Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 10. The Kansas-Nebraska Act; Charles Sumner

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXI. Political Writing Since 1850

§ 10. The Kansas-Nebraska Act; Charles Sumner

A second factor in stimulating interest in the slavery issue was the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854, by which more territory was opened to the slave system. The moral revolt which Uncle Tom’s Cabin had kindled took the form of political action in the organization of the Republican party. A new group of leaders sought to arouse the conscience of the country. Among them was Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, member of the Senate from 1851 to 1874. In the movement against slavery he is the logical successor of John Quincy Adams, with the exception that his opposition was moral as well as political. His pamphlets, Crime against Kansas (1856) and Barbarism of Slavery (1860) were circulated by the million. Not the equal of Webster as a constitutional lawyer, and too often extremely personal in his discussion of Southern policies, he was a most skilful and resourceful special pleader in a great cause. With him should be mentioned William H. Seward, a noted politician of New York and chief figure in the Republican party in the East. His presentation of the “irrepressible conflict” which would make the United States “a slave-holding nation or a free labour nation” did much to crystallize opinion in the East. The crisis also brought forth Abraham Lincoln, who re-interpreted the American theory of democracy. As the author of political phrases and aphorisms, he is equalled only by Jefferson. “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent” applies the principle of democracy to the fact of slavery. “When the white man governs himself, that is self-government; but when he governs himself and also governs another man, that is more than self-government—that is despotism.”