He and Sumner met and greeted each other with the abandon of boys. No duel had been fought, since Brooks, the challenger, had refused to pass through Pennsylvania to Clifton, the place of meeting, for fear of mob violence. Even the offer of a safe conduct of troops by the governor, failed to reassure him, and Burlingame had hurried on to set his friend’s mind at rest. After the general rejoicing, the two sat facing each other, when Sumner leaned forward, placed a hand on each of Burlingame’s shoulders, and said:
“Tell me, Anson, you did not mean to shoot that man, did you?”
Burlingame’s head dropped an instant, then raising it, he said, slowly:
“I intended to take the best aim I could.” Here he drew back his right arm, and took the position of holding a gun, “at the broadest part of him, his breast; wait for the word, and then—fire!”
Sumner dropped back in his chair, let his hands fall on his knees and exclaimed, sorrowfully:
“Oh, Anson! I did not believe it.”
Burlingame’s eyes filled with tears, and he said:
“Charles, I saw you lying bleeding and insensible on the Senate floor, when I did not expect ever again to hear you speak; and I intended then to kill him. I tell you, Charles, we have got to meet those fellows with guns, some day, and the sooner we begin, the better.” On being consulted, both these champions of the right said the Visiter must not desert the cause. Sumner added solemnly:
“The slave never had more need of it; never had more need of you.”
So that editor went on with her work, feeling such an opinion as almost a divine call.
In talking with Mr. Sumner during that visit, I learned that the same doctor attended both President Harrison and President Taylor in their last illness, and used his professional authority to prevent their friends seeing them until the fatal termination of their illness was certain. Also, that it was that same doctor who was within call when Brooks made his assault on Sumner, took charge of the case, and made an official statement that the injury was very slight, gave it a superficial dressing, and sought to exclude every one from the room of his patient. Said Sumner:
“I shuddered when I recovered consciousness, and found this man beside me.”
He dismissed him promptly, and did not hesitate to say that he believed he would not have recovered under his treatment. When the South seceded, this useful man left Washington and joined the Confederacy.
The campaign of 1856 was very spirited. A large mass meeting was held in Pittsburg, and Cassius M. Clay was the orator of the occasion. He was at the heighth of a great national popularity, and seemed as if any honor might be open to him. He dined that evening with Robert Palmer, of Allegheny, and a small party of friends. The house was brilliantly lighted, and at the table, while Clay was talking, and every one in gala day spirits, the light suddenly went out, and what a strange sensation fell on one guest—a feeling of coming evil.