Dedication to “The Barbarism of Slavery” Speech

This 1863 dedication is from the printing of the “speech of Hon. Charles Sumner, on the bill for the admission of Kansas as a free state, in the United States Senate, June 4, 1860.”
Charles Sumner
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 7.

To the Young Men of the United States, I dedicate this new edition of a Speech on the Barbarism of Slavery, in token of heartfelt gratitude to them for brave and patriotic service rendered in the present War for Civilization: 

It is now more than three years since I deemed it my duty to expose, in the Senate, the Barbarism of Slavery. This phrase, though common now, was new then. The speech was a strict and logical reply to the assumptions of Senators, asserting the “divine origin” of Slavery, its “ennobling” character, and that it was the “black marble keystone” of our national arch. Listening to these assumptions, which were of daily recurrence, I felt that they ought to be answered. And, considering their effrontery, it seemed to me that they should be answered frankly and openly by exhibiting Slavery as it really is, without reserve; careful that I should “nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.” This I did. 

In that debate the issue was joined which is still pending in the Trial by Battle. The inordinate assumptions for Slavery naturally ripened in Rebellion and War. If Slavery were, in reality, all that it was said to be by its representatives, they must have failed in duty if they did not vindicate and advance it. Not easily could they see a thing so “divine” and so “ennobling”--constituting the “black marble keystone” of our national arch--discredited by a popular vote, even if not yet doomed to sacrifice. 

The election of Mr. Lincoln was a judgment against Slavery, and its representatives were aroused. 

Meanwhile, for more than a generation, an assumption of constitutional law, hardly less outrageous, had become rooted side by side with Slavery, so that the two had shot up in rank luxuriance together. It was assumed that any State was privileged, under the Constitution, at any time, in the exercise of its own discretion, to withdraw from the Union. This absurdity found little favor at first, even among the representatives of Slavery. To say that two and two make five could not be more irrational. But custom and constant repetition gradually produced an impression, until, at last, all who were maddest for Slavery were equally mad for this disorganizing ally. 

It was under the shadow of this constitutional assumption that the assumption for Slavery grew into virulent vigor, so that, at last, when Mr. Lincoln was elected, it broke forth in open war; but the war was declared in the name of State Rights. 

Therefore, there are two apparent rudiments to this war. One is Slavery and the other is State Rights. But the latter is only a cover for the former. If Slavery were out of the way there would be no trouble from State Rights. 

The war, then, is for Slavery, and nothing else. It is an insane attempt to vindicate by arms the lordship which had been already asserted in debate. With mad-cap audacity it seeks to install this Barbarism as the truest Civilization. Slavery is declared to be the “corner-stone” of the new edifice. This is enough. 

The question is thus presented between Barbarism and Civilization; not merely between two different forms of Civilization, but between Barbarism on the one side and Civilization on the other side. If you are for Barbarism, join the Rebellion, or, if you can not join it, give it your sympathies. If you are for Civilization, stand by the Government of your country with mind, soul, heart, and might! 

Such is the issue simply stated. On the one side are women and children on the auction-block; families rudely separated; human flesh lacerated and seamed by the bloody scourge; labor extorted without wages; and all this frightful, many-sided wrong is the declared foundation of a mock commonwealth. On the other side is the Union of our Fathers, with the image of “Liberty” on its coin and the sentiment of Liberty in its Constitution, now arrayed under a patriotic Government, which insists that no such mock Commonwealth, having such a declared foundation, shall be permitted on our territory, purchased with money and blood, to impair the unity of our jurisdiction and to insult the moral sense of mankind. 

Therefore, the battle which is now waged by the Union is for Civilization itself, and it must have aid and God-speed from all who are not openly for Barbarism. There is no word of peace, no tone of gentleness, no whisper of humanity, which does not become trumpet-tongued against the Rebellion. War itself seems to “smooth its wrinkled front” as it undertakes the championship of such a cause. The armed soldier becomes a minister of mercy. 

“The Cid was in the midst, his shout was heard afar; 
I am Rui Diez, the champion of Bivar; 
Strike amongst them, gentlemen, for sweet mercy’s sake.” 

In the name of mercy, strike, young men, so that the revolting Barbarism, which began the war, shall disappear forever. Any thing less than this will be an abandonment of duty.

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/rbaapc:@field(DOCID+@lit(rbaapc28300div2)).
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    To whom (and what) was Sumner’s original speech in 1860 a reply?
    The speech was a reply to his fellow senators who defended slavery as being of “divine origin” and a “keystone” or pivotal aspect of the country’s history. The speech was meant to show “slavery as it really is,” to refute their assertions.
  2. Question
    How does he describe the two sides fighting in the Civil War?
    He describes the Union as fighting for civilization, for liberty; the Confederacy as being one of barbarism with “no word of peace, no tone of gentleness, no whisper of humanity.”
  3. Question
    Sumner says there are “two apparent rudiments [origins] to this war.” What are they and what is the relationship between the two?
    The origins are slavery and states’ rights. He says the concept of states’ rights is an excuse to fight for slavery. If slavery were not a concern, there would be no issue of states’ rights.
  4. Question
    “To say that two and two make five could not be more irrational.” To what is Sumner referring?
    He finds it absurd that states have interpreted the Constitution to mean that they can leave the Union if they choose. He may also be referring to the institution of slavery, and its defenders, as being irrational.
  5. Question
    How does Sumner use American history in this document to support his argument against slavery?
    He dismisses the constitutionality of secession. Sumner equates the Union with the Founding Fathers and the ideal of “liberty.” The dedication was delivered on July 4.
Reveal Answers
Add to an Existing Learning Plan
    Group of adults listening to one person speaking.

    New Virtual Workshops Are Available Now!

    Registrations are now open for our 90-minute virtual open enrollment workshops. Explore the schedule, and register today—the first workshop begins October 16th and space is limited!

    Sign Up!