Sumner, Charles

Life Span
    Full name
    Charles Sumner
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Free State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    Charles Pinckney Sumner (father), Relief Jacob (mother), Alice Mason Hooper (wife)
    Other Education
    Boston Latin School
    Attorney or Judge
    Political Parties
    Free Soil
    Other Affiliations
    Abolitionists (Anti-Slavery Society)
    US Senate
    Occupation in 1860
    U.S. Senator
    Residence in 1860

    Charles Sumner, Free Soil Party (American National Biography)

    By 1848 the United States had seized vast new western territories from Mexico, leading Sumner and his faction to join with the Liberty party and northern antislavery Democrats to create the new Free Soil party. In so doing Sumner never hesitated in attacking former friends, whom he said supported the slave power in an alliance between "the lords of the lash and the lords of the loom." Such attacks were fast becoming a Sumner trademark, as he spared no one who opposed his goals. The young reformer did not confine his concern for racial justice to territorial slavery. In 1849 he argued in court for the integration of Boston's public schools and, while losing his case, presented arguments for social change far in advance of his times.

    Participation in the Free Soil movement gave Sumner his first taste of political prominence, which he quickly utilized to secure public office. In a skillful political maneuver in 1851, Massachusetts Free Soilers formed a coalition in the state legislature with Democrats and secured Sumner's election to the U.S. Senate. Thus began his long tenure as an outspoken reformer in Congress.
    Frederick J. Blue, "Sumner, Charles," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    Charles Sumner, Civil War & Slavery (American National Biography)

    For Sumner the Civil War presented the opportunity to free the slaves, and he became one of the first members of Congress to urge abolition. He worked for the next eighteen months to persuade President Abraham Lincoln. During that time he skillfully pushed legislation that weakened slavery in numerous small ways, as he successfully prepared public opinion to accept black freedom. Clearly he was among the most important of those who influenced Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. So, too, he helped convince Lincoln of the wisdom and justice of allowing blacks to join Union armies against the Confederacy in behalf of their own freedom.
    Frederick J. Blue, "Sumner, Charles," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    Charles Sumner (Congressional Biographical Directory)

    SUMNER, Charles, a Senator from Massachusetts; born in Boston, Mass., January 6, 1811; attended the Boston Latin School; graduated from Harvard University in 1830 and from the Harvard Law School in 1833; admitted to the bar the following year and commenced the practice of law in Boston, Mass.; lectured at the Harvard Law School 1836-1837; traveled extensively in Europe 1837-1840; declined the Whig nomination in 1846 for election to the Thirtieth Congress; one of the founders of the Free Soil Party in 1848; unsuccessful candidate for election in 1848 on the Free Soil ticket to the Thirty-first Congress; elected to the United States Senate in 1851 as a Free Soiler; reelected as a Republican in 1857, 1863, and 1869 and served from April 24, 1851, until his death; in response to his “Crime Against Kansas” speech, was assaulted by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on May 22, 1856, while in his seat in the Senate, and was absent on account of injuries received until December 1859; chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations (Thirty-seventh through Forty-first Congresses), Committee on Privileges and Elections (Forty-second Congress); removed as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations in 1871 as a result of differences with President Ulysses S. Grant over policy in Santo Domingo; died in Washington, D.C., March 11, 1874; lay in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, March 13, 1874; interment in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.
    “Sumner, Charles,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present,

    Caning of Sumner (Boyer, 2008)

    On the day before the sack of Lawrence, Republican senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts delivered a bombastic and wrathful speech, "The Crime Against Kansas," in which he verbally whipped most of the U.S. Senate for complicity in slavery. Sumner singled out Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina…Two days later, a relative of Butler, Democratic representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina, strode into the Senate chamber, found Sumner at his desk, and struck him repeatedly with a cane. The hollow can broke after five or six blows, but Sumner required stitches, experienced shock, and did not return to the Senate for three years. Brooks became an instant hero in the South, and the fragments of his weapon were "begged as sacred relics." A new cane, presented to Brooks by the city of Charleston, bore the inscription "Hit him again."
    Paul S. Boyer, et al., eds., The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People, 6th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), 409.
    Date Title
    Abraham Lincoln's Speech at Springfield, Illinois, June 10, 1856
    New York Herald, "Our Boston Correspondance," July 26, 1856
    Richmond (VA) Dispatch, "A Case in Point," January 3, 1857
    New York Times, "The Re-election of Mr. Sumner," January 13, 1857
    New York Times, “The Charleston Press on the Death of Preston S. Brooks,” February 4, 1857
    New York Times, “Mr. Marcy on the Sumner Assault,” September 2, 1857
    Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “Revival of the Whig Party,” November 8, 1858
    New York Times, “A Democratic Dove from Georgia,” July 16, 1859
    Baltimore (MD) Sun, "More Harper's Ferry Disclosures," October 28, 1859
    Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer, "Tenderly Sensitive," November 3, 1859
    Boston (MA) Liberator, "Bad News for the Abolitionists," November 11, 1859
    New York Herald, “Seward Nominated for the Presidency by the Abolitionists,” December 25, 1859
    New York Times, “The Senatorial Inquisition,” February 11, 1860
    New York Times, “Manufacturing Martyrs,” February 16, 1860
    Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “Sumner’s Speech,” June 8, 1860
    (Jackson) Mississippian, “Black Republicanism Defined,” July 25, 1860
    Cleveland (OH) Herald, “Who Began It?,” September 21, 1860
    New York Herald, “Helper and His Black Republican Endorsers,” October 28, 1860
    Fayetteville (NC) Observer, “Brooks and Sumner,” December 6, 1860
    Richmond (VA) Dispatch, “New European Views of the South,” May 17, 1861
    New York National Anti-Slavery Standard, "Speech of Rev. M.D. Conway," August 9, 1862
    "The President's Speech - The Question of Reconstruction," New York Times, April 13, 1865
    George Alfred Townsend, "The Obsequies in Washington," April 19, 1865
    Philadelphia (PA) North American, "Reception of Colored Troops," November 15, 1865
    Joseph S. Ingraham to Andrew Johnson, Bangor, Maine, February 8, 1866
    Andrew Johnson, Speech before Washington's Birthday Meeting, Washington, D.C., February 22, 1866
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Blue, Frederick J. “The Poet and the Reformer: Longfellow, Sumner, and the Bonds of Male Friendship.” Journal of the Early Republic 15 (1995): 273-297. view record
    Blue, Frederick J. Charles Sumner and the Conscience of the North. Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1994. view record
    Donald, David Herbert. Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War. New York: Knopf, 1960. view record
    Donald, David Herbert. Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man. New York: Knopf, 1970. view record
    Gienapp, William E. "Crime Against Sumner: The Caning of Charles Sumner and the Rise of the Republican Party." Civil War History 25, no. 3 (1979): 218-245. view record
    Harsha, David Addison. The Life of Charles Sumner. New York: Dayton & Burdick, 1856. view record
    Sinha, Manisha. "The Caning of Charles Sumner: Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War." Journal of the Early Republic 23, no. 2 (Summer 2003), 233-262. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Sumner, Charles," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,