This Day in History

Jan. 6, 1811: Charles Sumner is Born

Time Periods: 1800
Themes: Voting Rights, Reconstruction, Laws & Citizen Rights, Slavery and Resistance

Charles Sumner. Photo by Mathew Brady – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.


From the beginning of our history the country has been afflicted with compromise. It is by compromise that human rights have been abandoned. — Senator Charles Sumner

Charles Sumner (Jan. 6, 1811 – Mar. 11, 1874) was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. He was also a lawyer, powerful orator, leader of the anti-slavery forces in Massachusetts, and a leader of the Radical Republicans. He advocated for full recognition of Haiti, against the U.S.-Mexico War, for true Reconstruction with land distribution, against school segregation, and more.

On May 22, 1856, a couple of days after Charles Sumner gave his famous anti-slavery speech, “Crime Against Kansas,” he was beaten so badly in the Senate chambers that he could not return to office for three years.

George William Curtis recounted in his eulogy for Sumner on June 9, 1874, in the Boston Music Hall, that

When I argued with him [Charles Sumner] that opponents might be sincere, he thundered reply, “Upon such a question, there is no other side.”