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Life, services and character of Jefferson Davis.

An Oration by Hon. John W. Daniel.
Delivered under the auspices of the General Assembly of Virginia at Mozart Academy of music, January 25, 1890.

Preliminary proceedings on the part of the General Assembly.

In the Senate of Virginia, December 7, 1889, Senator T. W. Harrison, of Winchester, offered the following concurrent resolution:

Resolved (the House of Delegates concurring), That the Hon. John W. Daniel be invited to deliver an address upon the life and character and services of the late Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, in the hall of the House of Delegates, at such time during the present session of the Legislature as he may designate, and that a committee of two on the part of the Senate and three on the part of the House be appointed to wait upon the Hon. John W. Daniel and extend him this invitation and make all necessary arrangements.

Agreed to by Senate December 7, 1889.
J. D. Pendleton, Clerk of Senate. Agreed to by House of Delegates December 7, 1889.
J. Bell Bigger, Clerk of House of Delegates.

The following joint committee was appointed on the part of the Senate and House of Delegates, respectively:

Committee on the part of the Senate:

T. W. Harrison, of Winchester.

Taylor Berry, of Amherst.

Committee on the part of the House of Delegates:

J. Owens Berry, of Fairfax.

P. C. Cabell, of Amherst.

James M. Stubbs, of Gloucester.


In the House of Delegates, December 12, 1889, the Hon. Walter T. Booth, of Richmond, offered the following concurrent resolution:

Resolved (the Senate concurring), That the committee having in charge the arrangements for the delivery of the address of Hon. John W. Daniel on the character and life of Hon. Jefferson Davis be and is hereby authorized and instructed to select for the occasion some other and larger hall than that of the House of Delegates.

Agreed to by the General Assembly of Virginia January 22, 1890.

J. Bell Bigger, Clerk House of Delegates and Keeper of Rolls of Virginia.

The following extract is taken from the report of the special committee made January 22, 1890:

They have discharged the pleasant duty of tendering the said invitation, and are gratified to report that Hon. John W. Daniel has accepted the invitation, and has designated Saturday January 25, 1890, at 8 o'clock P. M., as the time for the delivery of the same at the Mozart Academy of Music.

J. Bell Bigger, Clerk House of Delegates and Keeper of Rolls of Virginia.

At 8 P. M. on the 25th day of January, 1890, the Hon. R. H. Cardwell, Speaker of the House of Delegates, called the vast assemblage to order, and delivered the following introductory address:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is the pleasing part of my duties to welcome you on this occasion—especially pleasing because the presence of this magnificent audience demonstrates that when the present General Assembly of Virginia invited one of her favorite sons, and her most gifted orator to deliver in this, the capital city of the late Confederate States of America, an oration on the life and character of the lamented Jefferson Davis, they but voiced the wishes of the people whom they have the honor to represent. In 1865, nearing the close of the Confederacy's short life, the General Assembly of Virginia addressed an open letter to President Davis, in which it declared ‘its desire in this critical period of affairs, by such suggestions as occur to them and by the dedication, if need be, of the entire resources of the Commonwealth [115] to the common cause, to strengthen our hands, and to give success to our struggle for liberty and independence.’

In reply, President Davis said: ‘Your assurance is to me a source of the highest gratification; and while conveying to you my thanks for the expression of confidence of the General Assembly in my sincere devotion to my country and its sacred cause, I must beg permission in return to bear witness to the uncalculating, unhesitating spirit with which Virginia has, from the moment when she first drew the sword, consecrated the blood of her children and all her material resources to the achievement of the object of our struggle.’

Our ‘sacred cause’ was lost, and, after long years of vicarious suffering, through all of which he was true to us and to our dead, our chieftain has passed away, but the love for the principles for which we contended, and the memory of him who contributed so much to make our record in that struggle glorious, will live forever in the hearts of all true men and women throughout our Southland. It is our purpose on this occasion to review the brilliant life and spotless character of Mr. Davis, and in selecting as the orator, that fearless son of Virginia whose eloquent words, as enduring as marble, have held up for review by coming generations the life and character of other of our great leaders who have ‘crossed over the river,’ we again have your approval, and his name is so indelibly written in our affections, that your reception of him here to-night will further demonstrate that it is a needless task for me to more formally introduce to a Virginia audience—John W. Daniel.

The Oration.

Mr. Speaker, Gentlemen of the General Assembly of Virginia, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Noble are the words of Cicero when he tells us that ‘it is the first and fundamental law of history that it should neither dare to say anything that is false, or fear to say anything that is true, nor give any just suspicion of favor or disaffection.’

No less a high standard must be invoked in considering the life, character, and services of Jefferson Davis—a great man of a great epoch, whose name is blended with the renown of American arms and with the civic glories of the Cabinet and the Congress hall—a son of the South, who became the head of a confederacy more populous and extensive than that for which Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, [116] and the commander-in-chief of armies many times greater than those of which Washington was the general.

He swayed Senates and led the soldiers of the Union—and he stood accused of treason in a court of justice.

He saw victory sweep illustrious battle-fields—and he became a captive.

He ruled millions—and he was put in chains.

He created a nation; he followed its bier; he wrote its epitaph—and he died a disfranchised citizen.

But though great in all vicissitudes and trials, he was greatest in that fortune which, lifting him first to the loftiest heights and casting him thence into the depths of disappointment, found him everywhere the erect and constant friend of truth. He conquered himself and forgave his enemies, but bent to no one but God.

Severe scrutiny of his life and character.

No public man was ever subjected to sterner ordeals of character or closer scrutiny of conduct. He was in the public gaze for nearly half a century; and in the fate which at last overwhelmed the Southern Confederacy and its President, its official records and private papers fell into the hands of his enemies.

Wary eyes now searched to see if he had overstepped the bounds which the laws of war have set to action, and could such evidence be found, wrathful hearts would have cried for vengeance. But though every hiding-place was opened, and reward was ready for any who would betray the secrets of the captured chief, whose armies were scattered, and whose hands were chained—though the sea gave up its dead in the convulsion of his country—there could be found no guilty fact, and accusing tongues were silenced.

Whatever record leaped to light,
His name could not be shamed.

I could not, indeed, nor would I, divest myself of those identities and partialities which make me one with the people of whom he was the chief in their supreme conflict. But surely if records were stainless and enemies were dumb, and if the principals now pronounce favorable judgment upon the agent, notwithstanding that he failed to conduct their affairs to a successful issue, there can be no suspicion of undue favor on the part of those who do him honor; and the contrary inclination could only spring from disaffection.


The South knew him and therefore honors him.

The people of the South knew Jefferson Davis. He mingled his daily life with theirs under the eager ken of those who had bound up with him all that life can cherish.

To his hands they consigned their destinies, and under his guidance they committed the land they loved, with husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers, to the God of Battles.

Ruin, wounds, and death became their portion. And yet this people do declare that Jefferson Davis was an unselfish patriot and a noble gentleman; that as the trustee of the highest trusts that man can place in man he was clear and faithful; and that in his high office he exhibited those grand heroic attributes which were worthy of its dignity and of their struggle for independence.

Thus it was that when the news came that he was no more there was no Southern home that did not pass under the shadow of affliction. Thus it was that the Governors of Commonwealths bore his body to the tomb, and that multitudes gathered from afar to bow in reverence. Thus it was that throughout the South the scarred soldiers, the widowed wives, the kindred of those who had died in the battle which he delivered, met to give utterance to their respect and sorrow. Thus it is that the General Assembly of Virginia is now convened to pay their tribute. Completer testimony to human worth was never given, and thus it will be that the South will build a monument to record their verdict that he was true to his people, his conscience, and his God; and no stone that covers the dead will be worthier of the Roman legend:

Clarus et vir fortissimus.

Some personal traits of character.

The life now closed was one of conflict from youth to manhood, and from manhood to the grave. Before he was a man in years he was an officer in the army of his country, and intermissions of military and civil services were but spent in burnishing the weapons which were to shine in the clash of opposing interests.

The scenes of the hearthstone and of the cloisters of friendship and religion have no place on that large canvas which portrays the great events of national existence; and those who come forth from them equipped and strong to wrestle and contend leave often behind them [118] the portions of their life-work which, could others know them, would reverse all conceptions of character and turn aversion to affection.

Those who knew

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