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Personality Profiles

February 7, 1870

Matthew Carpenter

In 1870, a New York Times reporter looked down from the Senate press gallery to offer his readers word-portraits of several dozen notable senators. Here are eight excerpts.

Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. "Whether or not he is the gifted statesman believed to be by some; whether or not he is a one-idea man, as believed by many, he is certainly an attractive man. All who visit the Senate gallery for the first time at once search out the Senator who, some thirteen years ago, was nearly beaten to death in the Old Chamber."

Matt Carpenter of Wisconsin, "when not taking his happy stroll up and down the Chamber, or discussing a favorite Havana [cigar] in the anteroom [is] the best speaker in the Senate at the present time. He speaks to his audience and not to the press; hence he never reads a speech."

Lyman Trumbull of Illinois. "If not the profoundest thinker in the Senate, he is the ablest lawyer and the most skillful debater. While not easily irritated, he was only a few days ago aroused in his debate with the towering Senator [Sumner] of Massachusetts and [as orators] Greek met Greek."

Carl Schurz of Missouri "has a pinched frame, much like a gnarled oak-knot, and looks like a cruel man, which he is not by any means. He may be said to have the most evenly balanced mind of any man in the Chamber. His logic is good and the rhetoric pure and beautiful. He has no art for little things; he speaks to the point and when he has finished, he retires to the anteroom to smoke his cigarette."

William Stewart of Nevada "is a self-made man. [Accustomed] to the excitement and emergencies of frontier life, he is at times impulsive, and more blunt and practical than he is poetic or polished."

Roscoe Conkling of New York "is as cold as an iceberg, but one of the strongest debaters on the floor, with a personal presence of great dignity."

Edmund Ross of Kansas "is a plain sensible man and was probably more astonished than many others to find himself in the United States Senate." And finally . . .

Garrett Davis of Kentucky "is the Rip Van Winkle of the Senate. He has been asleep [for the 30 years] since 1840 and is still snoring soundly. When he awakes to the fact that slavery has been abolished—when he awakes, did I say? He speaks well, but his topics [relevant to 1840] clear the galleries [of 1870]."

These eight senators were doing their best to help reconstruct a depleted postwar nation.