Chapter 45
Mr. Davis Withdraws from the Senate.

The story of Mr. Davis's final withdrawal from the Senate of the United States shall be told in his own words:
Mississippi was the second State to withdraw from the Union, her ordinance of secession being adopted on January 9, J861. She was quickly followed by Florida on the 10th, Alabama on the 11th, and, in the course of the same month, by Georgia on the 18th, and Louisiana on the 26th. The conventions of these States (together with that of South Carolina) agreed in designating Montgomery, Ala., as the place, and February 4th as the day, for the assembling of a Congress of the seceding States, to which each State convention, acting as the direct representative of the sovereignty of the people thereof, appointed delegates.

Telegraphic intelligence of the secession of Mississippi had reached Washington some considerable time before the fact was officially communicated to me. This official knowledge I considered it proper to await before [687] taking formal leave of the Senate. My associates from Alabama and Florida concurred in this view. Accordingly, having received notification of the secession of these three States about the same time, on January 21st, Messrs. Yulee and Mallory, of Florida, Fitzpatrick and Clay, of Alabama, and myself, announced the withdrawal of the States from which we were respectively accredited, and took leave of the Senate at the same time.

In the action which she then took, Mississippi certainly had no purpose to levy war against the United States, or any of them. As her senator, I endeavored plainly to state her position in the annexed remarks addressed to the Senate in taking leave of the body:

I rise, Mr. President, for the purpose of announcing to the Senate that I have satisfactory evidence that the State of Mississippi, by a solemn ordinance of her people, in convention assembled, has declared her separation from the United States. Under these circumstances, of course, my functions are terminated here. It has seemed to me proper, however, that I should appear in the Senate to announce that fact to my associates, and I will say but very little more. The occasion does not invite me to go into argument, and my physical condition would not permit me to [688] do so, if it were otherwise; and yet it seems to become me to say something on the part of the State I here represent on an occasion so solemn as this.

It is known to Senators who have served with me here that I have for many years advocated, as an essential attribute of State sovereignty, the right of a State to secede from the Union. Therefore, if I had not believed there was justifiable cause, if I had thought that Mississippi was acting without sufficient provocation, or without an existing necessity, I should still, under my theory of the government, because of my allegiance to the State of which I am a citizen, have been bound by her action. I, however, may be permitted to say that I do think she has justifiable cause, and I approve of her act. I conferred with her people before that act was taken, counselled them then that, if the state of things which they apprehended should exist when their convention met, they should take the action which they have now adopted.

I hope none who hear me will confound this expression of mine with the advocacy of the right of a State to remain in the Union, and to disregard its constitutional obligations by the nullification of the law. Such is not my theory. Nullification and secession, so often confounded, are, indeed, antagonistic [689] principles. Nullification is a remedy which it is sought to apply within the Union, and against the agent of the States. It is only to be justified when the agent has violated his constitutional obligations, and a State, assuming to judge for itself, denies the right of the agent thus to act, and appeals to the other States of the Union for a decision; but, when the States themselves, and when the people of the States have so acted as to convince us that they will not regard our constitutional rights, then, and then for the first time, arises the doctrine of secession in its practical application.

A great man who now reposes with his fathers, and who has often been arraigned for a want of fealty to the Union, advocated the doctrine of nullification because it preserved the Union. It was because of his deep. seated attachment to the Union-his determination to find some remedy for existing ills short of a severance of the ties which bound South Carolina to the other States--that Mr. Calhoun advocated the doctrine of nullification, which he proclaimed to be peaceful, to be within the limits of State power, not to disturb the Union, but only to be a means of bringing the agent before the tribunal of the States for their judgment.

Secession belongs to a different class of [690] remedies. It is to be justified upon the basis that the States are sovereign. There was a time when none denied it. I hope the time may come again when a better comprehension of the theory of our Government, and the inalienable rights of the people of the States, will prevent anyone from denying that each State is a sovereign, and thus may reclaim the grants which it has made to any agent whom. soever.

I, therefore, say I concur in the action of the people of Mississippi, believing it to be necessary and proper, and should have been bound by their action if my belief had been otherwise; and this brings me to the important point which I wish, on this last occasion, to present to the Senate. It is by this confounding of nullification and secession that the name of a great man whose ashes now mingle with his mother earth has been invoked to justify coercion against a seceded State. The phrase “to execute the laws” was an expression which General Jackson applied to the case of a State refusing to obey the laws while yet a member of the Union. That is not the case which is now presented. The laws are to be executed over the United States and upon the people of the United States. They have no relation to any foreign country. It is a perversion of terms-at least, [691] it is a great misapprehension of the case — which cites that expression for application to a State which has withdrawn from the Union. You may make war on a foreign state. If it be the purpose of gentlemen, they may make war against a State which has withdrawn from the Union; but there are no laws of the United States to be executed within the limits of a seceded State. A State finding herself in the condition in which Mississippi has judged she is — in which her safety requires that she should provide for the maintenance of her rights out of the Union-surrenders all the benefits (and they are known to be many), deprives herself of the advantages (and they are known to be great), severs all the ties of affection (and they are close and enduring) which have bound her to the Union; and thus divesting herself of every benefit-taking upon herself every burden-she claims to be exempt from any power to execute the laws of the United States within her limits.

I well remember an occasion when Massachusetts was arraigned before the bar of the Senate, and when the doctrine of coercion was rife, and to be applied against her, because of the rescue of a fugitive slave in Boston. My opinion then was the same that it is now. Not in a spirit of egotism, but to show that I am not influenced in my own [692] opinions because the case is my own, I refer to that time and that occasion as containing the opinion which I then entertained, and on which my present conduct is based. I then said that if Massachusetts-following her purpose through a stated line of conduct — chose to take the last step which separates her from the Union, it is her right to go, and I will neither vote one dollar nor one man to coerce her back; but I will say to her, God speed in memory of the kind associations which once existed between her and the other States.

It has been a conviction of pressing necessity, it has been a belief that we are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed us, which has brought Mississippi to her present decision. She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races. That Declaration of Independence is to be construed by the circumstances and purposes for which it was made. The communities were declaring their independence; the people of those communities were asserting that no man was born, to use the language of Mr. Jefferson, booted and spurred, to ride over the rest of mankind; [693] that men were created equal, meaning the men of the political community; that there was no divine right to rule; that no man inherited the right to govern; that there were no classes by which power and place descended to families; but that all stations were equally within the grasp of each member of the body politic. These were the great principles they announced; these were the purposes for which they made their declaration; these were the ends to which their enunciation was directed. They have no reference to the slave; else, how happened it that among the items of arraignment against George III. was that he endeavored to do just what the North has been endeavoring of late to do, to stir up insurrection among our slaves? Had the Declaration announced that the negroes were free and equal, how was the prince to be arraigned for raising up insurrection among them? And how was this to be enumerated among the high crimes which caused the colonies to sever their connection with the mother-country? When our Constitution was formed, the same idea was rendered more palpable; for there we find provision made for that very class of persons as property; they were not put upon the footing of equality with white men, not even that of paupers and convicts; but, so far as representation [694] was concerned, were discriminated against as a lower caste, only to be represented in the numerical proportion of three-fifths. So stands the compact which binds us together.

Then, Senators, we recur to the principles upon which our Government was founded; and when you deny them, and when you deny to us the right to withdraw from a Government which, thus perverted, threatens to be destructive to our rights, we but tread in the path of our fathers when we proclaim our independence and take the hazard. This is done, not in hostility to others, not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit, but from the high and solemn motive of defending and protecting the rights we inherited, and which it is our duty to transmit unshorn to our children.

I find in myself, perhaps, a type of the general feeling of my constituents toward yours. I am sure I feel no hostility toward you, Senators from the North. I am sure there is not one of you, whatever sharp discussion there may have been between us, to whom I cannot now say, in the presence of my God, I wish you well; and such, I am sure, is the feeling of the people whom I represent toward those whom you represent. I, therefore, feel that I but express their desire [695] when I say I hope and they hope for peaceable relations with you, though we must part. They may be mutually beneficial to us in the future, as they have been in the past, if you so will it. The reverse may bring disaster on every portion of the country, and if you will have it thus, we will invoke the God of our fathers, who delivered them from the power of the lion, to protect us from the ravages of the bear; and, thus putting our trust in God and in our firm hearts and strong arms, we will vindicate the right as best we may.

In the course of my service here, associated at different times with a great variety of Senators, I see now around me some with whom I have served long; there have been points of collision, but, whatever of offence there has been to me, I leave here. I carry with me no hostile remembrance. Whatever offence I have given which has not been redressed, or for which satisfaction has not been demanded, I have, Senators, in this hour of our parting, to offer you my apology for any pain which, in the heat of the discussion, I have inflicted. I go hence unencumbered by the remembrance of any injury received, and having discharged the duty of making the only reparation in my power for any injury offered. [696]

Mr. President and Senators, having made the announcement which the occasion seemed to me to require, it only remains for me to bid you a final adieu.

Mr. Davis had been ill for more than a week, and our medical attendant thought him physically unable to make his farewell to the Senate. On the morning of the day he was to address his colleagues, the crowd began to move toward the Senate Chamber as early as seven o'clock. By nine there was hardly standing room within the galleries or in the passway behind the forum. The Senators' cloak-room was crowded to excess, and the bright faces of the ladies were assembled together like a mosaic of flowers in the doorway. The sofas and the passways were full, and ladies sat on the floor against the wall where they could not find seats. There brooded over this immense crowd a palpitating, expectant silence which was afterward remarked as very unusual. I sent a servant at seven o'clock, who, with a friend of hers, kept my seat and that of my companion, until the morning hour had expired. The gallery of the reporters was occupied by the Diplomatic Corps and their respective families.

Mr. Davis told me that he had great difficulty in reaching his seat, as the ladies, of course, could not be crowded, and each one [697] feared that the other would encroach on her scanty bit of room if an inch was yielded. Curiosity and the expectation of an intellectual feast seemed to be the prevailing feeling, and I, who had come from a sleepless night, all through the watches of which war and its attendants, famine and bloodshed had been predicted in despairing accents, looked on this festive crowd and wondered if they saw beyond the cold exterior of the orator-his deep depression, his desire for reconciliation, and his overweening love for the Union in whose cause he had bled, and to maintain which he was ready to sacrifice all but liberty and equality. We felt blood in the air, and mourned in secret over the severance of tender ties both of relationship and friendship; but a cloud covered all the rest, and our hearts were “exceeding sorrowful even unto death;” we could even guess at the end.

Mr. Davis, graceful, grave, and deliberate, amid profound silence, arose to address the Senate for the last time as a member of that body. Every eye was turned upon him, fearful of missing one word. He glanced over the Senate with the reluctant look, the dying cast on those upon whom they gaze for the last time. His voice was at first low and faltering, but soon it rang out melodiously clear, like a silver trumpet, to the extremest verge [698] of the assembly. The music of his voice prevented the great volume of sound from jarring upon the ears of his audience. Unshed tears were in it, and a plea for peace permeated every tone. Every graceful gesture seemed to invite to brotherly love. His manner suggested that of one who parts from his family, because even death were better than estrangement.

He was listened to in profound silence, broken only by repeated applause, which his face revealed he deprecated before the Vice-President called the audience to order. The orator was too grief-stricken and too terribly in earnest to think of the impression he might create upon others. Had he been bending over his bleeding father, needlessly slain by his countrymen, he could not have been more pathetic or inconsolable.

Not his wife alone, but all who sat spellbound before him knew how genuine was his grief, and entered into the spirit of his loving appeal.

With a plea for the indulgence of his colleagues whom, in debate he might, in all the past years of heated and strenuous endeavors, have offended, he offered the hand of fellowship to each of them who might be willing to accent it. There was scarcely a dry eye in the multitude as he took his seat [699] with the words, “It only remains for me to bid you a final adieu.”

Inexpressibly sad he left the chamber, with but faint hope; and that night I heard the often reiterated prayer, “May God have us in His holy keeping, and grant that before it is too late peaceful councils may prevail.”

End Of Volume I.

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