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[411]

Doc. 50. speech of Jefferson Davis

at Columbia, S. C., October 4, 1864.
Ladies and gentlemen of the metropolis of South Carolina: Your Mayor has welcomed me to your home. I receive his greeting with that gratitude which one only feels when he .hears expressed the language of commendation from those whose silence would have made him realize that his conduct had been bad indeed. If in this great struggle for the rights of the States and the liberties of the people, to secure the possession of which, and to transmit which to us, our fathers of the Revolution shed their blood, South Carolina, who has stood for thirty years in the vanguard, should give him who asserted those rights no word of well done, he might feel convinced that he had failed, as a public servant, to perform his mission, and as a man had proven unable to cope with the responsibilities of his position. Therefore, it is, Mr. Mayor, and fellow-citizens of Columbia, that I feel heartily grateful for the welcome received at your hands.

South Carolina has struggled nobly in the war, and suffered many .sacrifices. There is, indeed, no portion of our land where the pall of mourning has not been spread; but I thank the Giver of all good, that our people still remain firm there, above all other places. I am told there have been none to waver and none to doubt. It often happens that at a distance from a scene of action, men, who if present would measure it, magnify danger, until at last those become despondent whose hearts, if actually stirred by perils, would no sooner think of shrinking from the prompt performance of duty than the gallant sons of South Carolina, whose blood has so generously flowed on the many battle-fields of this war. But if there be any who feel that our cause is in danger, that final success may not crown our efforts, that we are not stronger to-day than when we began the struggle, that we are not able to continue the supplies to our armies and to our people, let all such read a contradiction in the smiling face of our land, and the teeming evidences of plenty which everywhere greet the eye; let them go to those places where brave men are standing in front of the foe, and there receive the assurance that we shall have final success, and that every man who does not live to see his country free, will see a freeman's grave. [Applause.]

There are those who, like the Israelites of old, are longing to turn back to the flesh-pots they have left; who have thought there still may have been some feasible mode of reconciliation, and even be willing to rush into a reconstruction of the Union. Such, I am glad to know, do not flourish on the soil of South Carolina. Such cannot be the sentiments of any man in the Confederate States, if he will only reflect that from the beginning down to the present hour, your Government has made every effort within its power to avoid a collision of arms in the first instance, and since then, to obtain every possible means of settlement, honorable to ourselves, based on a recognition of our independence. First we sent commissioners to ask on what terms the quarrel could be adjusted, and since that time we have proclaimed in every public paper, our desire for peace. Insolently our every effort has been met. The Vice-President of the Confederate States was refused a passport to the North, when his object was negotiation — that means by which all wars must be terminated. The door was rudely shut in our faces. Intervention and recognition by foreign states, so long anticipated has proved an ignis fatuus. There is, then, but one means by which you can hope to gain independence and an honorable peace, and that is by uniting with harmony, energy and determination, in fighting those great battles, and achieving those great victories, which will teach the world that we can defend our rights, and the Yankee nation that it is death to invade them. [Applause.]

With every Confederate victory our stocks rise in the foreign market — that touchstone of European sentiment. With every noble achievement that influences the public mind abroad, you are taking one step forward, and bringing foreign nations one step nearer your aid, in recognizing and lending you friendly intervention, whenever they are satisfied that, intervention or no intervention, the Confederacy can sustain itself.

Does any one believe that Yankees are to be conciliated by terms of concession? Does any man imagine that we can conquer the Yankees by retreating before them, or do you not all know that the only way to make spaniels civil is to whip them? And you can whip them, if all the men capable of bearing arms will do their duty by taking their places under the standard of their country, before the veteran troops of the North receive the fresh increment which is being gathered in the Northern States. Now is the good and accepted time for every man to rally to the standard of his country, and crush the invader upon her soil; and this, I believe is in your power. If every man fit to bear arms will place himself in the ranks with those who are already there, we shall not battle in vain, and our achievements will be grand, final and complete. Is this a time to ask what the law demands of you — to inquire whether or not you are exempt under the law or to ask if the magistrate will take you out of the enrolling office by a writ of habeas corpus? Rather is it not the time for every man capable of bearing arms to say: “My country needs my services, and my country shall have them!” When your heroic fathers, the Whigs of the Revolution, fought in that war which secured your birthright, their armies were not gathered by asking who can be forced into the field, but “Who are able to fight?” No man was too old and no boy too young, if he had the physical [412] capacity to enter the ranks of the army. In the days of the Revolution, the boy left his paternal roof only to return to its blackened ruins. He grew to manhood among its struggles; and may not your country claim similar services from the youth of the present day? Like them you must emulate the glory of your sires. Say not that you are unequal to the task, for I believe that our people are even better than were our honored ancestors. They have fought more and bloodier battles, and there are fewer who are lukewarm in the cause now, than existed in the days of the Revolution. What a glorious reflection it is, that wherever the tide of war has rolled its devastating wave over the land, just there do you find every heart beating true to the Confederacy, strengthened, as it were by vicissitudes, and every woman ready to share her last loaf with the soldier who is fighting for our rights.

A plan of negotiation has been offered for consideration — a plan of negotiation by States. Well, it is not easy to see on what terms the States can negotiate. In the first place, they have no constitutional power to do so. In the second place, Mr. Lincoln has said that he will not negotiate with them unless they can control the army, and they can only obtain the power to control the army by traitorously attempting to enter into a treaty contrary to the Government they have instituted. But suppose this were possible, what are the terms offered? If you will acknowledge your crimes, lay down your arms, emancipate your slaves, and turn over your leader — as they call your humble servant — to be punished, then you will have permission to vote together with your negroes upon the terms under which Mr. Lincoln will be graciously pleased to allow you to live as a part of the nation over which he presides. If there be a man within the sound of my voice who contemplates such a proposition, I pity him from the bottom of my heart. My only wish is that he was north of the dividing line. His is not the spirit that animated our fathers, and he is not fit to exist among the men who are now perilling their lives in the cause in which we are engaged, for he who is so slavish can not be trusted with the sacred guardianship of the widows and orphans of the soldiers who have died in battle.

I have just returned from that army from which we have had the saddest accounts — the Army of Tennessee--and I am able to bear to you words of good cheer. That army has increased in strength since the fall of Atlanta. It has risen in tone; its march is onward; its face looking to the front. So far as I am able to judge, General Hood's strategy has been good, and his conduct has been gallant. His eye is now fixed upon a point far beyond that where he was assailed by the enemy. He hopes soon to have his hand upon Sherman's line of communication, and to fix it where he can hold it. And if but a half--nay, one fourth--of the men to whom the service has a right will give him their strength, I see no chance for Sherman to escape from a defeat or a disgraceful retreat. I therefore hope, in view of all the contingencies of war, with all the confidence which I found in the army, that within thirty days that army, which has so boastfully taken up its winter quarters in the heart of the Confederacy, will be in search of a crossing on the Tennessee river.

That our army retreated far was but a natural precursor of that despondency which spreads itself over the country; but as I approached the region occupied by our troops the hope increased, until at last I found in the army the acme of confidence itself. General Beauregard, so well known to you all, is going there with a general command which will enable him to concentrate all the troops that can be made available for the public defence. I, therefore, say be of good cheer, for I hope that brighter intelligence will soon reach you. [Applause.]

But, my friends, if it be otherwise — if we suffer reverses, it is what is to be expected from the fortunes of war. It is the fate of all human designs. In that event we shall have reason to anticipate from all brave men a conduct becoming the occasion, and shall look to you to redress your misfortunes, to rise in the face of disaster, and resolve to succeed, determined that you will live or die free. [Applause.]

Your brave sons are battling for the cause of the country everywhere; your Fort Sumter, where was first given to the breeze the flag of the Confederacy, still stands. The honor of the State has not been dimmed in the struggle, and her soldiers will be sustained by the thought that when they are no more, South Carolina will still retain that honor with which she commenced the war, and have accumulated that greatness and glory which will make her an examplar of all that is chivalric and manly in a nation struggling for existence. You who have so long been the advocates of State Rights have never raised a clamor against the laws which seem to invade them, and I think, for obvious reasons, you are not like those new-born lights who, perhaps, are just beginning to appreciate the great principles of that creed. You saw laws passed which were necessary to make those States which are in cooperation effective for the good of the whole. You understood the nature of the compact entered into by the sovereign States, and you have not been fearful that the agent created by yourselves was likely to turn against that Government for which he and you had been so long struggling. Understanding the means of preserving your State Government, you have not been frightened by the clamor of those who do not breathe the pure air of State sovereignty. Then, you have had no difficulty in the organization of the three forces incident to military service. You are in that condition in which your defence must depend upon what does not belong to the active forces of the country. Your battles are fought on other fields. You have on the coast some [413] necessity for what is termed an active army, and should it be incumbent upon you to furnish troops from your reserves, you have no constitutional scruples, like Governor Strong, of Massachusetts, against marching your militia from the borders of the State, to fight the battles of the cause in which you are engaged. I honor you for it. It is needless for me to argue questions here which have been discussed elsewhere, for here I am among the disciples of him from whom I learned my lessons of State Rights — the great, the immortal John C. Calhoun.

Among those to whom we are indebted in South Carolina, I have not yet alluded to that peculiar claim of gratitude which is due to the fair countrywomen of the Palmetto State--they who have gone to the hospital to watch by the side of the sick — those who throng your wayside homes — who have used their needle with the industry of sewing-women — who have borne privation without a murmur, and who have given up fathers, sons, and husbands, with more than Spartan virtue, because they called on no one to witness and record the deed. Silently, with all the dignity and grandeur of patriotism, they have made their sacrifices — sacrifices which, if written, would be surpassed by nothing in history. If all the acts of heroism and virtue of the women of the South could be transmitted to the future, it would present such a record as the world has never seen. All honor, then, I say, to the ladies of the Palmetto State. Their gallantry is only different from that of her sons in this, that they deem it unfeminine to strike; and yet such is the heroism they have displayed — such the noble demeanor they have exhibited — that at the last moment, when trampled upon, and it became a necessity, they would not hesitate to strike the invader a corpse at their feet. [Applause.]

It is scarcely necessary for me, at a time like this, to argue grave questions respecting policy, past, present or prospective. I only ask you to have faith and confidence, and to believe that every faculty of my head and my heart is devoted to your cause, and to that I shall, if necessary, give my life. Let every one in his own sphere, and according to his own capacity, devote himself to the single purpose of filling up and sustaining our armies in the field. If required to stay at home, let him devote himself not to the acquisition of wealth, but to the advancement of the common cause. If there is to be any aristocracy in the land after this war, I hope it will be an aristocracy of those men who have became poor while bleeding to secure our liberty. [Applause.] If there are to be any peculiarly favored by public opinion hereafter, I trust it will be those men who have longest borne a musket and oftentimes bled upon the battle-field. If there is to be any young man shunned by the young ladies when he seeks their favor, I trust it will be the young man who has grown rich by skulking.

And with all sincerity, I say to my young friends here, if you want the right man for a husband, take him whose armless sleeves and noble heart betokens the duties that he has rendered to his country, rather than he who has never shared the toils or borne the dangers of the field. If there still be left any of those military critics, who have never spoken of our Generals but to show how much better things could have been managed, or of our Government, but to find fault with it because it never took their advice — in mercy's name let those wise men go to the front and aid us in achieving our independence. With their wisdom and strength swelling our armies, I should have some hopes that I will not be a corpse before our cause is secured, and that our flag would never trail in dishonor, but would wave victoriously above the roar and smoke of battle.

I believe it is in the power of the men of the Confederacy to plant our banners on the banks of the Ohio, where we may say to the Yankee, “Be quiet, or we shall teach you another lesson.” Within the next thirty days much is to be done, for upon our success much depends. Within the next thirty days, therefore, let all who are absentees, or who ought to be in the army, go promptly to their ranks. Let fresh victories crown our arms, and the peace party, if there be such at the North, can elect its candidate. But whether a peace candidate is elected or not, Yankee instinct will teach him that it is better to end the war, and leave us to the enjoyment of our own rights.

Prayerful for your welfare, confiding in the army of the Confederate States to do that which soft words can never achieve, and in the hope that God will preserve the little ones of all brave men who are in the field, or who are going to it, and trusting that in the future, under brighter auspices, it may be my fortune to meet the good people of Columbia; I wish you all, for the present, farewell. [Applause.]


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