Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Charles Sumner Collection, 1840-1874

Finding aid created by
Meg Hixon, August 2012

Summary Information
Title: Charles Sumner collection
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1840-1874
Bulk dates: 1852-1874
Extent: 26 items
The Charles Sumner collection contains correspondence, a manuscript speech, and printed materials by or related to United States Senator Charles Sumner (1811-1874). Included are 10 of Sumner's outgoing personal letters and items related to a memorial speech that Elliot C. Cowdin delivered in honor of the late senator on December 14, 1874.
Language: The material is in English and French
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1946-1995. M-616, M-3003, M-3200.4.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

Charles Sumner Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged in the following series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Memorial Speech
  • Series III: Printed Items

Each series is arranged chronologically, with undated items placed at the end.


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.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Charles Sumner collection is made up of 26 items: 14 letters, a manuscript speech, 2 printed pamphlets, and 9 newspaper clippings related to United States Senator Charles Sumner.

The Correspondence series (14 items) contains 10 outgoing letters written by Charles Sumner, 2 letters by George Sumner, 1 letter to Charles Sumner, and 1 letter to Elliot C. Cowdin. Sumner's outgoing correspondence consists primarily of personal letters. He discussed political issues, such as his opinions about Edward Everett (April 21, 1854) and his intention to return to Congress after being attacked by Rep. Preston Brooks (December 11, 1856). In other letters, he mentioned his travels in Europe. Sumner received a copy of a statement praising his character after his return to the Senate, dated from Paris, May 13, 1857.

George Sumner wrote 2 letters to Elliot C. Cowdin about Charles Sumner's lectures (undated), and Edwin Percy Whipple wrote one letter praising Cowdin's memorial speech on Sumner (December 16, 1874).

The Speech is a 30-page manuscript draft of Elliot C. Cowdin's memorial speech about the life of Charles Sumner, which Cowdin delivered before the New England Society in New York City on December 14, 1874. He reflected on the senator's political contributions, including his support of emancipation.

The Printed Items series includes a black-bordered program for the music played at Charles Sumner's funeral (March 16, 1874); a printed copy of Elliot C. Cowdin's memorial speech about Sumner (December 14, 1874); and 9 newspaper clippings printed after Sumner's death in March 1874. The clippings originated from different papers, and several refer to Elliot C. Cowdin's memorial speech about Sumner.

Subject Terms

    • Abolitionists--United States.
    • Boston (Mass.)
    • Europe--Description and travel.
    • Everett, Edward, 1794-1865.
    • New England Society in the City of New York.
    • Obituaries.
    • Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874--Death.
    • United States. Congress. Senate.
    • United States--Politics and government--1849-1877.
    • Cowdin, Elliot C. (Elliot Christopher), 1819-1880.
    • New Jersey Historical Society.
    • Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874.
    • Sumner, George.
    • Whipple, Edwin Percy, 1819-1886.
    Genre Terms:
    • Clippings (information artifacts)
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Programs (documents)
    • Speeches.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   20, Small Collections Folder   23
     April 3, 1840-December 10, 1874, and  undated
    Memorial Speech [series]
    Box   20, Small Collections Folder   24
     [December 14, 1874]
    Printed Items [series]
    Box   20, Small Collections Folder   25
    Pamphlets,  March 16, 1874, and  December 14, 1874
    Folder   26  
    Newspaper clippings,  1874
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The William L. Clements Library has a variety of additional materials related to Charles Sumner.

    Elliot C. Cowdin compiled the Anson Burlingame collection.


    Blue, Frederick J. "Sumner, Charles." American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press, 2000. DOI: 04-00969.

    "Sumner, Charles." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Online edition. 2012.