Charles Sumner became the junior senator from Massachusetts in December 1851, after a bitter struggle against Boston's formidable Whig establishment, led by Daniel Webster. Sumner drew support from a coalition of Democrats and Free-Soilers who opposed slavery and the compromise measures that Webster had long endorsed. In the Senate, in 1855, Sumner's eloquent speech, "The Crime Against Kansas," compared South Carolina Senator Andrew P. Butler to Don Quixote, whose mistress, "though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight. I mean the harlot, slavery." Two days later, Butler's nephew, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, entered the Senate chamber and beat Sumner unconscious. Though Sumner remained an invalid for three years, his constituents reelected him by a large margin. After Lincoln's victory in 1860, Massachusetts politicians still sought to avoid war, but Sumner resisted every compromise measure. In the Senate, he was head of the Foreign Policy Committee, and worked to legislate equal rights for people of color. By the end of the war, he and Lincoln were recognized as the two most influential men in public life. Sumner posed for Brady around 1860, at the height of his power and celebrity.

Charles Sumner
1811 - 1874
Mathew Brady Studio
Albumen silver print
(carte de visite), circa 1860
8.6 x 5.4 cm (3 3/8 x 2 3/16 inches)
National Portrait Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, D.C.