The American Whigs: An Anthology

By Daniel Walker Howe | Go to book overview
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Charles Sumner


The remaining selections all deal with the sectional controversy over slavery that disrupted the Union and permanently destroyed the Whig party. As the party which had emphasized both national unity and national morality, the Whigs were torn apart by an issue that seemed to force them to choose one or the other.

Charles Sumner ( 1811- 1874) was one of America's most courageous and principled statesmen. He turned his back on a lucrative Boston law practice to take up the banner of reform. He fought to improve conditions in prisons and to promote the cause of peace. As the following speech indicates, he belonged to the antislavery wing of the Whig party, the "Conscience" Whigs. Disappointed by the refusal of Webster and other prominent party members to take the strong stand against slavery here demanded, Sumner left the Whigs in 1848 to support the Free Soil movement. A United States senator from 1851 until his death, Sumner proved himself a consistent opponent of slavery and advocate of rights for the emancipated blacks. On a famous occasion in 1856 he was savagely clubbed on the Senate floor by a South Carolina congressman who crept up behind him while he was sitting at his desk.


Grateful for the honor done me in this early call to address the convention, I shall endeavor to speak with sincerity and frankness on the duties of the Whig party....

I am happy that the convention is convoked in Faneuil Hall -- a place vocal with inspiring accents.... Whigs of Massachusetts, in


SOURCE. Charles Sumner, "Antislavery Duties of the Whig Party. Speech at the Whig State Convention of Massachusetts, in Faneuil Hall, Boston, September 23, 1846," Works( Boston, 1870), I, 304-316.


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