Ohio History Journal

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From Small Minority to Great

Cause: Letters of Charles

Sumner to Salmon P. Chase


Fifteen hitherto unpublished letters from Charles Sumner to Salm-

on P. Chase trace the spread and politicization of the antislavery

movement and document the close ties between Massachusetts and

Ohio as that movement grew. Strongly committed in the 1840s and

1850s to limiting the extension of slavery, Chase and Sumner by 1861

hoped to preside over its extinction. Sharing a New England back-

ground (New Hampshire and Massachusetts) and education

(Dartmouth and Harvard), as well as the same profession, law, both

leaders were convinced their cause was a righteous one. Earnest, hu-

morless men, both also had a proclivity for scholarly, high-sounding

rhetoric. In each, combined with a sincere desire to prevent the ex-

tension of slavery was a strong ego, reflected in Chase's political am-

bitions and Sumner's oratory.

The two men exchanged approximately 115 letters from 1845 to

1861.1 At the beginning of the correspondence, Chase, settled in

Cincinnati, had already begun organizing antislavery conventions

and drawing up resolutions condemning slavery. He left the Demo-

crats to help form the Free Soil Party in 1848. After a term in the Sen-

ate, 1849-1855, he served as Republican Governor of Ohio from 1856

to 1860. Sumner, less well-known in the 1840s than Chase, had en-



Beverly Wilson Palmer is Assistant Professor of Writing and Project Director, Charles

Sumner Correspondence, at Pitzer College, Claremont, California.


1. These Sumner letters are selected from the 57 letters from Sumner to Chase,

1846-1865, in the Chase Papers at the Library of Congress; most of Chase's letters to

Sumner, located at the Houghton Library, Harvard, and the Pennsylvania Historical

Society, were printed in the "Diary and Correspondence of Salmon P. Chase," here-

after referred to as "Correspondence," Albert B. Hart (ed), Annual Report of the

American Historical Association for 1902, II (Washington, D.C., 1903), 111-288. Words

or phrases cancelled in the manuscript are included only if they appear to have psy-

chological or historical significance; otherwise they are silently omitted. Unless other-

wise specified, sources of information in the notes are standard references such as the

Dictionary of American Biography, and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.