Charles Sumner Discusses the Emerging Duty of the United States in Promoting Human Rights & World Peace Evoking the Declaration of Independence and Championing Louis Kossuth and his Exploits
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“The influence, we are now able to wield, is a sacred trust, which should be exercised firmly, discreetly, in conformity with the Laws of Nations & with an anxious eye to the peace of the world, so as always to promote the great cause of Human Rights. Our example can do much” CHARLES SUMNER (1811-1874).
Autograph Letter Signed, Boston, October 26, 1851. 4 p.
“Boston, Oct. 26th 1851
It will not be in my power to be present at Faneuil Hall long ; nor am I entirely satisfied, that it would be proper for me, holding the official position which I now do in the National Government, to take any part in the proceedings which you propose to institute.
But though not present with you, & not undertaking to express any opinion on the precise matter in hand, I wish it to be understood that I can never fail to unite in every earnest and manly word, by which the sympathies of our country shall be extended to all in whatever land,
who have been struck down, while defending the Rights of Man. To this cause we are pledged as a Nation by the Declaration of Independence ; & my heart warmly responds to the vow.
Nor can I forbear to add, that the clemency which you invoke, from a powerful Government towards those whom it classes as political offenders, is in harmony with the Spirit of the Age <p.2> & with the lessons of Christianity. It is a grace, which it can never be otherwise than honorable to ask & honorable to grant ;
’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
A recent instance enforces the appeal. Kossuth has at last passed from the house of bondage. His emancipation, promoted by the aspirations, the prayers & the express intervention of our Republic is an example to all nations ; while the brightness of his fame shews how vain it is for any earthly edict stigmatise as crime a sincere & generous effort for Human Freedom. Austria brands the great Hungarian as a traitor ; but an enlightened Public Opinion, the predestined Queen of the civilized world, already rejudges the justice of the tyrant Government. To these august judgments of this exalted authority mankind will bow ; No People for the sake of any seeming expediency of the hour can afford to sacrifice a principle of Justice on a sentiment of Humanity, & to thus peril the everlasting Verdict of History.
In reaching across the sea to distant Turkey to plead for the freedom of the fugitive <p.3> Kossuth, our Republic has done well ; & the Mohamedan Sultan, in consenting to his liberation, at extraordinary hazards, has taught a lesson of magnanimity to Christian states.
But the step we have thus taken cannot be the last. With increasing power are increasing duties. The influence, we are now able to wield, is a sacred trust, which should be exercised firmly, discreetly, in conformity with the Laws of Nations & with an anxious eye to the peace of the world, so as always to promote the great cause of Human Rights. Our example can do much ; the magnetism of our national flag will be felt wherever it floats in foreign lands ; individual citizens may labor faithfully ; but all these will be incalculably quickened by a system of conduct, on the part of our Government, at home & abroad, which, while avoiding all improper interference with other countries & teaching the majesty of honest dealing ; shall show a prompt & benevolent sympathy with those vital principles ; without which our Republic is but a name. <p.4>
In this work, the Irishmen, & the children & grand-children of Irishmen, scattered in millions throughout the land, can help. Their native love of liberty & hatred of Oppression will here find an opportunity for action.
Believe me, dear Sir,
Very faithfully Yours,
Charles Sumner of Massachusetts served in the U.S. Senate from 1851 to 1874, initially as a Free Soiler (a party that he helped found) and later as a Republican. He was a leader in Congress among the opponents of slavery, and instrumental in the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson.
Congressional Biographical Directory, bioguide.congress.gov.