Charles Sumner.

National affairs at home and abroad. Speech of Hon. Charles Sumner at the annual convention of the Republican Party of Massachusetts, held at Worcester, September 22, 1869 (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryCharles SumnerNational affairs at home and abroad. Speech of Hon. Charles Sumner at the annual convention of the Republican Party of Massachusetts, held at Worcester, September 22, 1869 (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 3)
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National Affairs at Home and Abroad.





Mr. Sumner was selected as President of the Convention. On talking the Chair he
spoke as follows : —

Fellow-Citizens of Massachusetts : — While thanking you for the honor con-
ferred upon me, I make haste to say that, in my judgment, Massachusetts has one
duty at the coming election to which all local Interests and local questions must
be postponed, as on its just performance all else dejiends ; and this commanding
duty Is to keep the Commonwealth now, as aforetime, an example to our country
and a bulwark of Human Rights. Such was Massachusetts In those earlier days,
when, on the continent of Europe, the name of " Bostonians " was given to our
countrymen in arms against the mother country, making this designation embrace
all, and when, in the British parliament, the great orator, Edmund Burke,
exclaimed, " The cause of Boston is the cause of all America ; every part of
America is united in support of Boston ; Boston is the Lord Mayor of America."
I quote these words from the parliamentary debates. But Boston was at that
time Massachusetts, and It was her stand for liberty that made her name the
synonyme for all. And permit me to add that. In choosing a presiding officer,
entirely removed from local Issues, I find assurance of your readiness to unite
with me In that National Cause which concerns not Massachusetts only, but
every part of America, and concerns also our place and name as a nation.

The enemy here In Massachusetts would be glad to divert attention from the
unassailable principles of the Republican Party, they would be glad to make you
forget that support we owe to a Republican Administration ; also that support we

owe to the measures of reconstruction, and our constant abiding persistence for all
essential safeguards not yet completely established. These they would hand over
to oblivion, hoping on some local appeal to disorganize our forces, or, perhaps,
obtain power to be wielded against the national cause. Massachusetts cannot
afford to occupy an uncertain position. Therefore, I beglh by asking you to
think of our country, our whole country, — in other words, of National Affairs
at home and abroad.

Security for the Future.
It is now four years since I had the honor of presiding at our annual Conven-
tion, and I do not forget how at that time I endeavored to remind you of this
same national cause then in fearful peril. The war of armies was ended ; no
longer was fellow-citizen arrayed against fellow-citizen ; on each side the trum-
pet was hushed, the banner furled. But the defection of Andrew Johnson had
then begun, and out of that defection tlie Rebellion assumed new life, with new
purposes and new hopes. If it did not spring forth once more fully armed, it
did spring forth filled with hate and diabolism towards all who loved the Union,
whether white or black. There were exceptions, I know ; but they were not
enough to change the rule. And straightway the new apparition, acting in con-
junction with the northern Democracy, aboriginal allies of the Rebellion, planned
the capture of the National Government. Its representatives came up to Wash-
ington. Then was the time for a few decisive words — in the name of the
Republic on which for four years they waged bloody war. The great dramatist,
who has words for every occasion, anticipated this, when he said, —

"Keturn thee, therefore, with a flood of tears.
And wash away thy country's stained spots."

Such a mood would have been the beginning of peace. How easy to see that these
men should have been admonished frankly and kindly to return home, there to
plant, plough, sow, reap, buy, sell and be prosperous, but not to expect any
place in the copartnership of government until there was completest security for
all. Instead of this, they were sent back plotting how to obtain ascendency at
home as the stepping stone to ascendency in the nation. Such was the condi-
tion of things in the autumn of 186.5, when, sounding the alarm from this very
platform, I insisted upon irreversible guarantees against the Rebellion, and espe-
cially for security to the. national freedman and the national creditor. It was
for security that I then insisted, believing that, though the war of armies was
ended, this was a just object of national care, all contained in the famous time-
honored postulate of war. Security for the Future, without which peace is no
better than armistice.

To that security one thing is needed, — simply this : all men must be safe in
their rights, so that affairs, whether of government or business, shall have a free
and natural course. But there are two special classes still in jeopardy, as in the
autumn of 1865 — the national freedman and the national creditor, — each a
creditor of the nation and entitled to ])rotection ; each under the guardianship
of the Public Faith, — and behind these are faithful unionists, now suffering
terribly from the growing reaction.



Constitutional Amendment.
For the protection of the national freedinan a constitutional amendment is
C' presented for ratification, placing their right to vote under the perpetual safe-
guard of the nation ; but I am obliged to remind you that this amendment has
not yet obtained the requisite number of States, nor can I say surely when it
will. The Democratic party is arrayed against it, and the rebel interest unites
with the Democracy. Naturally they go together. They are old cronies. Here
let me say frankly that I have never ceased to regret — I do now most profoundly
regret — that Congress, in its plenary powers under the Constitution, especially
in its great unquestionable power to guarantee a republican government in the
States, did not summarily settle this whole question, so that it should no longer
disturb the country. It was for Congress to fix the definition of a republican
government; nor need it go further than our own Declaration of Independence,
where is a definition from which there is no appeal. There it is, as it came from
our fathers, in lofty, self-evident truth, and Congress should have applied it.
Or it might have gone to the speech of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, where
again is the same great definition. There was also a decisive precedent. As
Congress made a Civil Rights Law, so should it have made a Political Rights
Law. In each case the power is identical. If it can be done in the one it can
be done in the other. To my mind nothing is clearer. Thus far Congress has
thought otherwise. There remains, then, the slow process of .constitutional
amendment, to which the country must be rallied.

Public Opinion and a Sympathetic Administration.
But this is not enough. No mere text of Constitution or law is sufficient.
Behind these must be a prevailing Public Opinion and a sympathetic Adminis-
tration. Both are needed. The Administration must re-enforce Public Opin-
ion, and Public Opinion must re-enforce the Administration. Such is all expe-
rience. Without these the strongest text and most cunning in its requirements
is only a phantom, it may be of terror as was the case with the Fugitive Slave
Bill, but not a living letter. It is not practically obeyed ; sometimes it is evaded ;
sometimes openly set at naught. And now it is my duty to warn you that the
national freedman still needs your care. His ancient master is already in the
field conspiring against him. That traditional experience, that infinite audacity,
that insensibility to Human Rights, which so long upheld Slavery, are aroused
anew. No longer able to hold him as slave, the ancient master means to hold
him as dependent and to keep him in his service, personal and political, thus
substituting a new bondage for the old. Unhappily he finds at the North a
political party which the Rebellion has not weaned from that unnatural Southern
breast where it drew its primitive nutriment ; and this political party now frater-
nizes in the dismal work by which peace is postponed; for until the national
freedman is safe in Equal Rights there can be no peace. You may call it peace ;
but I tell you it is not peace. It is peace only in name. Who does not feel that
he treads still on smothered fires ? Who does not feel his feet burn as he moves
over the treacherous ashes ? If I wished any new motive for opposition to the
Democracy, I should find it in this hostile alliance. Because I am for peace, so
that this whole people may be at work ; because I desire tranquillity, so that all


may be happy; because I seek reconciliation, so that there shall be conipletest
harmony, therefore, I oppose the democracy and now denounce it as Disturber
of the National Peace

The information from the South is most painful. Old rebels are crawling
from hiding places to resume their former rule ; and what a rule ! Such as might
be expected from the representatives of slavery. It is the rule of misrule, where
the Ku-Klux-Klan takes the place of missionary and schoolmaster. Murder is
unloosed. The national freedman is the victim and so is the unionist. Not one
of these States where intimidation with death in its train does not play its part.
Take that whole southern tier from Georgia to Texas, and add to it Tennessee,
and, I fear, North Carolina and Virginia also — for the crime is contagious — and
there is small justice for those to whom you owe so much. That these things
should occur under Andrew Johnson was natural ; that reconstruction should
encounter difficulties after his defection was natural. The great English moral-
ist — another Johnson — did not wonder that a dog in chains danced no better,
but that it danced at all ; and I do not wonder that reconstruction with the chains
upon it succeeded no better, but that it succeeded at all. Andrew Johnson is
now out of the way, and in his place a patriot President. Public Opinion must
come to his support in this necessary work. There is but one thing these dis-
turbers feel ; it is power ; and this they must be made to feel ; I mean the power
of an awakened people, directed by a Republican Administration, vigorously,
constantly, surely, so that there shall be no rest for the wicked.


If I could forget the course of the Democracy on these things, as I cannot,
there Is still another chapter for exj^osure, and the more it is seen the worse it
appears. It is that standing menace of repudiation, by which the national credit
at home and abroad suffers so much, and our taxes are so largely increased. It
will not do to say that no national Convention has yet announced this dishonesty.
I charge it upon the party. A party which repudiates the fundamental princi-
ples of the Declaration of Independence — which repudiates Equality before the
Law — which repudiates the self-evident truth that governn^ent is founded only
on the consent of the governed, — which repudiates what Is most precious and
good in our recent history — and whose chiefs are now engaged in cunning assault
upon the national creditor — is a party of repudiation. This is its just designa-
tion. A democrat is a repudiator. What Is slavery itself but an enormous
wholesale repudiation of all rights, all truths, and all decencies ? How easy for
a party, accepting this degradation, to repudiate pecuniary obligations? These
are small compared with the other. Natui'ally the Democracy is once more in
conjunction with the old slave-masters. The repudiation gospel, according to Mr.
Pendleton, is now preaching In Ohio; and nothing is more certain than that the
triumph of the Democracy would be a fatal blow not only at the national freed-
man, l)ut also at the national creditor. There would be repudiation lor each.

The word "repudiation," in its present sense. Is not old. It first appears in
Mississippi, a democratic State intensely devoted to slavery. If the thing were
known before, never before did it assume the same hardihood of name. It was
in 1841 that a Mississippi Governor, in a message to the legislature, used this

word with regard to certain State bonds, and thus began that policy by which
Mississippi was first dishonored and then kept poor ; for capital was naturally
shy of such a State. Constantly, from that time, Mississippi had this " bad em-
inence ; " nor is the State more known as the home of Jefferson Davis than as
the home of repudiation. Unhappily the nation suffered also ; and even now,
as I understand, it is ai-gued in Europe, to our discredit, that, because Mississippi
repudiated, the nation may repudiate also. If I refer to this example, it is be-
cause I would illustrate the mischief of the democratic policy and summon Mis-
sissippi to tardy justice. A regenerated State cannot afford to bear the burden
of repudiation; nor can the nation and the sisterhood of States forget miscon-
duct so injurious to all.

I have pleasure at this point in reference to an early effort in the " North
American Review," by an able lawyer, for a time an ornament of the Supreme
Court of the United States, Hon. B. R. Curtis, who, after reviewing the miscon-
duct of Mississippi, argues most persuasively that, where a State repudiates its
obligations to the detriment of foreigners, there is a remedy through the national
government. This suggestion is important for Mississippi now. But the article
contains another warning applicable to the nation at the present hour, which I
quote : —

" The conduct of a few States has not only destroyed their own credit and left their sister
States very little to boast of, but has so materially affected the credit of the whole Union,
that it was found impossible to negotiate in Europe an}' part of the loan authorized by Con-
gress in 1842. It was offered on terms most advantageous to the creditor; terms which in
former times would have been eagerly accepted; and after going a begging through all the
Exchanges of Europe, the agent gave up the attempt to obtain the money in despair." —
[" North American Review '''for January, 1844, Vol. 58, j). 150.

As the fallen drunkard illustrates the evils of intemperance, so does Mississippi
illustrate the evils of repudiation. Look at her. But there are men who would
degrade our republic to this wretched condition. Forgetting what is due to our
good name as a nation at home and abroad; forgetting that the public interests
are bound up with the Public Faith, involving all economies, national and indi-
vidual ; forgetting that our transcendent position has corresponding obligations,
and that, as nobility once obliged to great duty — noblesse oblige — so does repub-
licanism now, — there are men who, forgetting all these things, would carry our
republic into this terrible gulf, so full of shame and sacrifice. They begin by
subtle devices ; but already the mutterings of open repudiation are heard. I
denounce them all, whether device or muttering, and I denounce that political
party which lends itself to the outrage.

Repudiation is Confiscation.
Repudiation mean confiscation, and, in the present case, confiscation of the
property of loyal citizens. With unparalleled generosity the nation has refused
to confiscate rebel property ; and now it is proposed to confiscate loyal property.
When I expose repudiation as confiscation, I mean to be precise. Between two
enactments, one requiring the surrender of property without compensation, and
the other declaring that the nation shall not and will not pay an equal amount
according to solemn promise, there can be no just distinction. The two are alike.


The, former might alarm a greater number, because on its face more demon-
strative. But analyze the two, and you will see that in each prirate property is
taken by the nation without compensation and appropriated to its own use.
Therefore do I say repudiation is confiscation.


A favorite device of repudiation is to pay the national debt in greenbacks — in
other words, to pay bonds bearing interest with mere promises not bearing in-
terest, violating, in the first place, a rule of honesty, which forbids such a trick,
and, in the second place, a rule of law which refuses to recognize an inferior
obligation as payment of a superior. Here in plain terms is repudiation of the
interest and indefinite postponement of the principal. This position, when first
broached, contemplated nothing less than an infinite issue of greenbacks flooding
the country, as France was flooded by assignats, and utterly destroying values of
all kinds. Although in its present more moderate form it is limited to payment
by existing greenbacks, yet it has the same radical injustice. Interest-bearing
bonds are to be paid with non-interest-bearing bits of paper. The statement of
the case is enough. Its proposer would never do this thing in his own aflfairs, but
how can he ask his country to do what honesty forbids in private life ?

Another device is to tax the bonds when the money was lent on the positive
condition that the bonds should not be taxed. This, of course, is to break the
contract in another way. It is repudiation in another form.

Extra Interest Caused by Devices of Repudiation.

To argue these questions is happily unnecessary, and I allude to them only
because I wish to exhibit the loss to the country from such attempts. This can be
made plain as a church door.

The total debt of our country on the 1st September, aside from the sixty mil-
lions of bonds issued to the Pacific Railway, was i$2,475,962,501 ; and here I
mention, with great satisfaction, that since the 1st March last the debt has been
reduced $19,500,000. The surplus revenue now accruing is not less than
$100,000,000 a year, and will be, probably, not less than .|125,000,000 a year,
of which large sum not less than $75,000,000 must be attributed to the better
enforcement of the laws and the economy now prevailing under a Republican
Administration. And here comes the practical point. Large as is our surplus
revenue, it should have been more, and would have been more but for the repu-
diation menaced by the Democracy.

If we look at our bonded debt, we find it is now $2,107,936,300, upon which
we pay not less than $124,000,000 in annual interest, the larger part at six per
cent., the smaller at five per cent. gold. The difference between this interest
and that paid by other Powers is the measure of our annual loss. English three
per cents and French fours are firm in the market ; but England and France
have not the same immeasurable resources that are ours ; nor is either so secure
in its government. It is easy to see that our debt could have been funded with-
out paying more than four per cent., but for the doubt cast upon our credit by
the dishonest schemes of repudiation. " Payment in greenbacks " and " taxation
of bonds" are costly cries. Without these there would have been $40,000,000

annually to swell our surplus revenue. But tins sum, if invested in a sinking
fund at four per cent, interest, would pay the whole bonded debt in less than
thirty years. Such is our annual loss.

The sum total of this loss directly chargable upon the repudiators is more than
one hundred millions, already paid in taxes; and much I fear, fellow-citizens,
that before the nation can recover from the discredit inflicted upon it, another
hundred millions will be paid in the same way. It is hard to see this immense
treasure, wrung by taxation from the toil of the people, to pay these devices of a
dishonest Democracy. Do not forget that the cost of this experiment is confined
to no particular class. Wherever the tax-gatherer goes there it is paid. Every
workman pays it in his food and clothing ; every mechanic and artisan in his
tools; every housewife in her cooking stove and flat-iron; every merchant in
the stamp upon his note; every man of salary in the income tax ; aye, every
laborer in his wood, his coal, his potatoes, and his salt. Many of these taxes im-
posed under duress of war, will be removed soon, I trust ; but still the enormous
sum of forty millions annually must be contributed by the labor of the country
until the world is convinced that in spite of democratic menace, the republic will
maintain its plighted faith to the end.

People wish to reduce taxation. I tell you how. Let no doubt rest upon the
Public Faith. Then will the present burdensome ta.xation grow " fine by degrees
and beautifully less." It is the doubt which costs. It is with our country, as with
an individual, the doubt obliges the payment of extra interest. To stop that extra
interest we must keep faith.

Absurdity axd Aggravation'.

As we look at the origin of the greenback we shall find a new motive for fidfel-
ity. I do not speak of that patriotic character which commends the national
debt; but of the financial principle on which the greenback was first issued. It
came from the overruling exigencies of self-defence. The national existence
^depended upon money, which could be had only through a forced loan. The
greenback was the agency by which it was collected. The disloyal party resisted
the passage of the original act, prophesying danger and difficulty. But the
safety of the nation required the risk and the Republican Party assumed it. And
now this same disloyal party, once against the greenback, insist upon continuing
in peace what was justified only in war — insist upon a forced loan, when the
overruling exigencies of self-defence have ceased, and the nation is saved. To
such absurdity is this party now driven.

The case is aggravated when we consider the boundless resources of the coun-
try, through which in a short time even this great debt will be lightened, if the
praters of repudiation are silenced. Peace, financially as well as politically, is
needed. Let us have peace. Nowhere will it be felt more than at the South,
which is awakening to a consciousness of resources unknown while slavery ruled.
With these considerable additions to the national capital, five years cannot pass
without a sensible diminution of our burdens. A rate of taxation per capita,
equal to only one-half that of 1866, will pay even our present interest, all pres-
ent expenses, and the entire pi-incipal in less than twenty years. But to this
end we must keep faith.

Repudiation Impossible.

The attempt is aggravated still further, when it is considered that repudiation
is impossible. Try as you may, you cannot succeed. You may cause incalculable
distress and postpone the great day of peace, but you cannot do this thing. The
national debt never can be repudiated. It will be paid, dollar for dollar, in coin,
with interest to the end.

How little do these repudiators know the mighty resisting power which they
encounter! How little the mighty crash which they invite! As well undertake
to move Mount Washington from its everlasting base, or shut out the ever pres-
ent ocean from our coasts. It is needless to say that the crash would be in pro-
portion to the mass affected, being nothing less than the whole business of the
country. Now, it appears from investigations making at this moment by Com-
missioner Wells, whose labors shed such light on financial questions, that our
annual product reaches the sum of seven thousand millions of dollars. But this
prodigious amount depends for its value upon exchange, which in turn depends
upon credit. Destroy exchange, and even these untold resources would be an
infinite chaos, without form and void. Employment would cease, capital would
waste, mills would stop, the rich would become poor, the poor, I fear, would
starve. Savings banks, trust companies, insurance companies would disappear.
Such would be the mighty crash ; but here you see also the mighty resisting
powei'. Therefore, again do I say, repudiation is imposssble.

Mr. Boutwell is criticized by the Democracy because he buys up bonds, paying
the current market rates, when he should pay the face in greenbacks. I refer
to this democratic criticism because I would show how little its authors look to
consequences while forgetting the requirements of Public Faith. Suppose the
secretary, yielding to these wise suggestions, should announce his purpose to take
up the first ten millions of five-twenties, paying the face in greenbacks. What
then? " After us the deluge," said the French king; and so, after such notice
from our secretary, would our deluge begin. At once the entire bonded debt
would be reduced to greenbacks. The greenback would not be raised ; the bond
would be drawn down. All this at once, — and in plain violation of the solemr^

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Online LibraryCharles SumnerNational affairs at home and abroad. Speech of Hon. Charles Sumner at the annual convention of the Republican Party of Massachusetts, held at Worcester, September 22, 1869 (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 3)