Charles Sumner as sculpted by Anne Whitney
Readers of this website have shown interest in primary source materials, so I am posting my notes on the speeches of a founder of the Republican Party, Charles Sumner, the anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, and later a “Black Republican” (i.e., an advocate of a far-reaching Reconstruction that would have transformed U.S. history). I took these notes from Sumner’s speeches up through the period that Herman Melville was writing Moby-Dick to demonstrate affinities between the thought of Captain Ahab’s and Sumner’s. (The bold-face headlines are taken from Melville’s own phrases or themes. Some notes from Jonathan Israel’s book on the Radical Enlightenment are also included because J. Israel’s idea of “free thought” is not the same as the empiricism and science that Sumner advocated. )
I ask my readers to compare the value placed on science, lifelong learning, and human brotherhood in Sumner’s speeches, which were also turned into pamphlets and commanded a broad following, at least in the North. What is significant as we contemplate the vacuousness of the current discourse on education (begun in the blogs on Arne Duncan’s statism), is the literacy that Sumner expected from his nineteenth-century audience. What “moderate” intellectuals today would dare to write for a popular audience with the expectation that the audience would read important books or share his passion for an excellent scientific and moral education? Also, note that “local control” in today’s debates over educational policies can signify resistance to Sumner’s conception of liberal nationalism. See my blog https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/. The Wikipedia article on Sumner is almost unremittingly hostile, like some of his contemporaries, blaming his moral intransigence for the Civil War. (For an opportunistic (?) appropriation of Sumner, see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/30/eric-foners-christianized-lincoln/, or more recently, https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/.) Moreover, the cultural history establishment (social democrats all) have defined him as paranoid, as a hater or as harsh in his proposals for Reconstruction, though that may be changing.
[Added, 11/21/09: The roots of the Republican Party are not found in the Reagan administration, but in the pre-Civil War Republican Party, founded by such as Charles Sumner, the great proponent of modernity, and with Thaddeus Stevens after the war, opponent to those who would rehabilitate the Southern rebels, hence injuring the freedmen for decades. Had the “Black Republicans” prevailed, American history would have been transformed. The essay on Robert E. Lee, linked above, lays it out, with Melville’s postwar views on the fate of the freedmen suggesting a departure from his earlier anti-racism.]
MY NOTES: CHARLES SUMNER, HIS COMPLETE WORKS With Introduction by Hon. George Frisbie Hoar [The bold-faced capitalized prefixes to Sumner’s speeches refer to Melville’s common phrases in his more advanced works.]
VITAL TRUTH OF HUMAN BROTHERHOOD
[Sumner, from “Fame and Glory. An Oration Before The Literary Societies of Amherst College At Their Anniversary, August 11, 1847”, Works, Vol.2 (Negro Universities Press, NY, 1969] p.183 (on the cynical promotion of evil characters)
“ …our own English Dryden lent his glowing verse to welcome and commemorate a heartless, unprincipled monarch and a servile court. Others, while refraining from eulogy, unconsciously surrender to sentiments and influences, the public opinion of the age in which they live,—investing barbarous characters and scenes, the struggles of selfishness and ambition, and even the movements of conquering robbers, with colors to apt to fascinate or mislead. Not content with that candor which should guide our judgment alike of the living and the dead, they yield sympathy even to injustice and wrong, when commended by genius or elevated by success, and especially if coupled with the egotism of a vicious patriotism. Not feeling practically the vital truth of Human Brotherhood, and the correlative duties it involves, they are insensible to the true character and the shame of transactions by which it is degraded or assailed, and in their estimate depart from that standard of Absolute Right which must be the only measure of true and permanent Fame. (183)
…Such labors [promoting “the happiness of mankind”] are the natural fruit of obedience to the great commandments. Reason, too, in harmony with these laws, shows that the true dignity of Humanity is in the moral and intellectual nature, and the labors of Justice and Benevolence, directed by intelligence and abasing that part which is in common with beasts, are the highest forms of human conduct. (184)
[on p.185, he quotes Milton, Paradise Regained, Book III, 71-80, condemning war and conquest]
ENCELADUS LIKENED TO SLAVE POWER
, pp. 211-212, Springfield Mass, Whig State Convention, Sept. 29, 1847. “Necessity Of Political Action Against The Slave Power And The Extension Of Slavery.”
[THE QUARTER-DECK OATH?] ANTISLAVERY LINKED TO FRENCH REVOLUTION AND ATTACK ON BASTILLE (p.229)
(“Union Among Men Of All Parties Against The Slave Power And The Extension Of Slavery.” Speech Before A Mass Convention At Worcester, June 28, 1848). “[the Slave Power:] Lords of the lash and lords of the loom….” (233) p.234: “This [new coalition of antislavery men] will be the Freedom Power whose single object will be to resist the Slave Power. We will put them face to face, and let them grapple. Who can doubt the result?” [cf. Ahab, chapter 135: “…Towards thee I roll, thou all destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee….”] Continuity with American Revolution, p.237. pp.238-239. [To our principled leader] we commit the direction of the engine. …Let Massachusetts, nurse of the men and principles that made our earliest revolution, vow herself anew to her early faith. Let her once more elevate the torch which she first held aloft, or, if need be, pluck fresh coals from the living altar of France, proclaiming, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,”–Liberty to the captive, Equality between master and slave, Fraternity with all men, –the whole comprehended in that sublime revelation of Christianity, the Brotherhood of Man. …the great cause of Liberty, to which we now dedicate ourselves, will sweep the heart-strings of the people. It will smite all the chords with a might to draw forth emotions such as no political struggle ever awakened before….”
DESCARTES AND LIFELONG LEARNING (“The Law of Human Progress. An Oration Before The Phi Beta Kappa Society Of Union College, Schenectady, July 25, 1848) quoting Descartes, “Discourse on Method” (1637): “In these new triumphs of knowledge, he says, ‘men may learn to enjoy the fruits of the earth without trouble; their health will be preserved, and they will be able to exempt themselves from an infinitude of ills, as well of body as of mind, and even, perhaps, from the weakness of old age.’ As I repeat these words, uttered long before the steam-engine, the railroad, the electric telegraph, and the use of ether, I seem to hear a prophecy, the prophecy of Science, which each day helps to fulfill. …There is grandeur in the assurance with which the great philosopher announces the Future. (258)
ROMANTIC WANDERING JEW
? Quoting Pascal (same essay), a repressed chapter in Les Pensées (first ed. 1669), “Of Authority in Matters of Philosophy”. “Not until the next century was the testimony of Pascal disclosed to the world. ‘By a special prerogative of the human race,’ says he, ‘not only each man advances day by day in the sciences, but all men together make continual progress therein, as the universe grows old; because the same thing happens in the succession of men which takes place in the different ages of an individual. So that the whole succession of men in the course of so many ages may be regarded as one man who lives always and who learns continually…. “(258-259)
“THAT UNIMPEACHED INTERPRETER OF THE PAST…” (p.271) (Post-Civil War, Melville wrote Clarel, distancing himself from his Promethean characters, Taji, Ahab, and Pierre. The geologic Jew Margoth is mocked by the other characters, but it is not clear if Melville shared their views.)
ON RACE, BROTHERHOOD AND UPLIFT LED BY AMERICA. (CF. WHITE-JACKET)
(P.271). “It is true, doubtless, that there are various races of men; but there is but one great Human Family, in which Caucasian, Ethiopian, Chinese, and Indian are all brothers, children of one Father, and heirs to one happiness. Though variously endowed, they are all tending in the same direction; nor can light obtained by one be withheld from any. [Melville agreed with this, though racial difference is hotly disputed today.] The ether discovered in Boston will soothe pain hereafter in Africa and in Asia, in Abyssinia and in China. So are we all knit together, that words of wisdom and truth, which first sway the hearts of the American people, may help to elevate benighted tribes of the most distant regions. The vexed question of modern science, whether these races proceeded originally from one stock, does not interfere with the sublime revelation of Christianity, the Brotherhood of Man. In the light of science and of religion, Humanity is an organism, complex, but still one,–throbbing with one life, animated by one soul, every part sympathizing with every other part, and the whole advancing in one indefinite career of Progress.”
THE ISABEL FACTOR: ORDINARY PEOPLE AND THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH: DESTINY AND THE RAINBOW (p.285)
“Thus ever has Truth moved on,–though opposed and reviled [by resistant conservatives, not the moderate ones], still mighty and triumphant. Rejected by the rich and the powerful, by the favorites of fortune and of place, she finds shelter with those who often have no shelter for themselves. It is such as these that most freely welcome moral truth, with its new commandments [i.e. abolition of slavery, C.S.]. Not the dwellers in the glare of the world, but the humble and lowly, most perceive this truth–as watchers placed in the depths of a well observe the stars which are obscured to those who live in the effulgence of noon. Free from egotism and prejudice, whether of self-interest or of class, without cares and temptations, whether of wealth or power, dwelling in the mediocrity and obscurity of common life, they discern the new signal, and surrender unreservedly to its guidance. The Saviour knew this. …[Let everyone embrace this new law (of progress) “It will give to all…a new revelation of their destiny”: Progress] will be as another covenant, witnessed by the bow in the heavens, not only that no honest, earnest effort for the welfare of man can be in vain, but that it shall send a quickening influence through uncounted ages, and contribute to the coming of that Future of Intelligence, Freedom, Peace we would now secure for ourselves, but cannot. (285-287)
“OUT ON (caste) PRIVILEGES,” p.81(AHAB). “Equality Before The Law: Unconstitutionality Of Separate Colored Schools In Massachusetts. Argument Before The Supreme Court Of Massachusetts In The Case Of Sarah C. Roberts v. The City of Boston, December 4, 1849.” (vol.3, 51-100) The term equality before the law is introduced in America for the first time: its precedents are Diderot, Condorcet, Declaration of Independence, and Massachusetts State constitution [Sumner should have included legislation in the Dutch Republic. C.S.]. (Editor’s comment: “…Shaw reduced it to very small proportions, when he said that it meant “only that the rights of all, as they are settled and regulated by law, are equally entitled to the paternal consideration and protection of the law for their maintenance and security.” This made it mean nothing; but such was the decision.” (The legislature repaired the error in 1855) On stigma of separation: (p.88) “The Jews in Rome are confined to a particular district known as the Jewish Quarter. It is possible that their accommodations are as good as they would be able to occupy if left free to choose throughout Rome and Frankfort; but this compulsory segregation from the mass of citizens is of itself an inequality which we condemn. It is a vestige of ancient intolerance directed against a despised people. It is of the same character with the separate schools in Boston.”
ABSOLUTELY INDEPENDENT SUMNER/AHAB
, the Faneuil Hall speech against the Fugitive Slave Bill as prompting his election as Senator (April 23, 1851), and the signal for break in the Union; pp.158-159 (editor’s comments, then quotation from London Times, May 24, 1851): “The election of Mr. Sumner to the Senate is everywhere regarded as an emphatic declaration, on the part of his own State, that the law is at least not to remain in its present form unassailed. The South responds to such an election by louder declarations of its resistance to all infractions on its local institutions, even at the sacrifice of the integrity of the Union.” (Sumner has succeeded Daniel Webster as spokesman for Massachusetts principles.)
Sumner’s Faneuil Hall speech: “Our Immediate Antislavery Duties. Speech At A Free-Soil Meeting At Faneuil Hall, November 6, 1850. (122-148, Vol. 3) Links the current struggle with Pilgrims and Revolutionary Fathers, resistance to Stamp Act. Shortly after this, Sumner is made Free-Soil candidate for Senator, and elected. [Lemuel Shaw upholds the Fugitive Slave Law in April, 1851. All these events take place before the completion of Melville’s Moby-Dick. See Michael Rogin, Subversive Genealogy: The Politics and Art of Herman Melville, Chapter 4 “Moby-Dick and the American 1848”. Rogin, aware of the Shaw decision and of the label “monomaniac” applied to abolitionists, plays off the abolitionist Theodore Parker against Leviathan, viewing Ahab as an egotistical merchant capitalist enslaver of the working-class crew and interested only in his own power. There is no reference to Charles Sumner in the book. When Rogin wrote his book (published in 1983), the Melville annotations to Paradise Lost had not yet been revealed.
[Cf. Margoth. The following notes refer to Jonathan I. Israel, The Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001).] God’s decrees are Nature’s order. “Thus when in Genesis 9:13 God tells Noah He will set a rainbow in the clouds, this action is definitely nothing other, contends Spinoza, than the reflection and refraction of the sun’s rays in droplets of water in the sky.” The Bible exists to instill “wonder” and “piety in the minds of the multitude”, not search for truth. (221-222; also 246-47: his preoccupation with the rainbow). [Spinoza’s enemies equate atheists, scientists, and Jews: all are enemies of Christian Scripture.] [J. Israel, deploying Spinoza, is apparently arguing against empiricism and experimentation in favor of “a broadly correct, wider, theoretical and philosophical framework.” (249) Cite chapter 15, “Philosophy, Politics, and the Liberation of Man” for Radical Enlightenment stress on free speech and expression as opposed to freedom of conscience. [I think this is incorrect insofar as Spinoza is concerned. C.S.] References to Spinoza as “Jew”and fanatic, 503, 504, 537.
Samuel Clarke objects to freethinkers like Anthony Collins: “there could be no such thing as liberty or a power of self-determination.” P.616. (Freethought for Israel means freedom to philosophize and speculate; Vico, a radical, believes that “the truth of the philosophers can never be the truth of the people and must remain segregated, excluded from the sphere of commonly held and publicly approved notions which underpin institutions, laws, and government.” P.668) Incredulous mechanical materialists are worse than the Jews, Mohammedans, or Idolators: (The Venetian scholar Concina, author of Theologia Christiana Dogmatico-Moralis, 1754) “The deists and spiriti forti of our days are incomparably more blind, obstinate, and more malign, that [sic] the Jews themselves.” P. 681 Concina’s hostility to Saint-Evremond, Toland, Collins, and Mandeville, p.682. Also pantheists like Epictetus.
Final words (in Jonathan Israel): (approving of “the general will”) “Spinoza, Diderot, Rousseau: all three ground their conception of individual liberty in man’s obligation to subject himself to the sovereignty of the common good.” (720) Cf. Lippmann, The Phantom Public. At a UC:A conference, I asked Prof. Israel to either declare himself a statist social democrat or to deny it, but he appeared nonplussed at my question. After reading Ayn Rand again, I could have been more confrontational.