He strongly supported the limiting of the expansion of slavery, through which Sumner argued Slave Power (a derogatory term for the powerful political machinations of southern slaveholders) would come to dominate the United States. Sumner opposed both the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act.
Sumner’s most famous political incident occurred in 1856. After giving a speech in the Senate during which he angered southern Senators, Sumner was brutally beaten in the Senate chamber by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks. He was almost killed, barely able to escape due to his eyes being covered in blood. This incident launched the nascent Republican party into the national spotlight and rallies supporting Sumner sprung up all over the north. He took nearly 3 years to return to the Senate floor due to the severity of his injuries. He traveled around Europe restoring his health and generating support for the cause of abolition.
During the Civil War, Sumner was a key confidant of Lincoln and was among the foremost proponents of full emancipation for the slaves. Lincoln described Sumner as “my idea of a bishop,”1 and valued his input tremendously. Sumner also strove to ensure loyalty among the Union leadership, even arresting Union generals who lost battles. He also took the lack of southern opposition resulting from the secession of pro-slavery representatives as an opportunity to defend the rights of emerging nations such as Haiti or the Dominican Republic. Sumner fought for and delivered the diplomatic recognition of Haiti as a nation that it had sought from 1804-1862 but which had been denied due to its population being descended from former African slaves.
After the war, Sumner supported the purchase of Alaska from Russia. His main contribution continued to be in the area of civil rights, demanding that the freedmen be allowed to vote should they, as well as all other citizens, pass a literacy test. He also strove to remove racial distinctions, mainly the word white, from federal legislation in order to preserve the natural rights entrusted to all citizens in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
Sumner is rightfully considered a hero of the north, the underrepresented, and the oppressed. This particular statue was erected in 1902. It was originally submitted for consideration to a committee designing a statue of Sumner in 1876 to be placed in the Boston Public Garden. The design won when submitted by an anonymous sculptor, however it was rejected when it was discovered the design was the work of a woman. In 1902, friends of the sculptor, Anne Whitney, paid for its construction to honor the great son of Massachusetts, Charles Sumner.