Name:  Charles Sumner

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Born:  January 6, 1811
Died:  March 11, 1874
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Charles Sumner was a prominent U.S. senator (1851-1874) from Massachusetts and a vociferous anti-slavery leader, who became a martyr to the abolitionist cause when he suffered a vicious attack on the floor of the Senate. Sumner was a graduate of Harvard University (1830) and Harvard Law School (1833). In 1848 he helped found the Free-Soil party and ran unsuccessfully for Congress. In 1851 he was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Free-Soiler and reelected in 1857 as a Republican.

During a Senate debate in 1856 on the fate of slavery in the Kansas Territory, Sumner delivered a stinging "Crime Against Kansas" speech in which he denounced the Southern "slave power" and singled out fellow Senator Andrew Butler for particular disparagement. In retaliation, U.S. Representative Preston Brooks, Butlerís nephew, bludgeoned Sumner with a cane while the Senator was seated at his desk on the floor of the Senate chamber. The injuries Sumner sustained caused him to be absent from the Senate for four years. Butlerís actions were celebrated throughout the South for upholding the honor of his uncle against a rapid abolitionist, while Sumner became a hero in the North for bearing the assault of a barbaric pro-slavery Southerner.

During the Civil War, Sumner advocated emancipation and civil rights for black Americans. During Reconstruction he sided with the Radical Republicans, and in 1872 he became a leader in the Liberal Republican movement.

Source consulted:Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.











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