The Senate

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Charles Sumner’s Pocket Watch, 1874

Mon, 2013-02-18 17:31 -- administrator

Sumner spoke passionately for emancipation. But he paid dearly for his advocacy. A House member severely beat Sumner because of the senator's caustic references to pro-slavery members, including a relative of his assailant. After a lengthy recovery, Sumner returned to the Senate and sponsored the first law to secure the equal rights of all citizens.

 

Charles Sumner Mortuary Token, 1874

Mon, 2013-02-18 17:30 -- administrator

Sumner spoke passionately for emancipation. But he paid dearly for his advocacy. A House member severely beat Sumner because of the senator's caustic references to pro-slavery members, including a relative of his assailant. After a lengthy recovery, Sumner returned to the Senate and sponsored the first law to secure the equal rights of all citizens.

Charles Sumner, photograph by unidentified artist, ca. 1860

Mon, 2013-02-18 17:28 -- administrator

Sumner spoke passionately for emancipation. But he paid dearly for his advocacy. A House member severely beat Sumner because of the senator's caustic references to pro-slavery members, including a relative of his assailant. After a lengthy recovery, Sumner returned to the Senate and sponsored the first law to secure the equal rights of all citizens.

Charles Sumner, photograph by unidentified artist, ca. 1860

NPG.78.210 National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of John O'Brien

A President on Trial

The bullet that felled Abraham Lincoln in 1865 made Andrew Johnson president. The new chief executive backed a plan for quickly reintegrating the former Confederate states into the Union. Congress’s more radical Republicans demanded stronger measures to punish rebellious states and protect the rights of freed slaves. The dispute boiled over when Johnson prepared to dismiss a cabinet member who had strong congressional support.

Lawmakers, Loyalty and the "Ironclad Oath," 1864

The Constitution requires all government office-holders to take an oath to support that document, but it establishes a specific oath only for the president. In 1789, Congress drafted a simple 14-word pledge. No one felt anything more was needed—until the Civil War.

In 1862, Congress adopted the "Ironclad Test Oath." Civil servants and military officers had to swear loyalty to the Union and affirm no previous disloyalty—a clause aimed at Confederate sympathizers. Senators didn’t have to take the oath, but many did.

The Union Divides, 1861

Rarely has a presidential election brought such immediate consequences. Abraham Lincoln’s victory in 1860 triggered the secession of America’s Southern states even before the new president took office in March of 1861. On January 21, senators from Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi rose to bid their Senate colleagues farewell. The last to speak was Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. In an emotional address before a hushed Senate, Davis defended secession, insisting that Mississippians were only exercising their rights.

Emotions Boil Over, 1856

Tensions ran high over the question of slavery in the Western territories when Senator Charles Sumner rose to speak in 1856. The Massachusetts abolitionist let loose a fiery speech, denouncing expansion of slavery into Kansas. He attacked pro-slavery opponents by name—including Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina.

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