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Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889

Statesman; born in Christian county, Ky., June 3, 1808; graduated at West Point in 1828; served as lieutenant in the Black Hawk War (q. v.) in 1831-32, and resigned in 1835 to become a cotton-planter in Mississippi. He was a member of Congress in 1845-46, and served as colonel of a Mississippi regiment in the war with Mexico. He was United States Senator from 1847 to 1851, and from 1857 to 1861. He was called to the cabinet of President Pierce as Secretary of War in 1853, and remained four years. He resigned his seat in the Senate in January, 1861, and was chosen provisional President of the Southern Confederacy in February. In November, 1861, he was elected permanent President for six years. Early in April, 1865, he and his associates in the government fled from Richmond, first to Danville, Va., and then towards the Gulf of Mexico. He was arrested in Georgia, taken to Fort Monroe, and confined on a charge of treason for about two years, when he was released on bail, Horace Greeley's name heading the list of bondsmen for $100,000. He was never tried. He published The rise and fall of the Confederate government (1881). He died in New Orleans, La., Dec. 6, 1889.

Mr. Davis was at his home, not far from Vicksburg, when apprised of his election as President of the Confederacy formed at Montgomery, February, 1861. He hastened to that city, and his journey was a continuous ovation. He made twenty-five speeches on the way. Members of the convention and the authorities of Montgomery met him eight miles from the city. He arrived at the Alabama capital at eight o'clock at night. Cannon thundered a welcome, and the shouts of a multitude greeted him. Formally received at the railway station, he made a speech, in which he briefly reviewed the position of the South, and said the time for compromises had passed. “We are now determined,” he said, “to maintain our position, and make all who oppose us smell Southern powder and feel Southern steel. . . . We will maintain our rights and our government at all hazards. We ask nothing—we want nothing—and we will have no complications. If the other States join our Confederacy, they can freely come in on our terms. Our separation from the Union is complete, and no compromise, no reconstruction, can now be entertained.” The inaugural ceremonies took place at noon, Feb. 18, on a platform erected in front of the portico of the State-house. Davis and the Vice-President elect, Alexander H. Stephens (q. v.), with Rev. Dr. Marly, rode in an open barouche from the Exchange Hotel to the capitol, followed by a multitude of State officials and citizens. The oath of office was administered to Davis by Howell Cobb, president of the Congress, at the close of his inaugural address. In the evening President Davis held [19]

Jefferson Davis.

a levee at Estelle Hall, and the city was brilliantly lighted up by bonfires and illuminations. President Davis chose for his constitutional advisers a cabinet comprising Robert Toombs, of Georgia, Secretary of State; Charles G. Memminger, of South Carolina, Secretary of the Treasury; Le Roy Pope Walker, of Alabama, Secretary of War; Stephen R. Mallory, of Florida, Secretary of the Navy, and John H. Reagan, of Texas, Postmaster-General. Afterwards, Judah P. Benjamin was made Attorney-General.

Two days after President Lincoln's call for troops, President Davis issued a proclamation, in the preamble of which he said the President of the United States had “announced the intention of invading the Confederacy with an armed force for the purpose of capturing its fortresses, and thereby subverting its independence, and subjecting the free people thereof to the dominion of a foreign power.” He said it was the duty of his government to repel this threatened invasion, and “defend the rights and liberties of the people by all the means which the laws of nations and usages of civilized warfare placed at [20] its disposal.” He invited the people of the Confederacy to engage in privateering, and he exhorted those who had “felt the wrongs of the past” from those whose enmity was “more implacable, because unprovoked,” to exert themselves in preserving order and maintaining the authority of the Confederate laws. This proclamation was met by President Lincoln by a public notice that he should immediately order a blockade of all the Southern ports claimed as belonging to the Confederacy; and also that if any person, under the pretended authority of such States, or under any other pretence, should molest a vessel of the United States, or the person or cargo on board of her, such person would be held amenable to the laws of the United States for the prevention and punishment of piracy. With this opposing proclamation the great Civil War was actively begun.

In April, 1865, Mr. Davis's wife and children, and his wife's sister, had accompanied him from Danville to Washington, Ga., where, for prudential reasons, the father separated from the others. He soon learned that some Confederate soldiers, believing that the

Jefferson Davis's home in Richmond.

treasure that was carried away from Richmond was with Mrs. Davis, had formed a plot to seize all her trunks in search of it. He hastened to the rescue of his family and property, riding rapidly 18 miles. They were near Irwinsville, south of Macon, Ga. The tents were pitched at night, and the wearied ones retired to rest, intending to resume their flight in the morning. General Wilson, at Macon, hearing of Davis's flight towards the Gulf, had sent out Michigan and Wisconsin cavalry, whose vigilance was quickened by the offered reward of $100,000 for the arrest of the fugitive. Simultaneously, from opposite points, these two parties approached the camp of Davis and his little party just at dawn, May 11, 1865. Mistaking each other for foes, they exchanged shots with such precision that two men were killed and several wounded before the error was discovered. The sleepers were aroused. The camp was surrounded, and Davis, while attempting to escape in disguise, was captured and conveyed to General Wilson's headquarters. Davis had slept in a wrapper, and when aroused hastily pulled on his boots and went to the tent-door. He observed the National cavalry. “Then you are captured?” exclaimed his wife. In an instant she fastened the wrapper around him before he was aware, and then, bidding him adieu, urged him to go to a spring near by, where his horse and arms were. He complied, as he was leaving the tentdoor, followed by a servant with a water-bucket, his sister-in-law flung a shawl over his head. It was in this disguise that he was captured. Such is the story as told by C. E. L. Stuart, of Davis's staff. The Confederate President was taken to fort Monroe by way of Savannah and the sea. Reagan, who was captured with Davis, and Alexander H. Stephens were sent to Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor. [21]

Inaugural Address>head>

The following is the text of the inaugural address, delivered at Montgomery, Ala., Feb. 18, 1861:

Gentlemen of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, Friends, and Fellow-Citizens,—Called to the difficult and responsible station of chief executive of the provisional government which you have instituted, I approach the discharge of the duties assigned me with an humble distrust of my abilities, but with a sustaining confidence in the wisdom of those who are to guide and aid me in the administration of public affairs, and an abiding faith in the virtue and patriotism of the people. Looking forward to the speedy establishment of a permanent government to take the place of this, and which by its greater moral and physical power will be better able to combat with the many difficulties which arise from the conflicting interests of separate nations, I enter upon the duties of the office to which I have been chosen with the hope that the beginning of our career as a confederacy may not be obstructed by hostile opposition to our enjoyment of the separate existence and independence which we have asserted, and which, with the blessing of Providence, we intend to maintain.

Our present condition, achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations, illustrates the American idea that governments rest upon the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter and abolish governments whenever they become destructive to the ends for which they were established. The declared compact of the Union from which we have withdrawn was to establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity; and when, in the judgment of the sovereign States now composing this Confederacy, it has been perverted from the purposes for which it was ordained, and ceased to answer the ends for which it was established, a peaceful appeal to the ballot-box declared that, as far as they were concerned, the government created by that compact should cease to exist. In this they merely asserted the right which the Declaration of Independence of 1776 defined to be inalienable. Of the time and occasion of its exercise they as sovereigns were the final judges, each for himself. The impartial, enlightened verdict of mankind will vindicate the rectitude of our conduct; and He who knows the hearts of men will judge of the sincerity with which we labored to preserve the government of our fathers in its spirit.

The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the States, and which has been affirmed and reaffirmed in the bills of rights of the States subsequently admitted into the Union of 1789, undeniably recognizes in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government. Thus the sovereign States here represented proceeded to form this Confederacy, and it is by the abuse of language that their act has been denominated revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government has remained. The rights of person and property have not been disturbed. The agent through whom they communicated with foreign nations is changed, but this does not necessarily interrupt their international relations. Sustained by the consciousness that the transition from the former Union to the present Confederacy has not proceeded from a disregard on our part of our just obligations or any failure to perform every constitutional duty, moved by no interest or passion to invade the rights of others, anxious to cultivate peace and commerce with all nations, if we may not hope to avoid war, we may at least expect that posterity will acquit us of having needlessly engaged in it. Doubly justified by the absence of wrong on our part, and by wanton aggression on the part of others, there can be no cause to doubt the courage and patriotism of the people of the Confederate States will be found equal to any measures of defence which soon their security may require.

An agricultural people, whose chief interest is the export of a commodity required in every manufacturing country, our true policy is peace, and the freest trade which our necessities will permit. It is alike our interest, and that of all those to whom we would sell and from [22] whom we would buy, that there should be the fewest practicable restrictions upon the interchange of commodities. There can be but little rivalry between ours and any manufacturing or navigating community, such as the Northeastern States of the American Union. It must follow, therefore, that mutual interest would invite good — will and kind offices. If, however, passion or lust of dominion should cloud the judgment or inflame the ambition of those States, we must prepare to meet the emergency and maintain by the final arbitrament of the sword the position which we have assumed among the nations of the earth.

We have entered upon a career of independence, and it must be inflexibly pursued through many years of controversy with our late associates of the Northern States. We have vainly endeavored to secure tranquillity and obtain respect for the rights to which we are entitled. As a necessity, not a choice, we have resorted to the remedy of separation, and henceforth our energies must be directed to the conduct of our own affairs, and the perpetuity of the Confederacy which we have formed. If a just perception of mutual interest shall permit us peaceably to pursue our separate political career, my most earnest desire will have been fulfilled. But if this be denied us, and the integrity of our territory and jurisdiction be assailed, it will but remain for us with firm resolve to appeal to arms and invoke the blessing of Providence on a just cause.

As a consequence of our new condition, and with a view to meet anticipated wants, it will be necessary to provide a speedy and efficient organization of the branches of the executive department having special charge of foreign intercourse, finance, military affairs, and postal service. For purposes of defence the Confederate States may, under the ordinary circumstances, rely mainly upon their militia; but it is deemed advisable in the present condition of affairs that there should be a well-instructed, disciplined army, more numerous than would usually be required on a peace establishment. I also suggest that, for the protection of our harbors and commerce on the high seas, a navy adapted to those objects will be required. These necessities have, doubtless, engaged the attention of Congress.

With a constitution differing only from that of our fathers in so far as it is explanatory of their well-known intent, freed from sectional .conflicts, which have interfered with the pursuit of the general welfare, it is not unreasonable to expect that the States from which we have recently parted may seek to unite their fortunes to ours, under the government which we have instituted. For this your constitution makes adequate provision, but beyond this, if I mistake not, the judgment and will of the people are, that union with the States from which they have separated is neither practicable nor desirable. To increase the power, develop the resources, and promote the happiness of the Confederacy, it is requisite there should be so much homogeneity that the welfare of every portion would be the aim of the whole. Where this does not exist, antagonisms are engendered which must and should result in separation.

Actuated solely by a desire to preserve our own rights, and to promote our own welfare, the separation of the Confederate States has been marked by no aggression upon others, and followed by no domestic convulsion. Our industrial pursuits have received no check, the cultivation of our fields progresses as heretofore, and even should we be involved in war, there would be no considerable diminution in the production of the staples which have constituted our exports, in which the commercial world has an interest scarcely less than our own. This common interest of producer and consumer can only be intercepted by an exterior force which should obstruct its transmission to foreign markets, a course of conduct which would be detrimental to manufacturing and commercial interests abroad.

Should reason guide the action of the government from which we have separated, a policy so detrimental to the civilized world, the Northern States included, could not be dictated by even a stronger desire to inflict injury upon us; but if it be otherwise, a terrible responsibility will rest upon it, and the suffering of millions will bear testimony to the folly and wickedness of our aggressors. In the mean [23] time there will remain to us, besides the ordinary remedies before suggested, the well-known resources for retaliation upon the commerce of an enemy.

Experience in public stations of a subordinate grade to this which your kindness had conferred has taught me that care and toil and disappointments are the price of official elevation. You will see many errors to forgive, many deficiencies to tolerate, but you shall not find in me either want of zeal or fidelity to the cause that is to me the highest in hope and of most enduring affection. Your generosity has bestowed upon me an undeserved distinction, one which I neither sought nor desired. Upon the continuance of that sentiment, and upon your wisdom and patriotism, I rely to direct and support me in the performance of the duties required at my hands.

We have changed the constituent parts but not the system of our government. The Constitution formed by our fathers is that of these Confederate States. In their exposition of it, and in the judicial construction it has received, we have a light which reveals its true meaning. Thus instructed as to the just interpretation of that instrument, and ever remembering that all offices are but trusts held for the people, and that delegated powers are to be strictly construed, I will hope by due diligence in the performance of my duties, though I may disappoint your expectation, yet to retain, when retiring, something of the good — will and confidence which will welcome my entrance into office.

It is joyous in the midst of perilous times to look around upon a people united in heart, when one purpose of high resolve animates and actuates the whole, where the sacrifices to be made are not weighed in the balance, against honor, right, liberty, and equality. Obstacles may retard, but they cannot long prevent the progress of a movement sanctioned by its justice and sustained by a virtuous people. Reverently let us invoke the God of our fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which by His blessing they were able to vindicate, establish, and transmit to their posterity; and with a continuance of His favor, ever gratefully acknowledged, we may hopefully look forward to success, to peace, to prosperity.

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