Ohio History Journal

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Towards a National Antislavery

Party: The Giddings-Sumner Alliance


Shortly after meeting Joshua Reed Giddings in 1846, Charles Sumner,

in a 30 December 1846 article in the Boston Courier, praised the Ohio

Congressman for his opposition to the Mexican War. Emphasizing

Giddings's roots in New England, Sumner wrote: "New England may

be happy that her voice was heard at so early a stage of this important

discussion, and in a manner calculated to influence it so materially."

Already a widely recognized antislavery leader, Giddings had repre-

sented Ohio in the House of Representatives since 1839. In 1842 he had

been drummed out of that body for trying to force the House to go on

record opposing federal support of slavery; he was immediately

reelected by constituents in the Sixteenth District of northern Ohio and

returned to serve until 1859. In 1846, Sumner, on the other hand, was

just embarking on a political career. The young Boston lawyer's 1845

antiwar oration had attracted national attention, while locally his

prison and school reform efforts exasperated the establishment Whigs.

From their first meeting, Giddings and Sumner formed an alliance.

They shared not only their dedication to antislavery politics but also

strong optimism and moral fervor. Sumner, a political intriguer, was

still a political outsider. But Giddings was pleased to find such a

fervent, articulate Massachusetts ally. Early on he must have recog-

nized Sumner's magnetism and verve. In a letter to Sumner of

25 December 1846, Giddings wrote that despite his confidence in his

convictions, he lacked "the qualities of mind necessary to influence

those who are timid and wavering."1 Sumner of course rejoiced in the

opportunity to influence a well-established radical.







Beverly Wilson Palmer is the editor of the Charles Sumner Correspondence and

teaches at Pomona College, Claremont, California.


1. Letter to Sumner, 25 December 1846, Reel 5/Frame 391, The Papers of Charles

Sumner, ed., Beverly Wilson Palmer (Cambridge, 1988). Hereafter all references to this

edition will be abbreviated, e.g., 5/391, PCS.