Slavery_, and _Slavery sectional not national_, as he entitled the
greatest speeches he made. His somewhat artificial manner, method, and
phrase only clothed or cloaked an indigenous force of conscience,
which was a piece of nature, a divine monolith or monogram, if his
intellect were not. His meaning no man, white or black, in the land
doubted or could misunderstand.

If his forensic efforts had been to a nice taste better in some
respects, the improvement might have made them in others for general
effect worse or of less effect. They were at least faithfully prepared
from a width of observation and stock of information seldom equalled,
and set forth with a consecutive order of formal logic worthy of a
master in the schools.

Twice has been his conspicuous entry into this town: first, after he
was outraged for his freedom of utterance in his place; next,
yesterday, in whatever connection the spirit may have with the
forsaken robe which it cannot desert or lose all feeling for at once.

How, but as a man of principle, shall he stand for-ever in our memory
and in the human mind? Let his name, like that of Washington, be a
lasting rebuke to venality, selfish ambition, bribery, and all
political intrigue! He is one more added to the band of blessed bigots
which, wiser than any conformists, all our pilgrim fathers were.

"You can rest soon," he said to the familiar friend and companion in
clerkly labor who was rubbing the hands fast growing cold in death. No
chafing can restore what turns to the clay of which it was made. The
flowers you form into his name will fade, but to cherish his honor we
will never cease. Let his body be "buried in peace: his name liveth

       *       *       *       *       *


[A] "Will chloroform make the operation less beneficial?" he asked. "I
could not lie," said the Doctor, "and said, Yes."--"Then I will not
take it," he replied.

       *       *       *       *       *

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