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Chapter 5: the office was not sought.

One of the most popular political maxims of the country, a maxim more honored in the breach than the observance, is that “the office should seek the man, not the man the office.” This maxim was rigidly observed by my husband from the beginning to the end of his long public career. He never intrigued for any of the public positions he held, either in person or by authorized representatives. An active and zealous participant in all political contests, he never made a canvass for himself, excepting during one Presidential campaign, when a candidate on the list of Presidential electors — a vote for which was a vote not for the men on the ticket but for Mr. Polk, the Democratic candidate for President of the United States.

After defeat had settled on our cause, some malcontents stated publicly that Mr. Davis had been a candidate for the Presidency of the Confederate States, and that his election to that position was the result of a misunderstanding or of accidental complications; that [42] he held “extreme views,” and had, at that period, “an inadequate conception of the magnitude of the war probably to be waged.”

These expressions called out prompt contradiction from several eminent Confederates who had personal knowledge of the facts. As some of these misrepresentations have found their way into books that may be quoted as authorities when the present survivors of the war are no longer here to refute them, I deem it proper to refer to this evidence, volunteered at a time when the events were fresh in the memories of their contemporaries. The Honorable J. A. P. Campbell, of Mississippi, afterward Justice of the Supreme Court of that State, wrote in 1870:

If there was a delegate from Mississippi, or any other State, who was opposed to the election of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States, I never heard of the fact. No other man was spoken of for President in my hearing. It is within my personal knowledge that the statement “that Mr. Davis did not have a just appreciation of the serious character of the contest between the seceding States and the Union” is wholly untrue. Mr. Davis, more than any man I ever heard talk on the subject, had a correct apprehension of the consequences of secession, and of the magnitude of the war to be [43] waged to coerce the seceding States. While at Montgomery, he expressed the belief that heavy fighting must occur, and that Virginia was to be the chief battle-ground. Years prior to secession, in his address before the Legislature and people of Mississippi, Mr. Davis had earnestly advised extensive preparation for the possible contingency of secession.

After the formation of the Confederate States, he was far in advance of the Constitutional Convention and the Provisional Congress, and, as I believe, of any man in it, in his views of the gravity of the situation and the probable extent and duration of the war, and of the provision that should be made for the defence of the seceding States. Before secession, Mr. Davis thought war would result from it; and after secession he expressed the view that the war then commenced would be an extensive one.

The idea that Mr. Davis was so “extreme” in his views, is a new one. He was extremely conservative on the subject of secession.

The suggestion that Mississippi would have preferred General Toombs or Mr. Cobb for President has no foundation in fact. My opinion is that no man could have obtained a single vote in the Mississippi delegation [44] against Mr. Davis, who was then, as he is now, the most eminent and popular of all the citizens of Mississippi.

The late Duncan F. Kenner, of Louisiana, formerly a member both of the Federal and Confederate Congress, wrote:

My recollections of what transpired at the time are very vivid and positive.

Who should be President? was the absorbing question of the day. It engaged the attention of all present, and elicited many letters from our respective constituencies. The general inclination was strongly in favor of Mr. Davis--in fact no other name was so prominently or so generally mentioned. Next to Mr. Davis the name of Mr. Rhett, of South Carolina, was probably more frequently mentioned than that of any other person.

The rule adopted at our election was that each State should have one vote, to be delivered in open session, viva voce, by one of the delegates as spokesman for his colleagues. The delegates of the different States met in secret session to select their candidate and spokesman.

Of what occurred in these various meetings I cannot speak authoritatively as to other States, as their proceedings were considered secret. I can speak positively, however, of what took place at a meeting of the [45] delegates from Louisiana. We, the Louisiana delegates, without hesitation, and unanimously, after a very short session, decided in favor of Mr. Davis. No other name was mentioned. The claims of no one else were considered, or even alluded to. There was not the slighest opposition to Mr. Davis on the part of any of our delegation; certainly none was expressed; all appeared enthusiastic in his favor; and, I have no reason to doubt, felt so. Nor was the feeling induced by any solicitation on the part of Mr. Davis or his friends. Mr. Davis was not in or near Montgomery at the time. He was never heard from on the subject, as far as I knew. He was never announced as a candidate. We were seeking the best man to fill the position, and the conviction at the time, in the minds of a large majority of the delegates, that Mr. Davis was the best qualified, both from his civil and military knowledge and experience, induced many to look upon him as the best selection that could be made.

This conviction, coupled with his well-recognized conservative views — for in no sense did we consider Mr. Davis extreme in either his views or purposes — was the deciding consideration which controlled the votes of the Louisiana delegation.

The Honorable James Chesnut, of South [46] Carolina wrote: “Mr. Davis, then conspicuous for his ability, had long experience in the United States Senate in civil service, was reputed a most successful organizer and administrator of the military department of the United States when he was Secretary of War, and came out of the Mexican War with much éclat as a soldier. Possessing a combination of these high and needful qualities, he was regarded by nearly the whole South as the fittest man for the position. I certainly so regarded him.”

Honorable W. Porcher Miles, of Virginia, formerly of South Carolina, and a member of the Provisional Congress of 1861, wrote: “To the best of my recollection there was entire unanimity in the South Carolina delegation at Montgomery on the subject of the choice of a President. I think there was no question that Mr. Davis was the choice of our delegation and of the whole people of South Carolina.”

Thus Mr. Davis came to be the commander-in-chief of a country not yet torn loose from the clinging memories of a common glory, and which he would gladly, had it been in his power, have merged in the United States, even on the day of his election, could he have offered any guarantee to the Southern people for the exercise of their unalienable [47] rights and the security of their lives and property.

He approached the task of creating a nation with a longing beyond expression to have his extended hand of fellowship grasped by that of the North before blood had been spilled, and with many humble petitions to Almighty God for guidance and support.

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