This letter was written by 51 year-old Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner (1811-1874) who needs no introduction to most Americans. Civil War historians will remember him primarily as the mouthpiece of the abolitionist party in the U. S. Senate who was brutally assaulted on the floor of the Senate Chamber by South Carolina Democratic Congressman Preston Brooks in 1856. Sumner eventually returned to the U. S. Senate and served until 1871.
The subject of this letter by Sen. Sumner pertains to the appointment of Mr. Webster, an “Old Free-Soiler” to the Post of Collector—a political appointment. I can’t be certain that the name mentioned in the letter is “Webster” but I have a hunch it is and that it probably refers to 49 year-old Col. Daniel “Fletcher” Webster (1813-1862), the son of Daniel Webster (1782-1852). Fletcher served as a member of the Massachusetts legislature in 1847, and as the surveyor of the port of Boston from 1850-1861. He served as Colonel of the 12th Massachusetts Infantry and was killed in the Second Battle of Bull Run on 30 August 1862, just three weeks after this letter was written. In his book, The True Daniel Webster, author Sydney George Fisher wrote that Fletcher Webster’s political views varied somewhat from his father’s. “He rather inclined to be a Free-Soiler,” and he “attended the convention which founded the Free Soil party in Massachusetts.” [p. 495].
In the summer of 1862, after a year of hard service as the Colonel of the 12th Massachusetts, Fletcher Webster may have been seeking a situation that might allow him to resign his commission and return home to his wife and surviving children. His youngest child, 12 year-old Julia Applegate Webster, had recently died on 10 July 1862 from inflammation of the brain, and he may have wished to return to his grieving wife who had seen at least three of her children die young. The identity of the recipient of this letter is not revealed but it was most likely someone acting on behalf of the Colonel who wished to have the Colonel’s office-seeking venture remain confidential until an appointment was made.
8th August 1862
My dear sir,
I always desire to serve Old Free Soilers. I feel for them something better than a freemasonry & among them I place Mr. Webster. I have tried especially to serve him. My friends know it. He does not—because I have been unsuccessful. I pressed his case before I left Washington & I have written to George Boutwell ¹ pressing it since my return. Today I have a letter from Washington saying that it will be hard to provide for him but not saying why.
I have proposed that, as the Post of Collector seems appropriated, he will be made assessor. If this should fail, Mr. [James] Buffington promises that he shall have a deputy-ship embracing the town in his own neighborhood [of Fall River, Massachusetts]. But my preference is that he shall be chief.
This case pains me & your note with its fervent appeals adds to my pain.
I am sorry that you [are] confined to the home for I should be glad to cafe with you in the district.
Ever faithfully yours, — Charles Sumner
¹ George Boutwell was the first Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service that the Lincoln Administration created in July 1862. Boutwell took office officially on 17 July 1862 and he must have been besieged with requests for political appointments.