Home  »  America: III (1861–1905)  »  On Sumner and the South

The World’s Famous Orations.
America: III. (1861–1905). 1906.

L.Q.C. Lamar

On Sumner and the South

IT was certainly a gracious act on the part of Charles Sumner toward the South, tho unhappily it jarred on the sensibilities of the people at the other extreme of the Union, to propose to erase from the banners of the national army the mementoes of the bloody internal struggle which might be regarded as assailing the pride or wounding the sensibilities of the Southern people. The proposal will never be forgotten by that people so long as the name of Charles Sumner lives in the memory of man.

But while it touched the heart and elicited her profound gratitude, her people would not have asked of the North such an act of self-renunciation. Conscious that they themselves were animated by devotion to constitutional liberty, and that the brightest pages of history are replete with evidences of the depth and sincerity of that devotion, they can but cherish the recollection of the battles fought and the victories won in defense of their hopeless cause; and respecting, as all true and brave men must respect, the martial spirit with which the men of the North vindicated the integrity of the Union, and their devotion to the principles of human freedom, they do not ask, they do not wish the North to strike the mementoes of heroism and victory from either records or monuments or battle-flags. They would rather that both sections should gather up the glories won by each section, not envious, but proud of each other, and regard them as a common heritage of American valor. Let us hope that future generations, when they remember the deeds of heroism and devotion done on both sides, will speak, not of Northern prowess or Southern courage, but of the heroism, courage and fortitude of the Americans in a war of ideas—a war in which each section signalized its consecration to the principles, as each understood them, of American liberty and of the Constitution received from their fathers.

Charles Sumner in life believed that all occasion for strife and distrust between the North and South had passed away, and there no longer remained any cause for continued estrangement between those two sections of our common country. Are there not many of us who believe the same thing? Is not that the common sentiment, or if not, ought it not to be, of the great mass of our people, North and South? Bound to each other by a common constitution, destined to live together under a common government, forming unitedly but a single member of the great family of nations, shall we not now at last endeavor to grow toward each other once more in heart, as we are indissolubly linked to each other in fortunes? Shall we not, while honoring the memory of this great champion of liberty, this feeling sympathizer with human sorrow, this earnest pleader for the exercise of human tenderness and heavenly charity, lay aside the concealments which serve only to perpetuate misunderstandings and distrust, and frankly confess that on both sides we most earnestly desire to be one—one not merely in political organization; one not merely in community of language, and literature, and traditions, and country; but more and better than all that, one also in feeling and in heart?

Am I mistaken in this? Do the concealments of which I speak still cover animosities, which neither time nor reflection nor the march of events have yet sufficed to subdue? I can not believe it. Since I have been here I have scrutinized your sentiments, as expressed not merely in public debate, but in the abandon of personal confidence. I know well the sentiments of these my Southern friends, whose hearts are so infolded that the feeling of each is the feeling of all; and I see on both sides only the seeming of a constraint which each apparently hesitates to dismiss.

The South—prostrate, exhausted, drained of her life-blood as well as her material resources, yet still honorable and true—accepts the bitter award of the bloody arbitrament without reservation, resolutely determined to abide the result with chivalrous fidelity. Yet, as if struck dumb by the magnitude of her reverses, she suffers on in silence. The North, exultant in her triumph and elevated by success, still cherishes, as we are assured, a heart full of magnanimous emotions toward her disarmed and discomfited antagonist; and yet, as if under some mysterious spell, her words and acts are words and acts of suspicion and distrust. Would that the spirit of the illustrious dead, whom we lament to-day, could speak from the grave to both parties to this deplorable discord, in tones which would reach each and every heart throughout this broad territory: My countrymen! know one another and you will love one another.