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His uncompromising attitude did not endear him to moderates and his arrogance and inflexibility often inhibited his effectiveness as a legislator. He was largely excluded from work on the Thirteenth Amendment , in part because he did not get along with Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull , who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and did much of the work on it.

Sumner introduced an alternative amendment that combined the Thirteenth Amendment with elements of the Fourteenth Amendment. It would have abolished slavery and declared that "all people are equal before the law. He viewed segregation and slavery as two sides of the same coin. Sumner repeatedly tried to remove the word "white" from naturalization laws. He introduced bills to that effect in and , but neither came to a vote. On July 2, , Sumner moved to amend a pending bill in a way that would strike the word "white" wherever in all Congressional acts pertaining to naturalization of immigrants.

On July 4, , he said: "Senators undertake to disturb us If the Chinese come here, they will come for citizenship or merely for labor. If they come for citizenship, then in this desire do they give a pledge of loyalty to our institutions; and where is the peril in such vows? They are peaceful and industrious; how can their citizenship be the occasion of solicitude? The bill was passed a year after his death by Congress in February and signed into law by President Ulysses S.

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Grant on March 1, It was the last civil rights legislation for 82 years until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in when it decided a group of cases known as the Civil Rights Cases. Throughout March , Sec. William H.

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In a 3-hour speech, Sumner spoke in favor of the treaty on the Senate floor, describing in detail Alaska's imperial history, natural resources, population, and climate. Sumner wanted to block British expansion from Canada, arguing that Alaska was geographically and financially strategic, especially for the Pacific Coast States. He said Alaska would increase America's borders, spread republican institutions, and represent an act of friendship with Russia. The treaty won its needed two-thirds majority by one vote.

The treaty neither formally recognized, categorized, nor compensated any native Alaskan Eskimos or Indians; only referring to them as "uncivilized tribes" under the control of Congress. However, citizenship was available to Russian residents. Creoles , persons of Russian and Indian descent, were considered Russian.

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Sumner was well regarded in the United Kingdom, but after the war he sacrificed his reputation in the U. The U. Sumner held that since Britain had accorded the rights of belligerents to the Confederacy, it was responsible for extending the duration of the war and consequent losses.

In , he asserted that Britain should pay damages for not merely the raiders, but also "that other damage, immense and infinite, caused by the prolongation of the war. Sumner did not expect that Britain ever would or could pay this immense sum, but he suggested that Britain turn over Canada as payment. At the Geneva arbitration conference which settled U.

Sumner had some influence over J. Lothrop Motley , the U. This offended President Grant, but while it would be given as the official reason for Motley's removal, was not really so pressing: the dismissal took place a year after Motley's alleged misbehavior, and the real reason was an act of spite by the president against Sumner.

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In , President Grant, in an expansionist plan, looked into the annexation of a Caribbean island country, the Dominican Republic , then known as Santo Domingo. Grant believed that the mineral resources on the island would be valuable to the United States, and that African Americans repressed in the South would have a safe haven to which to migrate.

A labor shortage in the South would force Southerners to be tolerant towards African Americans. The initial treaty by Babcock had not been authorized by the State Department. Navy to keep the Dominican Republic free from invasion and civil war while the treaty negotiations took place. This military action was controversial since the naval protection was unauthorized by the U.

Sumner's Washington home and mistakenly believed that Sumner had given consent for the treaty. Sumner stated that he had only promised to give the treaty friendly consideration. This meeting would later lead to bitter contention between Sumner and Grant. Sumner, opposed to American imperialism in the Caribbean and fearful that annexation would lead to the conquest of the neighboring black republic of Haiti, became convinced that corruption lay behind the treaty, and that men close to the president shared in the corruption.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sumner initially withheld his opinion on the treaty on January 18, Sumner's committee voted against annexation and at Sumner's suggestion and quite possibly to save the party from an ugly fight or the president from embarrassment, the Senate held its debate of the treaty behind closed doors in executive session. Grant persisted and sent messages to Congress in favor of annexation on March 14, , and May 31, Sumner stated that Grant's use of the U. Navy as a protectorate was a violation of International law and unconstitutional. The following day, Grant, feeling betrayed by Sumner, retaliated by ordering the dismissal of Sumner's close friend John Lothrop Motley , Ambassador to Britain.

The two men, friends until then, cooled into bitter enemies. In December , still fearful that Grant meant to acquire Santo Domingo somehow, Sumner gave a fiercely critical speech accusing the president of usurpation and Babcock of unethical conduct. Already Grant, supported by Fish, had initiated a campaign to depose Sumner from the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Although Sumner stated he was an "Administration man," in addition to having stopped Grant's Dominican Republic treaty attempt, Sumner had defeated Grant's full repeal of the Tenure of Office Act , blocked Grant's nomination of Alexander Stewart as U.

Secretary of Treasury, and been a constant harassing force pushing Reconstruction policies faster than Grant had been willing to go. Grant resented Sumner's superiority of manner, as well. Told once that Sumner did not believe in the Bible, the president is supposed to have said that he was not surprised: "He didn't write it. When the 42nd U. Sumner now turned against Grant.

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Like many other reformers, he decried the corruption in Grant's administration. Sumner believed that the civil rights program he championed could not be carried through by a corrupt government. In , he joined the Liberal Republican Party which had been started by reformist Republicans such as Horace Greeley. The Liberal Republicans supported black suffrage, the three Reconstruction amendments, and the basic civil rights already protected by law, but they also called for amnesty for ex-Confederates and decried the Republican governments in the South elected with the help of black votes, belittled the terrorism of the Ku-Klux Klan, and argued that the time had come to restore "home rule" in the South, which in practical terms meant white Democratic rule.

time, n., int., and conj. : Oxford English Dictionary

For Sumner's civil rights bill they gave no support at all, but Sumner joined them because he convinced himself that the time had come for reconciliation, and that Democrats were sincere in declaring that they would abide by the Reconstruction settlement. Sumner never saw his support for civil rights as hostile to the South. On the contrary, he had always contended that a guarantee for equality was the one condition essential for true reconciliation. Unlike some other Radical Republicans, he had strongly opposed any hanging or imprisonment of Confederate leaders. In December , he introduced a Senate resolution providing that Civil War battle names should not appear as "battle honors" on the regimental flags of the U.

The proposal was not new: Sumner had offered a similar resolution on May 8, , and in he had proposed that no painting hanging in the Capitol portray scenes from the Civil War, because, as he saw it, keeping alive the memories of a war between a people was barbarous. His proposal did not affect the vast majority of battle-flags, as nearly all the regiments that fought had been state regiments, and these were not covered. But Sumner's idea was that any United States regiment, that would in the future enlist southerners as well as northerners, should not carry on its ensigns any insult to those who joined it.

His resolution had no chance of passing, but its presentation offended Union army veterans. The Massachusetts legislature censured Sumner for giving "an insult to the loyal soldiery of the nation" and as "meeting the unqualified condemnation of the people of the Commonwealth. He succeeded early in with the help of abolitionist Joshua Bowen Smith , who happened to be serving in the legislature that year.

He died the following afternoon. On October 30, , the Virginius , a munitions and troop transportation ship supporting the Cuban Rebellion and flying the U. Long ailing, Charles Sumner died of a heart attack at his home in Washington, D. He lay in state at the United States Capitol rotunda , [] the second senator so honored Henry Clay being the first, in Contemporaries and historians have explored Sumner's personality at length. Sumner's friend Senator Carl Schurz praised Sumner's integrity, his "moral courage," the "sincerity of his convictions," and the "disinterestedness of his motives.

What's more, concludes Donald, Sumner was a coward who avoided confrontations with his many enemies, whom he routinely insulted in prepared speeches. Biographers have varied in their appraisal of Sumner. The Pulitzer Prize went to biographer David Donald whose two-volume biography points up Sumner's troubles in dealing with his colleagues: [].

Distrusted by friends and allies, and reciprocating their distrust, a man of "ostentatious culture", "unvarnished egotism", and "'a specimen of prolonged and morbid juvenility,'" Sumner combined a passionate conviction in his own moral purity with a command of 19th-century "rhetorical flourishes" and a "remarkable talent for rationalization".

Stumbling "into politics largely by accident", elevated to the United States Senate largely by chance, willing to indulge in "Jacksonian demagoguery" for the sake of political expediency, Sumner became a bitter and potent agitator of sectional conflict. Carving out a reputation as the South's most hated foe and the Negro's bravest friend, he inflamed sectional differences, advanced his personal fortunes, and helped bring about national tragedy.

Moorfield Storey , Sumner's private secretary for two years and subsequent biographer, seeing some of the same qualities, interprets them more charitably:. Charles Sumner was a great man in his absolute fidelity to principle, his clear perception of what his country needed, his unflinching courage, his perfect sincerity, his persistent devotion to duty, his indifference to selfish considerations, his high scorn of anything petty or mean. He was essentially simple to the end, brave, kind, and pure Originally modest and not self-confident, the result of his long contest was to make him egotistical and dogmatic.

There are few successful men who escape these penalties of success, the common accompaniment of increasing years Sumner's naively simple nature, his confidence in his fellows, and his lack of humor combined to prevent his concealing what many feel but are better able to hide. From the time he entered public life till he died he was a strong force constantly working for righteousness To Sumner more than to any single man, except possibly Lincoln, the colored race owes its emancipation and such measure of equal rights as it now enjoys.


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Sumner's reputation among historians in the first half of the 20th century was largely negative—he was blamed especially for the excesses of Radical Reconstruction, which, in the prevailing scholarship, included letting blacks vote and hold office. However, in recent years scholars have emphasized his role as a foremost champion of black rights before, during and after the Civil War; one historian says he was "perhaps the least racist man in America in his day.

Anne-Marie Taylor's biography of Sumner up to provided a much more sympathetic assessment of a young man, widely respected, conscientious, cultured, courageous, and driven into political prominence by his own sense of duty. Sumner's previously critical biographer David Herbert Donald, in the second volume of his biography, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man , was much more favorable to Sumner, and though critical, recognized his large contribution to the positive accomplishments of Reconstruction.


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It has been noted that events in the Civil Rights Movement between , when Donald's first volume was published, and , when the second volume was published, likely swayed Donald somewhat further towards Sumner. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of Sumner:. Sumner's position is exceptional in its honor In Congress, he did not rush into party position. He sat long silent and studious.


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His friends, I remember, were told that they would find Sumner a man of the world like the rest; "it is quite impossible to be at Washington and not bend; he will bend as the rest have done. He took his position and kept it Let him hear that every man of worth in New England loves his virtues.