The Ladies' Confederate Memorial Association Listens to a masterly oration by Judge Charles E. Fenner.
The crowning event of this beautiful and memorable day was the celebration held at night at Memorial Hall by that veteran organization, the Ladies
' Confederate Memorial Association.
Within that hall hallowed by so many precious memories, with the sacred battle flags floating all around, with the portraits of the immortal leaders of the Confederacy
smiling from the walls, and everywhere the holy trophies and relics of a time that can never fade, the battle-scarred veterans gathered at the call of the noble women of the Memorial Association
and just as this old and honored body pinned the colors of the Confederacy
on the Louisiana
boys who marched forth to death and glory at the first call to arms, just as they watched and waited and wept with them through all the dark days that followed, so now after the lapse of nearly forty years the organization, with its ranks thinned of those early workers, but with their noble daughters taking their places, again stood with the veterans, this time to renew the past, and, above all, the glorious history of the immortal chieftian who stood for all that the Confederacy
represented, Jefferson Davis
The hall was packed to the very doors; from the steps on the platform to the extreme end of the hall standing-room was impossible.
It was a magnificient audience, representing the talent, the chivalry, the glory of the South
's best heroes, and its most loyal and patriotic women.
The hall was brilliantly illuminated.
Upon the platform stood two pictures of Jefferson Davis
, the one entwined with the army, the other with the navy colors.
Above was suspended a wreath of ivy,
the symbol of undying remembrance.
The banner of the Ladies
' Confederate Memorial Association and the flags of the United Confederacy hung on either side, and upon the tables glowed the red
—of the Confederacy
—culled in flowers from the garden.
Seated upon the platform were: Mrs. Wm. J. Behan
, the able and devoted President
of the Association, and the following officers of the organization: Mrs. Jos. R. Davis
, Mrs. Lewis Graham
, Mrs. F. A. Monroe
, Miss Delphine Points
, Miss Kate Eastman
, Mrs. Alden McLellan
of the Daughters of the Confederacy, Mrs. E. H. Farrar
, Mrs. J. R. Davis
and the Misses Davis
, relatives of the great leader; Judge Charles E. Fenner
, orator of the evening; Dr. Brewer
, of the Army of Northern Virginia; Commander J. A. Harral
, of the Cavalry Camp
; E. P. Cottraux
, Sumpter Turner
, General Adolph Chalaron
, General Alden McLellan
, W. M. Fayssoux
, Colonel John B. Richardson
, Judge Frank A. Monroe
, Samuel Allston
, Rev. Gordon A. Bakewell
Mrs. Wm. J. Behan
graciously presided at the services, and delivered the following beautiful and and appropriate introductory:
United Confederate Veterans, Heroes of the South's Incomparable Army, Ladies and Gentlemen: You are invited here this evening by the Ladies' Confederate Memorial Association to do honor to the memory of our beloved chieftian, Jefferson Davis, the executive head of the Southern Confederacy.
To-day we celebrate the ninety-third anniversary of the birth of this great man, whose trials were greater than man ever before was called on to bear, and who, under these afflictions, displayed a courage and patience that were most heroic and sublime.
It is with just and pardonable pride, therefore, that we assemble here this evening, in these sacred precincts, this Confederate Memorial Hall, to honor his memory and hand down to posterity a true history of the life and character of Jefferson Davis, as soldier, statesman, patriot, hero, Christian gentleman and martyr of the Southern cause.
The celebration will be opened with prayer by Rev. Dr. Gordon Bakewell, a Confederate veteran and follower of Jefferson Davis.
then delivered a beautiful and impressive prayer.
St. John's Church choir furnished the music during the evening.
With tender feeling the choir sang ‘Nearer My God to Thee.’
Then Mrs. Behan
announced that the Ladies
' Confederate Memorial
Association would open its relic box with the sword of a private soldier, a hero who gave up his life on the battle field of Shiloh
Mr. Samuel Allston
would make the presentation.
said that a sister, deprived for many years of the companionship of her brother, sought one who had known him well to present to Memorial Hall this sword and picture of her beloved brother.
said that he and Sergeant Sherry
had fought side by side in the same company.
Scarcely a month was he in the field before he gave up his life in the bloody battle of Shiloh
. ‘We were all young in years then,’ said Mr. Allston
, ‘and the changes that have come in thirty-seven years have made me reflect much.
When that sister asked me for one who had known her brother when he fell-one who still survived — I looked over the commissioned officers of Crescent
Company E, from Captain Tarleton
down, and they had all passed away.
Of the non-commissioned officers, Nelson
, now living in Atlanta
, and myself remain.
We are only two, and among the privates 1 counted three—one Mauberret, one Lathrop
, and one Perkins
—and then I stopped.
They are all gone, and it made me think that in a few years we will all be gone.’
here read a letter from Mrs. Kate Sherry Chase
, the devoted sister of Henry Sherry
, in which she said that the uncertainty of life prompted her to place in the care of the Ladies
' Confederate Memorial Association the sword and picture of her brother.
They were precious treasures to her; her brother had served in Crescent
Company E, and left New Orleans at the first call, and command of General Beauregard
, and fell on the field of Shiloh
Handing the sword and picture to Mrs. Behan
, Mr. Allston
said that he did the bidding of this sister, and placed the relics in the hands of the Association, there to remain 'till time shall be no more.
accepted the relics for Memorial Hall.
It was a privilege for him to accept this sword, over which a sister had wept and which she had cherished so many years.
The cause had been called lost, but it was never lost.
On the part of the Association he had urged the ladies of the Memorial Association
to open a relic case in the hall, and assist thus in gathering together the great treasures of the Confederacy
He was glad that the collection had been started with a contribution that was a relic of the pride and glory of the Confederate army and private soldier.
‘It was the private soldier,’ cried General Chalaron
, ‘who made the glory won by the generals; the private soldier who gave to them their renown, and too many are prone to-day to forget all that they owed to the private
All honor, all glory to the private soldier.
I am only too glad to place in this hall this, the first relic that has been given in his honor, and I am glad, too, that here, amid the many trophies of generals and chieftians, this sword and picture of a private soldier, bedewed with a sister's tears, will stand forever as a monument of what the world and the Confederacy
, above all, owed to the private soldier.’
was applauded to the echo.
The choir sang ‘Rock of Ages,’ and then Mrs. Behan
presented the distinguished jurist, Judge Charles E. Fenner
, one whom all knew and honored, a friend of Jefferson Davis
and the man at whose home the immortal chieftian breathed his last.
was greeted with a burst of applause.
He delivered a matchless oration, which was not a defense of the Confederacy
, but a presentation of the truths of that great and holy cause.
When Judge Fenner
said that the cause of the Confederacy
is still debated to-day, and that the burning question ‘Does the Constitution
follow the flag?’
which is agitating the people of this great Commonwealth, was the same question which brought the men of the South
to arms in defense of the Constitution
in 1861, the applause was deafening.
The oration was listened to with deepest interest.
of the Supreme Court, distinguished citizens in every path of life, crowded up to the eloquent speaker as he closed and thanked him for his bold and true defense of the immortal principles of the Constitution
spoke as follows:
was born on the 3rd of June, 1808, in Christian
) county, Kentucky
He came of revolutionary stock.
His father and two of his uncles rendered honorable service as soldiers in the revolutionary army.
During his childhood his father removed first to Louisiana
, and then to Wilkinson county, Mississippi
He received his primary education in the local schools, and then became a student at Transylvania University, in Lexington, Ky.
, where he studied until November, 1823, when, at the age of fifteen years, he was oppointed to West Point
, where he was a contemporary, amongst others, of his life-long friends, Albert Sidney Johnston
, Bishop Leonidas Polk
and Alexander Dallas Bache
He graduated honorably in 1828; received his brevet as lieutenant of infantry, and was immediately ordered to service on the frontier.
He participated in the Black Hawk
war, and when that redoubtable chief surrendered, the duty of escorting him and his braves to Fort Jefferson
, near St. Louis
, was assigned to Lieutenant Davis
In recognition of his efficient services he was selected for promotion, and was appointed adjutant of the First Regiment of the United States dragoons at its organization.
He was immediately ordered with his regiment to what was then the extreme frontier, at Fort Gibson
, Iowa Territory
, and was constantly engaged in reconnoissances and expeditions against the hostile Indians
of the wilderness beyond, in which he rendered conspicuous and daring services, characterized always by devotion to duty and by an enterprising eagerness to seek employment on every difficult or dangerous service.
While still in the regiment of infantry, then commanded by Colonel Zachary Taylor
, he had met and fallen in love with his colonel's daughter, and had proposed to and been accepted by her.
In 1835 he resigned from the army and married Miss Taylor
He then determined to devote himself to the occupation of a planter, and, accepting the invitation of his eldest brother, Joseph E. Davis
, he, with his bride, removed to his brother's plantation in Warren county, Mississippi
, and employed himself in the opening and establishment of the Brierfield plantation
, adjoining that of his brother.
Very soon after his arrival both he and his wife were attacked with malarial fever, and within a few months after his marriage his young bride succumbed to it, and he was left to struggle with his own desperate illness.
Although his life long trembled in the balance, he recovered, and after recruiting his shattered health by a winter in Havana
, followed by a visit to Washington
, he returned to his brother's plantation, and applied himself anew to the development and cultivation of Brierfield
His plantation life during the next seven years was one of the most interesting and fruitful episodes of his career.
His brother, Joseph E. Davis
, twenty years his senior, was a very remarkable man. Educated as a lawyer and long engaged in successful practice, he had abandoned his profession, and for many years had lived in seclusion on his plantation.
He had accumulated a large and well selected library, and was an omnivorous reader and student.
He had an alert and active intellect, greedy of knowledge, acutely observant of current events, deeply interested in all the living questions of the time, with pronounced convictions and a proneness
for polemical discussion, in which his keen logic and rare faculty of expression made him a master.
I have heard those who knew them both, and were ardent admirers of the younger and more distinguished brother, express doubt as to whether the elder was not even his superior in intellectual powers.
was a man of similar tastes and temperament.
He had always been a student.
Those who knew him during his army life attest that he always evinced a contemptuous aversion to the common dissipations and frivolities of the camp, and that whenever not engaged in active duty he devoted himself to diligent and instructive reading.
These two congenial spirits thus thrown together in their rustic seclusion, employed the large leisure which the planter's life of that day afforded, in eager and systematic intellectual culture and training.
They read everything and they discussed everything.
Their constant exchange of ideas and impressions on every variety of subjects, enlarged and precised their knowledge, and the frequent clashes of their minds in keen debate fixed the clearness and certainty of their convictions, and developed the power of enforcing them by logical exposition and copious argument and illustration.
From this veritable gymnasium, Jefferson Davis
emerged at the end of seven years, a trained intellectual athlete, with all the muscles of his mind perfectly developed and thoroughly fit for any service which might be thrown upon them.
No one who knew Mr. Davis
in after years could fail to be impressed with the extraordinary range, accuracy, and variety of his knowledge on all kinds of subjects, or to wonder how, in so active a life, he had found time to gain it.
All equally wondered at the marvelous aptness and power as an orator and debater, displayed from the very opening of his public career by a man whose previous life had been passed in active military service on the frontier, and afterwards in the seclusion of rural life.
These marvels are no doubt accounted for in part by his great natural gifts, but also in large degree by the results of these fruitful years which he passed in study, discussion and debate with his gifted brother.
Amongst the subjects which engaged their special attention were political economy, political history and philosophy, and especially the Constitution of the United States
, its history, its construction and the true theory and nature of the government established
Although not a professional lawyer, I make bold to say that Jefferson Davis
became one of the greatest constitutional lawyers that this country has ever produced.
He then became a thorough convert to what was known as the State
's rights school of politics, based upon the doctrine that the Constitution of the United States
was a purely federal compact, enered into between sovereign and independent States, which did not, by entering into such a compact, forfeit or yield up their sovereignty, but had merely agreed to delegate certain powers to the federal government instituted thereby, as a common agent, without limitation as to time and subject to recall and reassumption by any one of the sovereign principals that conferred them whenever in its judgment they had been abused or perverted to its injury.
was a constant advocate of this doctrine from the beginning of his public career down to the last moment of his life.
He announced it with equal frankness when Massachusetts
proclaimed her right to secede from the Union
because of the admission of Texas
as a State, as when his own State of Mississippi
The doctrine, perhaps, sounds strangely to-day in the ears of a generation which has been reared since the war under a constitution interpreted by the fiery edict of battle to import forever an indissoluble union, and under a defiant national government which brooks no denial of its sovereignty.
I am not here to arraign or question the finality of the dread arbitrament of war. I am not here to deny that the right of secession has been practically eviscerated from the constitution by the bloody Caesarian operation of battle.
I am not here even to deny that it may be better for us all and better for the world that such a settlement has been made.
I yield to none in patriotic devotion to the Union
as it stands to-day.
I proclaim my readiness to cast in my lot and that of my posterity under the protection of the ‘Indissoluble union of indestructible States’ which has been established by the war, but speaking from the ante-bellum standpoint, viewing it as a purely historical question, in vindication of the cause for which our brothers and our fathers fought, I am bound to declare my unalterable conviction that the theory of the constitution, adopted and advocated by Jefferson Davis
, and acted on by the Southern States
when they seceded, was the true theory of that instrument as it was designed and came from the hands of its framers, and was the only theory upon which it could have ever secured the consent of the States.
The constitution had its origin in the exercise of the right of secession from the former's federal compact, which existed between the States, although the articles of confederation expressly declared that the union established thereby was to be a ‘perpetual union.’
Nobody had the temerity to propose such a provision in the new constitution, nor does it contain a word which hints at the surrender of this then acknowledged and asserted right of secession from the former federal compact.
A proposition to invest the federal government with power to coerce a recalcitrant State was made in the convention, but was overwhelmingly defeated, and this denial of power to compel a State to remain in the union was surely, for all practical purposes, an acknowledgment of its right to secede.
Moreover, the conventions of several of the States, in their acts of ratification of the constitution, expressly reserved the right of the people of the State
to reassume the powers delegated whenever they shall be perverted to their injury or such reassumption ‘should become necessary to their happiness.’
Numerous attempts were made in the convention to impress on the government instituted by the constitution the character of nationality, but everyone was overwhelmingly defeated, and the most solicitous care was taken at every point and in every step to preserve its character as a purely federal compact between sovereign and and independent States which retained their inherent sovereignty, and all the powers pertaining thereto, except the carefully limited functions which were expressly delegated to the federal government as a common agent.
But I must not allow myself to be drawn into further discussion of this great question.
Fortunately, Jefferson Davis
, aided by the exhaustive researches of Albert Taylor Bledsoe
and of our distinguished and venerable fellow-citizen, B. J. Sage
, has formulated the whole argument in his ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.’
I have recently re-read that matchless argument.
It is comprised in the fifteen chapters of part II of that work, and embraces only 112 pages.
Speaking with all due temperance and strictly as a legal critic, I pronounce it one of the most powerful and masterly legal and constitutional arguments of which I have any knowledge in the English
In logical arrangement, in lucidity of expression, in closeness of reasoning, in the amplitude and precision with which it marshals the facts and evidence, in the candor and force with which it states and refutes the assumptions and arguments of his opponents,
in the admirable sobriety of its temper, it stands as a monument to his genius and as a model of constitutional exposition.
It has never been answered, and it is unanswerable.
It was intended and it serves as a complete vindication of the right of the Southern States
to withdraw from the Federal Union, to terminate the compact which they had made with their sister States and to reassume the powers which had been delegated to the Federal
government as a common agent.
Buried in the huge tomes of which it forms a part, this grand constitutional argument has not attracted the attention which it deserves.
It is complete in itself, and I believe it would be a service to all the people of this country if it were published by itself in a small volume or pamphlet and disseminated throughout the land.
It should be read by every patriot, Northern as well as Southern.
It deals with what is to-day a purely historical question.
As citizens of a re-united country and a restored Union, living under a constitution from which all admit that the right of peaceable secession has been eliminated by the inveterate res adjudicata
of war, and, therefore, irrevocably bound together for weal or woe, we are all concerned in finding the true basis on which we may forever live together as friends.
The safest guarantee of the permanence of the Union
and of peace, harmony, happiness and prosperity of our people must be found in the mutual respect and forbearance from insult of all sections of the people towards each other.
Nothing can conduce to this so powerfully as a true and correct understanding of the grounds and motives on which the Southern States
acted when they seceded from the Union
, and on which especially the people of those States, as well those who opposed as those who favored secession, believed it their duty to yield their allegiance to the States of which they were citizens.
But let me pass from this subject and proceed with my sketch.
Such a light as that of Jefferson Davis
could not remain hid under a bushel.
In 1844 he was chosen as the Democratic
candidate for presidential elector in the canvass between Mr. Clay
and Mr. Polk
He canvassed the State
, and thus became known to the people of Mississippi
From that time he became their idol.
In 1845 he was married to the noble and gifted woman who clung to him, not only as a faithful wife, but as his ‘guide, philosopher and friend,’ through all the vicissitudes of his checkered career—who shared and sympathized in all his ambitions and triumphs— who, in his hour of calamity, such as has rarely fallen to human lot,
when he seemed to be deserted by all the world, stood heroically by him, clamoring for justice and fiercely defying and resisting the torrent of unmerited denunciation and abuse which was poured upon his defenceless head—and who, after death had snatched him from her, true in death as she had been in life, devoted long and laborious years of her desolate widowhood to the writing of that memoir of her husband which stands as an exhaustive and triumphant vindication of his memory, and will survive as one of the most valuable contributions which has yet been made to the history of a momentous era.
Immediately after his marriage Mr. Davis
was elected as representative in Congress and took his seat in December, 1845.
The burning questions of the hour were the Oregon
dispute with Great Britain
, the war with Mexico
, and those arising out of the annexation of Texas
. Mr. Davis
leaped at once, full-armed, into the arena of debate, and in several speeches of great power and eloquence, attracted the attention of the house and of the people, and fixed all eyes upon him as one of the coming men of the day.
His career as representative was cut short by the war with Mexico
In June, 1846, he was called to assume the colonelcy of the regiment of volunteers which Mississippi
was raising for active service in the field.
He immediately accepted, and repairing to Mississippi
, completed its organization and promptly joined the army then fighting under Taylor
The record of the brilliant exploits of Jefferson Davis
and his Mississippi Rifles forms one of the most conspicuous chapters in the history of that war.
He returned, a wounded hero, amidst the acclamations of all his countrymen.
Within less than two months after his return, he was first appointed, and then received the unprecedented compliment of being unanimously elected to the United States Senate, in which he took his seat in December, 1847.
In 1853 he was called to the cabinet of President Pierce
as Secretary of War
, in which he served until the expiration of Mr. Pierce
's term in 1857.
At that time he had already been re-elected to the Senate and passed immediately from the cabinet to the Senate, where he served until the war.
Before adverting to the senatorial career of Mr. Davis
, let us make a brief reference to the services of Mr. Davis
as a member of the cabinet.
He superintended the extension of the capitol
building; he cooperated with Bache
in the scientific development of the coast survey; he interested himself in the Smithsonian Institute; he forwarded the scientific study of the problems of the Mississippi river
; he directed surveys for a railway to the Pacific
; he revised the army regulations; he introduced light infantry or the rifle system of tactics; he inaugurated the manufacture of rifles, pistols and the use of the minie ball; he induced the addition of four regiments to the army, and organized a cavalry service adapted to the wants of the country; he augmented the seacoast and frontier defenses; he had the western part of the continent explored for scientific, geographical and railroad purposes.
He was universally recognized as a great secretary of war, and few have filled that high office who left behind him more enduring monuments of wise and efficient administration.
Let us now return to Mr. Davis
' career as a senator.
That was the era of senatorial giants.
, and a host of other men hardly less distinguished adorned its rolls and formed a galaxy of genius such as has rarely been gathered in any deliberative body.
It is not too much to say that Jefferson Davis
promptly took his place amongst the foremost of them all, and won speedy and universal recognition as inferior to none in power of debate, in forensic eloquence, in indomitable courage and tact, in breadth and depth of knowledge, and in masterly equipment for all the duties of practical and philosophic statesmanship.
The times were stirring; the flames of sectional agitation and conflict which had smoldered since the Missouri
compromise had been fanned into new life by the admission of Texas
as a State, and were now burning fiercely about the disposition which should be made of the territories of California
and New Mexico
, recently acquired under the treaty with Mexico
, and of the remaining territories of the Louisiana
It was a renewal of that fatal sectional strife between the Northern
and Southern States, which continued to rage with growing fury and intensity until it culminated in the secession of the Southern States
and the consequent long and bloody war. It is important to have a just understanding of the true nature and scope of those controversies.
An entirely false conception of their true nature and scope has grown up and been assiduously cultivated to the effect that it was a contest between the essential principles of liberty and slavery.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Whatever may have 2
been the abstract opinions of individuals on either side; whatever may have been the ulterior designs of certain leaders of public opinion in the North
; whatever may have been the logical tendency of doctrines of the ‘irrepressible conflict’ between liberty and slavery, and of the existence of ‘a law higher than the constitution,’ the fact remains that neither party to those controversies openly suggested or proposed the liberation of a solitary slave then held in bondage.
All agreed that the status of slavery as it existed in the Southern States
was conclusively protected by the constitution, and could not be affected or impaired by any action of the Federal
Every assurance was offered the Southern States
that slavery within their limits should not be interfered with.
In the compromise of 1850 the consideration which the Southern States
received, freely offered and adopted by Northern votes, was the enactment by Congress of a more stringent law for the return of fugitive slaves.
Even after secession and while the war was flagrant, the Federal
government emphatically proclaimed that it had no right, no power and no disposition to interfere with slavery in the Southern States
But for secession and the consequent war, and for emancipation avowedly adopted purely and solely as a war measure, there is no reason to doubt that slavery would be existing to-day just as it existed before the war, under the full protection of the constitution and laws of the United States
The true question involved in these controversies was a question of ‘balance of power’ between the Northern
and Southern States.
Slavery, as a peculiar institution of the South
, created a diversity and conflict of interests between the two sections, and each was eager, in the admission of the new States, to secure allies which might contribute to the advancement and protection of its own interests.
Obviously, unless the people of the Southern States
could remove to the common Territories
of the Union
, carrying with them their property, these would inevitably be populated by settlers from the Northern States
, and would come into the Union
as free States, to swell the power and influence of the opposing section.
The principle for which the Southern
people contended was simply the doctrine of which we are to-day hearing so much—the principle that ‘the constitution follows the flag,’ and that the Territories
, being the common property of all the United States
, acquired by the common blood and the common treasure, the constitution guaranteed to all the people the equal right of migrating to them, and of carrying
with them their property, of whatever nature, recognized and protected by the constitution.
The Northern people, or at least the dominant majority of them, asserted the power and duty of Congress to exclude slavery from the Territories
, and to prevent the citizens of the Southern States
from settling in the same, unless they abandoned and left behind them their slaves, which constituted their most valuable property.
Although the present Supreme Court of the United States
, by a bare majority of one, has recently asserted the practical omnipotence of Congress over the territories free from constitutional restraints, the Supreme Court at that day took a different view, and in the Dred Scott
case gave its emphatic sanction to the contention of the Southern
It is needless to follow the history and developments of those memorable controversies.
Suffice it to say that events occurred and conflicts arose which rendered impossible the continuance of a voluntary union.
The predestined strife was not to be averted.
Passion usurped the seat of reason.
Dissension swelled into defiance.
Chiding grew into fierce recrimination.
Constant quarrel ripened into hate.
Fourteen Northern States, in their so-termed ‘personal liberty bills,’ openly nullified the constitution in that very clause which had been the condition sine qua non
upon which the Southern States
had acceded to the compact.
A sectional party was formed upon a basis known and designed to exclude from its ranks the entire people of fifteen States, and that party triumphed by an electoral majority which left no hope that it could ever be overcome.
Surely the Constitution of the United States
was not framed to meet or to fit such a condition of affairs.
It was a compact entered into between independent states for the declared purpose of promoting the ‘common defense and general welfare,’ and of ‘insuring domestic tranquility.’
It was a league between friends, not between enemies; and when conditions arose which arrayed the sections in permanent conflict with each other, and changed their relations and feeling towards each other from friendship into enmity, he must have been blind, indeed, who could not see that the continuance of a voluntary union became impossible.
naturally espoused the cause of his people, and became one of its ablest and most ardent advocates.
None saw more clearly or deprecated more deeply the inevitable result of the continuance of such a conflict.
He proclaimed on all occasions his love for the Union
He had spent almost his entire life in its service.
he was a firm believer in the right of secession, he regarded it as a last resort, only to be exercised in the last extremity, when all other means for securing harmony and a just respect for the rights of all under the constitution had hopelessly failed.
With the prescience of a statesman, he saw, more clearly perhaps than any other man of his time, that the inevitable result of the conditions then existing must be the dissolution of the Union
, and he strove with all his might to avert it. He exhausted all his powers of luminous exegesis in expounding the true theory of the constitution, and of the relations thereunder of the States to each other and to the federal government.
He lifted his voice in eloquent warning as to the sure result of sectional strife, as fatal to the continuance of the Union
He pleaded pathetically for the preservation of the constitutional union.
He made impassioned appeals to the patriotism of the northern people to respect the constitutional rights of the States, and to desist from their furious and insulting assaults upon the institutions of the South
, for the existence of which the whole people of the United States
shared an equal responsibility, and for the protection of which all the people of all the States were solemnly bound by the constitution.
These efforts he continued down to the last moments of his senatorial career.
He participated in the efforts of Crittenden
and of Douglas
and of other conservative men to devise some compromise of the differences between the sections which might avert secession.
He served on the committee appointed by the Senate to devise such a basis of amicable settlement.
In his last speech in the Senate before his retirement he said:
What, senators, to-day is the condition of the country?
From every corner of it comes the wailing cry of patriotism, pleading for the preservation of the great inheritance we derived from our fathers.
Is there a senator who does not daily receive letters appealing to him to use even the small power which one man here possesses to save the rich inheritance our fathers gave us?
Tears are trickling down the stern faces of men who have bled for the flag of their country, and who are willing now to die for it; but patriotism stands.
powerless before the plea that the party about to come into power laid down a platform, and that, come what will, though ruin stare in the face, consistency must be adhered to, even though the government be lost.
Is this the language of a cold-blooded conspirator?
Yet it is but
a sample of the ardent and eloquent appeals which Mr. Davis
made for the preservation of the constitutional union.
In the actual movements taken by his State towards secession, he was not the leader, but the follower and moderator of his people.
He favored caution and delay in order to leave open, as long as possible, every chance for amicable arrangement, and he thereby incurred the criticism of his friends who were bent on immediate action, and who accused him of not being in heart with the movement.
When all attempts at settlement had been met by determined and immovable opposition on the part of the dominant party, and when Mississippi
had actually seceded and re-assumed her position as a sovereign State, nothing was left for Mr. Davis
but to yield his unqualified allegiance to the State
of which he was a citizen, and to which he believed his allegiance was due. His parting words to his fellow senators upon his retirement, indicated in eloquent terms that he parted from them, not in anger, but in deepest sorrow.
was not an aspirant for the position of President
of the Confederate States
He had signified to his friends his preference for service as a soldier in the field, and supposed that he had guarded against any consideration of his name for the presidency, but when the delegates of the States assembled in convention for the purpose of organizing a provisional government, it proved to be their unanimous sentiment that Jefferson Davis
was the man of all others best fitted for the responsible position of President
of the Confederate States
When he was informed of this unanimous action he felt compelled to yield his personal preferences and not to shirk the responsibility which was thrust upon him by the representatives of the people.
Of Mr. Davis
' career as President
of the Confederate States
, I shall say but little.
The wisdom of his administration of that high office has been subjected to that fierce criticism which always falls upon the heads of the leaders of lost causes.
But when we consider the condition and environment of the Southern States
when they entered upon this tremendous war—their lack of arms, of ammunition, of workshops, of factories, of trained mechanics, of ships of war and merchant vessels; their inadequate facilities of transportation, their agricultural condition, which had always been engaged in the production of articles for export, and had been dependent upon the Northern States
for supplies of food and forage, their want, in fine, of everything which was essential to prepare a people for successful warfare; when we consider that they were specially cut off
by blockade from all communication with foreign countries; when we consider that they were thus thrown upon their own resources to extemporize the means of supplying all these wants; when we consider the enormous odds against which they had to contend, not only in numbers, but in every other conceivable advantage, and when we then reflect upon the magnificent contest which they maintained for four years against overwhelming odds, it is nothing short of childish folly to deny that the leader in such a contest must have been a man of exceptional character and ability.
The verdict of history which has already stamped the achievements of the South
in that long and bloody war as amongst the most wonderful and heroic that were ever accomplished by any people, cannot fail to accord to Jefferson Davis
, as their leader from first to last, his full share of the credit and glory which belonged to them.
He may have made mistakes, and doubtless did, but the incomparable morale of the Confederate armies and people was largely inspired by the indomitable courage of Jefferson Davis
, and by their confidence that, whatever might befall, he would stand by his guns to the very last, and would never yield to anything less than the absolute destruction of all power of further resistance.
That confidence was fully justified by the event.
When ruin and defeat encompassed us on every side; when the army of Lee
had been, not defeated, but destroyed; when the Confederate
capitol had fallen and the government was compelled to flee for safety, the indomitable southern chieftain wars still defiant, and was still busy and intent on schemes to rally the remains of his shattered forces, and to renew and maintain the fight as long as there remained a shot in the locker.
Had he escaped, the history of the Confederate
war might not have closed without a final chapter, which, owing to his surprise and capture, remained unwritten.
The treatment of which Jefferson Davis
was made the victim after his capture is a chapter which all good men would like to see blotted from the history of the Republic
Something is to be forgiven to the intensity of excitement and resentment which prevailed at that time.
Let us cast the mantle of charitable silence over the indignities, humiliations and unnecessary cruelties which for many months were visited upon a sick, helpless and defenceless prisoner.
The memory of them can serve no purpose, except to illustrate the heroic fortitude and undaunted spirit of their victim.
But there were other injuries far worse than any mere physical tortures, which justice demands should not be left unnoticed.
All the efforts of the powers that were, to ‘make treason odious,’ were concentrated upon the defenseless head of Jefferson Davis
The floodgates of slander and obloquy were opened wide upon him, His character was distorted and vilified; he was painted as a monster of cruelty and cowardice, a vile conspirator who plotted the ruin of his country and deluged a continent in blood, with no better motive than to gratify a criminal ambition and to advance his personal interests.
He was charged with being the instigator and abettor of the murder of Mr. Lincoln
, with all the malignity, but without the courage, of the actual assassin.
He was accused of intentional and inhuman cruelties to defenceless prisoners.
He was charged with having basely rifled the treasure chests of the Confederacy
and appropriating them to his private emolument.
All who knew Mr. Davis
, all who will take the slightest pains to study the ample record of his life and character, must view such charges with peculiar horror and indignation.
, as a man, undoubtedly had his faults, as who has not; but they were the faults of an open and generous nature.
He had strong friendships and violent prejudices for individuals.
He was, perhaps, too blind to the shortcomings of his friends, and too intolerant to those of his enemies.
But whatever may be said of him, he was, from top to toe, a gentleman, in the highest acceptation of that word.
He had a fine and delicate sense of honor, which resented the slightest stain upon it as he would a blow in the face.
He had a chivalric courage, written in his martial bearing, and in his aqueline and defiant countenance, which shirked no conflict, but which always fought in the open, and scorned all indirect or underhand advantage.
He had, as is common with men of that type, a romantic tenderness for the weak and the dependent—as illustrated by the exquisite and inimitable courtesy and deference of his bearing towards women—by his delight in the society of children, and his charming faculty for attracting their confidence and affection—and by his gentle, just and humane treatment of his numerous slaves, which made them his devoted friends, whose respect and allegiance stood unshaken even after they became free.
His whole public life was pitched on the highest plane of devotion to duty and of inflexible adherence to principle.
It was, perhaps, his defect as a practical statesman that he scorned too much the politician's arts, and shrunk too sensitively from everything which involved a sacrifice of principle to expediency.
In private life he was a man whose word was ever his bond, scrupulously faithful to every engagement, sensitively
regardful of his obligations and the rights of others, with a lofty contempt of all sordid considerations—a man as incapable of soiling his conscience or his palm with the touch of filthy lucre not his own as ever ‘lived in the tides of time.’
Such was the man against whom an angry and resentful government fulminated charges of the most despicable and cowardly crimes, and upon whom it set ‘all the little dogs, Tray, Blanche
and Sweetheart,’ to worry at his heels, and with the teeth of their envenomed slanders to tear to shreds the fair mantle of his unblemished reputation.
The helpless prisoner, though subjected to the anguish of knowing of these wanton assaults, was kept with closed mouth, forbidden to utter a word in his own defense.
He bore them with a lofty contempt, inspired by the mens conscia recti
, and with a philosophy springing from his serene confidence that soon or late triumphant truth would vindicate his name.
The time came when the sleeping public conscience was aroused to a sense of the rank injustice of holding in imprisonment a man charged with such heinous crimes, not only without a trial, but without even an indictment or arraignment at the bar of public justice.
Such men as Horace Greeley
, Gerrit Smith
, John A. Andrews
, and others of the men who had been his bitterest political foes took up his case and determined that justice should be done.
They investigated the pretended evidence on which it was claimed that he was implicated in the odious crimes with which he had been charged.
They convinced themselves, and openly proclaimed to the world their conviction that there was not the slightest ground for such charges.
Even Thaddeus Stevens
, who would, no doubt, gladly have seen Jefferson Davis
hung for high treason, did not hesitate to declare his confidence that he was innocent of all the other charges, saying that he knew Jefferson Davis
, and that whatever else might be said of him, he was a gentleman incapable of such crimes.
There was not even a pretense or persistence in those charges.
They were absolutely abandoned.
He was indicted for treason, a purely political crime.
He was liberated from imprisonment on a bond signed by Horace Greeley
, Gerrit Smith
and Commodore Vanderbilt
The government never ventured to press the case to trial.
At the ensuing term of court a nolle prosequi
was entered and Jefferson Davis
passed a free man into the body of his fellow-citizens.
But, although thus completely vindicated, the filthy streams of slander and abuse, which so long flowed unrestrained over his fair
name and fame, were not turned aside without leaving their foul slime behind them.
had come to be regarded by the mass of the northern people as what they called the ‘arch traitor,’ the ‘raw head and bloody bones’ of wicked rebellion; the man responsible to widows for their slaughtered husbands, to orphans for their lost fathers, to parents for their murdered sons, the very embodiment of hate and evil and bloody crime.
Even when the returning tide of reason and justice began to flow, when juster and more rational views of the war and of its participants began to prevail, when the long-silent chords of fraternity between the people of a country, once more common, began to vibrate with the music of renewed love and generosity, swelling into a louder anthem, until it drowned the sensate shrieks of hate and discord, even then Jefferson Davis
was still left in solitary seclusion from the abundant bounty of mutual charity and forgiveness.
Like a red flag shaken in the face of an angry bull, the mention of his name still remained a note of discord, which aroused anew the almost forgotten frenzy of the past.
Even the southern people, with all their courage, almost learned to speak his name with bated breath, and to confine within the private recesses of their own hearts the unbounded sympathy, love and admiration which they felt for their undaunted leader, who had been made the vicarious sufferer for faults, if faults they were, which he only shared in common with each and every one of them, and who bore the whole burden of which they had been relieved, with such eager gladness in their relief, and with such unflinching fortitude.
There was a time when the people of the Southern States
had the same feelings towards Abraham Lincoln
which the northern people entertained towards Jefferson Davis
, and which still linger in the minds of many of them.
How completely have those sentiments passed away and been forgotten!
Justice is the most persistent and irrepressible of human voices.
It may be smothered for a time by passion and prejudice—it may be temporarily drowned by the uproar of calumny and denunciation—but it still clamors for a hearing, and the time surely comes when it must and will be heard.
It took more than a century and a half to bring the people of England
to the point of doing justice to Oliver Cromwell
We live faster in these days.
More than a generation has passed since the Confederate
flag was folded to its eternal rest.
Death, the great leveler, which summons each of us in his turn to the bar of judgment, and from whose dread presence malice and all uncharitableness shrink rebuked, has long since laid his icy fingers
on all that was mortal of Jefferson Davis
Has not the time arrived for justice to his memory?
I knew and loved the man. In this brief and imperfect epitome I have sought to strike the true keynote of his life and character, and to lay the foundation for a just and impartial judgment on them both.
With heart overflowing with patriotic devotion to our common country—keenly responsive to the spirit of love and fraternity which has grown up between all sections of our people—devoutly thankful to that divine Providence which has so guided the hearts of men and shaped the current of events, that, out of the wreck and ruin of desperate conflict, we have saved the essential principles of constitutional liberty and of the equal rights of citizenship, and have reestablished foundations on which, if faithfully guarded and preserved, the glorious destinies of the American
republic may be triumphantly accomplished, I stand here to-day to claim that justice from the whole people of our country, North as well as South-justice, only justice-justice to the memory of a man who illustrated the history of two nations by valor in battle, wisdom in counsel, eloquence in debate, temperance in triumph and inexpugnable fortitude in adversity-justice to the memory of a man who, when the mists of passion and prejudice shall have passed away, history must undoubtedly rank as one of the greatest of Americans
I cannot close this appeal more appropriately or enforce it more strongly than by quoting the conluding paragraph of his great work on the ‘Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,’ which was his historical and political testament to his people:
‘In asserting the right of secession, it has not been my wish to incite to its exercise; I recognize the fact that the war showed it to be impracticable, but this did not prove it to be wrong, and now that it may not be again attempted, and that the union may promote the general welfare, it is needful that the truth, the whole truth, should be known, so that crimination and recrimination may forever cease, and then, on the basis of fraternity and faithful regard for the rights of the States, there may be written on the arch of the union Esto Perpetua
The applause was deafening as Judge Fenner
The choir sang ‘Lead, Kindly Light,’ and Rev. Gordon Bakewell
closed with benediction.
thanked the ladies and gentlemen of the choir, and Mrs. T. C. Buckley
, who led them, for the beautiful music.
The choir was composed of Mrs.
T, C. Buckley
Misses E. Doussan
, Myrtle Gehl
, Anna Gehl
, Coralie Pierson
, Effie Fournier
, sopranos; Misses Althea Willoz
, Jeanne Nores
, Lala Garvey
, Inez Martinez, altos; Mrs. Mary T. McDonald
, J. H. Desmares
, and L. Monomier
, tenor; L. J. Doize
and W. J. Zimmerman
One of the most beautiful selections was ‘Asleep in Jesus,’ sung after the sword presentation.
And so closed one of the most memorable evenings in the history of the city.
Previous to the reunion a meeting of the association was held, at which Mrs. Hays
, daughter of Jefferson Davis
; Mrs. S. Allston
and Mrs. J. R. Davis
were elected honorary members.
Mrs. Lewis Graham
gave a report of the great reunion of the Confederate Memorial Association in Memphis