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.