Charles Sumner was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 6, 1811, the son of Charles Pinckney Sumner and Relief Jacob. He earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1830 and a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1833; he practiced law in Boston between 1835 and 1837. After spending over two years in Europe, Sumner returned to the United States, and became involved in reform movements. He gained fame for his antislavery orations and involvement in the Free Soil Party. In 1851, he was elected to the United States Senate from Massachusetts. He served in Congress for the rest of his life as a member of the Free Soil Party (1851-1857) and Republican Party (1857-1874).
Sumner rose to national prominence for his outspoken opposition to slavery. On May 22, 1856, in response to Sumner’s speech opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked him with a cane, seriously injuring him; Sumner did not return to the Senate until 1859. After the war, Sumner continued his reform work, and worked to secure equal rights for African Americans.
Sumner and Alice Mason Hooper married in 1866 but separated soon thereafter; they had no children. Charles Sumner died in Washington, D.C., on March 11, 1874.
Elliot C. Cowdin was born in Jamaica, Vermont, in August 1819, and received his education in Boston, where he lived until moving to New York City in 1852. In New York, he founded the importing firm of Elliot C. Cowdin & Co., and became involved in the Union League Club and the New York City Chamber of Commerce. On December 14, 1874, Cowdin spoke at a memorial service held in Charles Sumner's honor at the New England Society in New York.