After his richly deserved gutta-percha thrashing by Preston Brooks, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner feigned serious injury for advantage over his political opponent. As a Radical Republican and abolitionist, he provided much of the impetus for bringing on the war that destroyed the Founders’ Republic.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Sumner the Accidental Senator
“If (Charles) Sumner had been given to self-criticism, the firing of Fort Sumter might have caused him to ponder what part he himself had played in bringing on the sectional conflict. In the minds of many Southerners, extremists like Sumner were responsible for the breakup of the Union. As a “Conscience Whig,” he had helped kill the national Whig party, which had once bound together conservatives of both North and South.
As a Free Soil senator, he had seized every opportunity to attack the South and embitter sectional feelings. As Republican martyr, he had been instrumental in keeping his party committed to an antislavery course and in scotching efforts at compromise. “By degrees,” as Carl Sandburg has remarked, “”Sumner had come to stand for something the South wanted exterminated from the Union; he was perhaps the most perfect impersonation of what the South wanted to secede from.”
He might also have reflected upon the role that chance had played in elevating him to his prominent position. He had stumbled into politics largely by accident. He rose to leadership in the Massachusetts Free Soil movement as much through the unavailability of his rivals as through his own talents and exertions. Candidate of a minority party, he was first chosen to the Senate through the devious workings of a political coalition.
At nearly every point during his first five years in office, had he been up for reelection, he would almost certainly have been defeated. Then Preston Brook’s attack gave him his second term in the Senate and thereby assured him seniority and prestige within the Republican party.
Never chosen by direct popular vote for any office, Sumner, by 1861, nevertheless had become one of the most powerful men in the United States.”
(Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War, David H. Donald, Fawcett Columbine, 1960, pp. 387-388)