The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government
by Jefferson Davis
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The object of this work has been from historical data to show that the Southern States had rightfully the power to withdraw from a Union into which they had, as sovereign communities, voluntarily entered; that the denial of that right was a violation of the letter and spirit of the compact between the States; and that the war waged by the Federal Government against the seceding States was in disregard of the limitations of the Constitution, and destructive of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

The author, from his official position, may claim to have known much of the motives and acts of his countrymen immediately before and during the war of 1861-'65, and he has sought to furnish material far the future historian, who, when the passions and prejudices of the day shall have given place to reason and sober thought, may, better than a contemporary, investigate the causes, conduct, and results of the war.

The incentive to undertake the work now offered to the public was the desire to correct misapprehensions created by industriously circulated misrepresentations as to the acts and purposes of the people and the General Government of the Confederate States. By the reiteration of such unappropriate terms as "rebellion" and "treason," and the asseveration that the South was levying war against the United States, those ignorant of the nature of the Union, and of the reserved powers of the States, have been led to believe that the Confederate States were in the condition of revolted provinces, and that the United States were forced to resort to arms for the preservation of their existence. To those who knew that the Union was formed for specific enumerated purposes, and that the States had never surrendered their sovereignty it was a palpable absurdity to apply to them, or to their citizens when obeying their mandates, the terms "rebellion" and "treason"; and, further, it is shown in the following pages that the Confederate States, so far from making war or seeking to destroy the United States, as soon as they had an official organ, strove earnestly, by peaceful recognition, to equitably adjust all questions growing out of the separation from their late associates.

Another great perversion of truth has been the arraignment of the men who participated in the formation of the Confederacy and who bore arms in its defense, as the instigators of a controversy leading to disunion. Sectional issues appear conspicuously in the debates of the Convention which framed the Federal Constitution, and its many compromises were designed to secure an equilibrium between the sections, and to preserve the interests as well as the liberties of the several States. African servitude at that time was not confined to a section, but was numerically greater in the South than in the North, with a tendency to its continuance in the former and cessation in the latter. It therefore thus early presents itself as a disturbing element, and the provisions of the Constitution, which were known to be necessary for its adoption, bound all the States to recognize and protect that species of property. When at a subsequent period there arose in the Northern States an antislavery agitation, it was a harmless and scarcely noticed movement until political demagogues seized upon it as a means to acquire power. Had it been left to pseudo-philanthropists and fanatics, most zealous where least informed, it never could have shaken the foundations of the Union and have incited one section to carry fire and sword into the other. That the agitation was political in its character, and was clearly developed as early as 1803, it is believed has been established in these pages. To preserve a sectional equilibrium and to maintain the equality of the States was the effort on one side, to acquire empire was the manifest purpose on the other. This struggle began before the men of the Confederacy were born; how it arose and how it progressed it has been attempted briefly to show. Its last stage was on the question of territorial governments; and, if in this work it has not been demonstrated that the position of the South was justified by the Constitution and the equal rights of the people of all the States, it must be because the author has failed to present the subject with a sufficient degree of force and clearness.

In describing the events of the war, space has not permitted, and the loss of both books and papers has prevented, the notice of very many entitled to consideration, as well for the humanity as the gallantry of our men in the unequal combats they fought. These numerous omissions, it is satisfactory to know, the official reports made at the time and the subsequent contributions which have been and are being published by the actors, will supply more fully and graphically than could have been done in this work.

Usurpations of the Federal Government have been presented, not in a spirit of hostility, but as a warning to the people against the dangers by which their liberties are beset. When the war ceased, the pretext on which it had been waged could no longer be alleged. The emancipation proclamation of Mr. Lincoln, which, when it was issued, he humorously admitted to be a nullity, had acquired validity by the action of the highest authority known to our institutions—the people assembled in their several State Conventions. The soldiers of the Confederacy had laid down their arms, had in good faith pledged themselves to abstain from further hostile operations, and had peacefully dispersed to their homes; there could not, then, have been further dread of them by the Government of the United States. The plea of necessity could, therefore, no longer exist for hostile demonstration against the people and States of the deceased Confederacy. Did vengeance, which stops at the grave, subside? Did real peace and the restoration of the States to their former rights and positions follow, as was promised on the restoration of the Union? Let the recital of the invasion of the reserved powers of the States, or the people, and the perversion of the republican form of government guaranteed to each State by the Constitution, answer the question. For the deplorable fact of the war, for the cruel manner in which it was waged, for the sad physical and yet sadder moral results it produced, the reader of these pages, I hope, will admit that the South, in the forum of conscience, stands fully acquitted.

Much of the past is irremediable; the best hope for a restoration in the future to the pristine purity and fraternity of the Union, rests on the opinions and character of the men who are to succeed this generation: that they maybe suited to that blessed work, one, whose public course is ended, invokes them to draw their creed from the fountains of our political history, rather than from the lower stream, polluted as it has been by self-seeking place-hunters and by sectional strife.






African Servitude.—A Retrospect.—Early Legislation with Regard to the Slave-Trade.—The Southern States foremost in prohibiting it.—A Common Error corrected.—The Ethical Question never at Issue in Sectional Controversies.—The Acquisition of Louisiana.—The Missouri Compromise.—The Balance of Power.—Note.—The Indiana Case.


The Session of 1849-'50.—The Compromise Measures.—Virtual Abrogation of the Missouri Compromise.—The Admission of California.—The Fugitive Slave Law.—Death of Mr. Calhoun.—Anecdote of Mr. Clay.


Reelection to the Senate.—Political Controversies in Mississippi.—Action of the Democratic State Convention.—Defeat of the State-Rights Party.—Withdrawal of General Quitman and Nomination of the Author as Candidate for the Office of Governor.—The Canvass and its Result.—Retirement to Private Life.


The Author enters the Cabinet.—Administration of the War Department.—Surveys for a Pacific Railway.—Extension of the Capitol.—New Regiments organized.—Colonel Samuel Cooper, Adjutant-General.—A Bit of Civil-Service Reform.—Reelection to the Senate.—Continuity of the Pierce Cabinet.—Character of Franklin Pierce.


The Territorial Question.—An Incident at the White House.—The Kansas and Nebraska Bill.—The Missouri Compromise abrogated in 1850, not in 1854.—Origin of "Squatter Sovereignty."—Sectional Rivalry and its Consequences.—The Emigrant Aid Societies.—"The Bible and Sharpe's Rifles."—False Pretensions as to Principle.—The Strife in Kansas.—A Retrospect.—The Original Equilibrium of Power and its Overthrow.— Usurpations of the Federal Government.—The Protective Tariff.— Origin and Progress of Abolitionism.—Who were the Friends of the Union?—An Illustration of Political Morality.


Agitation continued.—Political Parties: their Origin, Changes, and Modifications.—Some Account of the "Popular Sovereignty," or "Non-Intervention," Theory.—Rupture of the Democratic Party.—The John Brown Raid.—Resolutions introduced by the Author into the Senate on the Relations of the States, the Federal Government, and the Territories; their Discussion and Adoption.


A Retrospect.—Growth of Sectional Rivalry.—The Generosity of Virginia.—Unequal Accessions of Territory.—The Tariff and its Effects.—The Republican Convention of 1860, its Resolutions and its Nominations.—The Democratic Convention at Charleston, its Divisions and Disruption.—The Nominations at Baltimore.—The "Constitutional-Union" Party and its Nominees.—An Effort in Behalf of Agreement declined by Mr. Douglas.—The Election of Lincoln and Hamlin.—Proceedings in the South.—Evidences of Calmness and Deliberation.—Mr. Buchanan's Conservatism and the weakness of his Position.—Republican Taunts.—The "New York Tribune," etc.


Conference with the Governor of Mississippi.—The Author censured as "too slow."—Summons to Washington.—Interview with the President.—His Message.—Movements in Congress.—The Triumphant Majority.—The Crittenden Proposition.—Speech of the Author on Mr. Green's Resolution.—The Committee of Thirteen.—Failure to agree.—The "Republicans" responsible for the Failure.—Proceedings in the House of Representatives.—Futility of Efforts for an Adjustment.—The Old Year closes in Clouds.


Preparations for Withdrawal from the Union.—Northern Precedents.—New England Secessionists.—Cabot, Pickering, Quincy, etc.—On the Acquisition of Louisiana.—The Hartford Convention.—The Massachusetts Legislature on the Annexation of Texas, etc., etc. 70


False Statements of the Grounds for Separation.—Slavery not the Cause, but an Incident.—The Southern People not "Propagandists" of Slavery.—Early Accord among the States with regard to African Servitude.—Statement of the Supreme Court.—Guarantees of the Constitution.—Disregard of Oaths.—Fugitives from Service and the "Personal Liberty Laws."—Equality in the Territories the Paramount Question.—The Dred Scott Case.—Disregard of the Decision of the Supreme Court.—Culmination of Wrongs.—Despair of their Redress.—Triumph of Sectionalism.




The Original Confederation.—"Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union."—Their Inadequacy ascertained.—Commercial Difficulties.—The Conference at Annapolis.—Recommendation of a General Convention.— Resolution of Congress.—Action of the Several States.—Conclusions drawn therefrom.


The Convention of 1787.—Diversity of Opinion.—Luther Martin's Account of the Three Parties.—The Question of Representation.—Compromise effected.—Mr. Randolph's Resolutions.—The Word "National" condemned.—Plan of Government framed.—Difficulty with Regard to Ratification, and its Solution.—Provision for Secession from the Union.—Views of Mr. Gerry and Mr. Madison.—False Interpretations.— Close of the Convention.


Ratification of the Constitution by the States.—Organization of the New Government.—Accession of North Carolina and Rhode Island.— Correspondence between General Washington and the Governor of Rhode Island.


The Constitution not adopted by one People "in the Aggregate."—A Great Fallacy exposed.—Mistake of Judge Story.—Colonial Relations.—The United Colonies of New England.—Other Associations.—Independence of Communities traced from Germany to Great Britain, and from Great Britain to America.—Mr. Everett's "Provincial People."—Origin and Continuance of the Title "United States."—No such Political Community as the "People of the United States."


The Preamble to the Constitution.—"We, the People."


The Preamble to the Constitution—subject continued.—Growth of the Federal Government and Accretions of Power.—Revival of Old Errors.—Mistakes and Misstatements.—Webster, Story, and Everett.—Who "ordained and established" the Constitution?


Verbal Cavils and Criticisms.—"Compact," "Confederacy," "Accession," etc.—The "New Vocabulary."—The Federal Constitution a Compact, and the States acceded to it.—Evidence of the Constitution itself and of Contemporary Records.




The same Subject continued.—The Tenth Amendment.—Fallacies exposed.—"Constitution," "Government," and "People" distinguished from each other.—Theories refuted by Facts.—Characteristics of Sovereignty.—Sovereignty identified.—Never thrown away.


A Recapitulation.—Remarkable Propositions of Mr. Gouverneur Morris in the Convention of 1787, and their Fate.—Further Testimony.—Hamilton, Madison, Washington, Marshall, etc.—Later Theories.—Mr. Webster: his Views at Various Periods.—Speech at Capon Springs.—State Rights not a Sectional Theory.


The Right of Secession.—The Law of Unlimited Partnerships.—The "Perpetual Union" of the Articles of Confederation and the "More Perfect Union" of the Constitution.—The Important Powers conferred upon the Federal Government and the Fundamental Principles of the Compact the same in both Systems.—The Right to resume Grants, when failing to fulfill their Purposes, expressly and distinctly asserted in the Adoption of the Constitution.


Coercion the Alternative to Secession.—Repudiation of it by the Constitution and the Fathers of the Constitutional Era.—Difference between Mr. Webster and Mr. Hamilton.


Some Objections considered.—The New States.—Acquired Territory.—Allegiance, false and true.—Difference between Nullification and Secession.—Secession a Peaceable Remedy.—No Appeal to Arms.—Two Conditions noted.


Early Foreshadowings.—Opinions of Mr. Madison and Mr. Rufus King.—Safeguards provided.—Their Failure.—State Interposition.—The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions.—Their Endorsement by the People in the Presidential Elections of 1800 and Ensuing Terms.—South Carolina and Mr. Calhoun.—The Compromise of 1833.—Action of Massachusetts in 1843-'45.—Opinions of John Quincy Adams.—Necessity for Secession.


A Bond of Union necessary after the Declaration of Independence.—Articles of Confederation.—The Constitution of the United States.—The Same Principle for obtaining Grants of Power in both.—The Constitution an Instrument enumerating the Powers delegated.—The Power of Amendment merely a Power to amend the Delegated Grants.—A Smaller Power was required for Amendment than for a Grant.—The Power of Amendment is confined to Grants of the Constitution.—Limitations on the Power of Amendment.




Opening of the New Year.—The People in Advance of their Representatives.—Conciliatory Conduct of Southern Members of Congress.—Sensational Fictions.—Misstatements of the Count of Paris.—Obligations of a Senator.—The Southern Forts and Arsenals.—Pensacola Bay and Fort Pickens.—The Alleged "Caucus" and its Resolutions.—Personal Motives and Feelings.—The Presidency not a Desirable Office.—Letter from the Hon. C. C. Clay.


Tenure of Public Property ceded by the States.—Sovereignty and Eminent Domain.—Principles asserted by Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and other States.—The Charleston Forts.—South Carolina sends Commissioners to Washington.—Sudden Movement of Major Anderson.—Correspondence of the Commissioners with the President.—Interviews of the Author with Mr. Buchanan.—Major Anderson.—The Star of the West.—The President's Special Message.—Speech of the Author in the Senate.—Further Proceedings and Correspondence relative to Fort Sumter.—Mr. Buchanan's Rectitude in Purpose and Vacillation in Action.


Secession of Mississippi and Other States.—Withdrawal of Senators.—Address of the Author on taking Leave of the Senate.—Answer to Certain Objections.


Threats of Arrest.—Departure from Washington.—Indications of Public Anxiety.—"Will there be war?"—Organization of the "Army of Mississippi."—Lack of Preparations for Defense in the South.—Evidences of the Good Faith and Peaceable Purposes of the Southern People.


Meeting of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States.—Adoption of a Provisional Constitution.—Election of President and Vice-President.—Notification to the Author of his Election.—His Views with Regard to it.—Journey to Montgomery.—Interview with Judge Sharkey.—False Reports of Speeches on the Way.—Inaugural Address.—Editor's Note.


The Confederate Cabinet.


Early Acts of the Confederate Congress.—Laws of the United States continued in Force.—Officers of Customs and Revenue continued in Office.—Commission to the United States.—Navigation of the Mississippi.—Restrictions on the Coasting-Trade removed.—Appointment of Commissioners to Washington.


The Peace Conference.—Demand for "a Little Bloodletting."—Plan proposed by the Conference.—Its Contemptuous Reception and Treatment in the United States Congress.—Failure of Last Efforts at Reconciliation and Reunion.—Note.—Speech of General Lane, of Oregon.


Northern Protests against Coercion.—The "New York Tribune," Albany "Argus," and "New York Herald."—Great Public Meeting in New York.—Speeches of Mr. Thayer, ex-Governor Seymour, ex-Chancellor Walworth, and Others.—The Press in February, 1861.—Mr. Lincoln's Inaugural.—The Marvelous Change or Suppression of Conservative Sentiment.—Historic Precedents.


Temper of the Southern People indicated by the Action of the Confederate Congress.—The Permanent Constitution.—Modeled after the Federal Constitution.—Variations and Special Provisions.—Provisions with Regard to Slavery and the Slave-Trade.—A False Assertion refuted.—Excellence of the Constitution.—Admissions of Hostile or Impartial Criticism.


The Commission to Washington City.—Arrival of Mr. Crawford.—Mr. Buchanan's Alarm.—Note of the Commissioners to the New Administration.—Mediation of Justices Nelson and Campbell.—The Difficulty about Forts Sumter and Pickens.—Mr. Secretary Seward's Assurances.—Duplicity of the Government at Washington.—Mr. Fox's Visit to Charleston.—Secret Preparations for Coercive Measures.—Visit of Mr. Lamon.—Renewed Assurances of Good Faith.—Notification to Governor Pickens.—Developments of Secret History.—Systematic and Complicated Perfidy exposed.


Protests against the Conduct of the Government of the United States.—Senator Douglas's Proposition to evacuate the Forts, and Extracts from his Speech in Support of it.—General Scott's Advice.—Manly Letter of Major Anderson, protesting against the Action of the Federal Government.—Misstatements of the Count of Paris.—Correspondence relative to Proposed Evacuation of the Fort.—A Crisis.


A Pause and a Review.—Attitude of the Two Parties.—Sophistry exposed and Shams torn away.—Forbearance of the Confederate Government.—Who was the Aggressor?—Major Anderson's View, and that of a Naval Officer.—Mr. Horace Greeley on the Fort Sumter Case.—The Bombardment and Surrender.—Gallant Action of ex-Senator Wigfall.—Mr. Lincoln's Statement of the Case.




Failure of the Peace Congress.—Treatment of the Commissioners.—Their Withdrawal.—Notice of an Armed Expedition.—Action of the Confederate Government.—Bombardment and Surrender of Fort Sumter.—Its Reduction required by the Exigency of the Case.—Disguise thrown off.—President Lincoln's Call for Seventy-five Thousand Men.—His Fiction of "Combinations."—Palpable Violation of the Constitution.—Action of Virginia.—Of Citizens of Baltimore.—The Charge of Precipitation against South Carolina.—Action of the Confederate Government.—The Universal Feeling.


The Supply of Arms; of Men.—Love of the Union.—Secessionists few.—Efforts to prevent the Final Step.—Views of the People.—Effect on their Agriculture.—Aid from African Servitude.—Answer to the Clamors on the Horrors of Slavery.—Appointment of a Commissary- General.—His Character and Capacity.—Organization, Instruction, and Equipment of the Army.—Action of Congress.—The Law.—Its Signification.—The Hope of a Peaceful Solution early entertained; rapidly diminished.—Further Action of Congress.—Policy of the Government for Peace.—Position of Officers of United States Army.—The Army of the States, not of the Government.—The Confederate Law observed by the Government.—Officers retiring from United States Army.—Organization of Bureaus.


Commissioners to purchase Arms and Ammunition.—My Letter to Captain Semmes.—Resignations of Officers of United States Navy.—Our Destitution of Accessories for the Supply of Naval Vessels.—Secretary Mallory.—Food-Supplies.—The Commissariat Department.—The Quartermaster's Department.—The Disappearance of Delusions.—The Supply of Powder.—Saltpeter.—Sulphur.—Artificial Niter-Beds.—Services of General G. W. Rains.—Destruction at Harper's Ferry of Machinery.—The Master Armorer.—Machinery secured.—Want of Skillful Employees.— Difficulties encountered by Every Department of the Executive Branch of the Government.


The Proclamation for Seventy-five Thousand Men by President Lincoln further examined.—The Reasons presented by him to Mankind for the Justification of his Conduct shown to be Mere Fictions, having no Relation to the Question.—What is the Value of Constitutional Liberty, of Bills of Rights, of Limitations of Powers, if they may be transgressed at Pleasure?—Secession of South Carolina.—Proclamation of Blockade.—Session of Congress at Montgomery.—Extracts from the President's Message.—Acts of Congress.—Spirit of the People.— Secession of Border States.—Destruction of United States Property by Order of President Lincoln.


Maryland first approached by Northern Invasion.—Denies to United States Troops the Right of Way across her Domain.—Mission of Judge Handy.—Views of Governor Hicks.—His Proclamation.—Arrival of Massachusetts Troops at Baltimore.—Passage through the City disputed.—Activity of the Police.—Burning of Bridges.—Letter of President Lincoln to the Governor.—Visited by Citizens.—Action of the State Legislature.—Occupation of the Relay House.—The City Arms surrendered.—City in Possession of United States Troops.—Remonstrances of the City to the Passage of Troops disregarded.—Citizens arrested; also, Members of the Legislature.—Accumulation of Northern Forces at Washington.—Invasion of West Virginia by a Force under McClellan.—Attack at Philippi; at Laurel Hill.—Death of General Garnett.


Removal of the Seat of Government to Richmond.—Message to Congress at Richmond.—Confederate Forces in Virginia.—Forces of the Enemy.—Letter to General Johnston.—Combat at Bethel Church.—Affair at Romney.—Movements of McDowell.—Battle of Manassas.


Conference with the Generals after the Battle.—Order to pursue the Enemy.—Evidences of a Thorough Rout.—"Sweet to die for such a Cause."—Movements of the Next Day.—What more it was practicable to do.—Charge against the President of preventing the Capture of Washington.—The Failure to pursue.—Reflection on the President.— General Beauregard's Report.—Endorsement upon it.—Strength of the Opposing Forces.—Extracts relating to the Battle, from the Narrative of General Early.—Resolutions of Congress.—Efforts to increase the Efficiency of the Army.


The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798-'99.—Their Influence on Political Affairs.—Kentucky declares for Neutrality.—Correspondence of Governor Magoffin with the President of the United States and the President of the Confederate States.—Occupation of Columbus, Kentucky, by Major-General Polk.—His Correspondence with the Kentucky Commissioners.—President Lincoln's View of Neutrality.—Acts of the United States Government.—Refugees.—Their Motives of Expatriation.— Address of ex-Vice-President Breckinridge to the People of the State.—The Occupation of Columbus secured.—The Purpose of the United States Government.—Battle of Belmont.—Albert Sidney Johnston commands the Department.—State of Affairs.—Line of Defense.-Efforts to obtain Arms; also Troops.


The Coercion of Missouri.—Answers of the Governors of States to President Lincoln's Requisition for Troops.—Restoration of Forts Caswell and Johnson to the United States Government.—Condition of Missouri similar to that of Kentucky.—Hostilities, how initiated in Missouri.—Agreement between Generals Price and Harney.—Its Favorable Effects.—General Harney relieved of Command by the United States Government because of his Pacific Policy.—Removal of Public Arms from Missouri.—Searches for and Seizure of Arms.—Missouri on the Side of Peace.—Address of General Price to the People.—Proclamation of Governor Jackson.—Humiliating Concessions of the Governor to the United States Government, for the sake of Peace.—Demands of the Federal Officers.—Revolutionary Principles attempted to be enforced by the United States Government.—The Action at Booneville.—The Patriot Army of Militia.—Further Rout of the Enemy.—Heroism and Self-sacrifice of the People.—Complaints and Embarrassments—Zeal: its effects.—Action of Congress.—Battle of Springfield.—General Price.—Battle at Lexington.—Bales of Hemp.—Other Combats.


Brigadier-General Henry A. Wise takes command in Western Virginia.—His Movements.—Advance of General John B. Floyd.—Defeats the Enemy.—Attacked by Rosecrans.—Controversy between Wise and Floyd.—General R. E. Lee takes the Command in West Virginia.—Movement on Cheat Mountain.—Its Failure.—Further Operations.—Winter Quarters.—Lee sent to South Carolina.


The Issue.—The American Idea of Government.—Who was responsible for the War?—Situation of Virginia.—Concentration of the Enemy against Richmond.—Our Difficulty.—Unjust Criticisms.—The Facts set forth.—Organization of the Army.—Conference at Fairfax Court-House.—Inaction of the Army.—Capture of Romney.—Troops ordered to retire to the Valley.—Discipline.—General Johnston regards his Position as unsafe.—The First Policy.—Retreat of General Johnston.—The Plans of the Enemy.—Our Strength magnified by the Enemy.—Stores destroyed.—The Trent Affair.


Supply of Arms at the Beginning of the War; of Powder; of Batteries; of other Articles.—Contents of Arsenals.—Other Stores, Mills, etc.—First Efforts to obtain Powder, Niter, and Sulphur.—Construction of Mills commenced.—Efforts to supply Arms, Machinery, Field-Artillery, Ammunition, Equipment, and Saltpeter.—Results in 1862.—Government Powder-Mills; how organized.—Success.—Efforts to obtain Lead.—Smelting-Works.—Troops, how armed.—Winter of 1862.—Supplies.— Niter and Mining Bureau.—Equipment of First Armies.—Receipts by Blockade-Runners.—Arsenal at Richmond.—Armories at Richmond and Fayetteville.—A Central Laboratory built at Macon.—Statement of General Gorgas.—Northern Charge against General Floyd answered.— Charge of Slowness against the President answered.—Quantities of Arms purchased that could not be shipped in 1861.—Letter of Mr. Huse.


Extracts from my Inaugural.—Our Financial System: Receipts and Expenditures of the First Year.—Resources, Loans, and Taxes.—Loans authorized.—Notes and Bonds.—Funding Notes.—Treasury Notes guaranteed by the States.—Measure to reduce the Currency.—Operation of the General System.—Currency fundable.—Taxation.—Popular Aversion.—Compulsory Reduction of the Currency.—Tax Law.—Successful Result.—Financial Condition of the Government at its Close.—Sources whence Revenue was derived.—Total Public Debt.—System of Direct Taxes and Revenue.—The Tariff.—War-Tax of Fifty Cents on a Hundred Dollars.—Property subject to it.—Every Resource of the Country to be reached.—Tax paid by the States mostly.—Obstacle to the taking of the Census.—The Foreign Debt.—Terms of the Contract.—Premium.—False charge against me of Repudiation.—Facts stated.


Military Laws and Measures.—Agricultural Products diminished.—Manufactures flourishing.—The Call for Volunteers.—The Term of Three Years.—Improved Discipline.—The Law assailed.—Important Constitutional Question raised.—Its Discussion at Length.—Power of the Government over its own Armies and the Militia.—Object of Confederations.—The War-Powers granted.—Two Modes of raising Armies in the Confederate States.—Is the Law necessary and proper?—Congress is the Judge under the Grant of Specific Power.—What is meant by Militia.—Whole Military Strength divided into Two Classes.—Powers of Congress.—Objections answered.—Good Effects of the Law.—The Limitations enlarged.—Results of the Operations of these Laws.—Act for the Employment of Slaves.—Message to Congress.—"Died of a Theory."—Act to use Slaves as Soldiers passed.—Not Time to put it in Operation.


[Transcriber's Note: There is no Appendix A.]


Speech of the Author on the Oregon Question


Extracts from Speeches of the Author on the Resolutions of Compromise proposed by Mr. Clay

On the Reception of a Memorial from Inhabitants of Pennsylvania and Delaware, praying that Congress would adopt Measures for an Immediate and Peaceful Dissolution of the Union

On the Resolutions of Mr. Clay relative to Slavery in the Territories


Speech of the Author on the Message of the President of the United States, transmitting to Congress the "Lecompton Constitution" of Kansas


Address of the Author to Citizens of Portland, Maine

Address of the Author at a Public Meeting in Faneuil Hall, Boston; with the Introductory Remarks by Caleb Cushing


Speech of the Author in the Senate, on the Resolutions relative to the Relations of the States, the Federal Government, and the Territories


Correspondence between the Commissioners of South Carolina and the President of the United States (Mr. Buchanan), relative to the Forts in the Harbor of Charleston


Speech of the Author on a Motion to print the Special Message of the President of the United States of January 9, 1861


Correspondence and Extracts from Correspondence relative to Fort Sumter, from the Affair of the Star of the West, January 9, 1861, to the Withdrawal of the Envoy of South Carolina from Washington, February 8, 1861


The Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States, adopted February 8, 1861

The Constitution of the United States and the Permanent Constitution of the Confederate States, in Parallel Columns


Correspondence between the Confederate Commissioners, Mr. Secretary Seward, and Judge Campbell


Jefferson Davis, aged Thirty-two

J. C. Calhoun

Briarfield, Early Residence of Mr. Davis

The First Confederate Cabinet

Alexander H. Stephens

General P. G. T. Beauregard

Members of President's Staff

General A. S. Johnston

General Robert E. Lee

Battle of Manassas (Map)


A duty to my countrymen; to the memory of those who died in defense of a cause consecrated by inheritance, as well as sustained by conviction; and to those who, perhaps less fortunate, staked all, and lost all, save life and honor, in its behalf, has impelled me to attempt the vindication of their cause and conduct. For this purpose I have decided to present an historical sketch of the events which preceded and attended the struggle of the Southern States to maintain their existence and their rights as sovereign communities—the creators, not the creatures, of the General Government.

The social problem of maintaining the just relation between constitution, government, and people, has been found so difficult, that human history is a record of unsuccessful efforts to establish it. A government, to afford the needful protection and exercise proper care for the welfare of a people, must have homogeneity in its constituents. It is this necessity which has divided the human race into separate nations, and finally has defeated the grandest efforts which conquerors have made to give unlimited extent to their domain. When our fathers dissolved their connection with Great Britain, by declaring themselves free and independent States, they constituted thirteen separate communities, and were careful to assert and preserve, each for itself, its sovereignty and jurisdiction.

At a time when the minds of men are straying far from the lessons our fathers taught, it seems proper and well to recur to the original principles on which the system of government they devised was founded. The eternal truths which they announced, the rights which they declared "unalienable," are the foundation-stones on which rests the vindication of the Confederate cause.

He must have been a careless reader of our political history who has not observed that, whether under the style of "United Colonies" or "United States," which was adopted after the Declaration of Independence, whether under the articles of Confederation or the compact of Union, there everywhere appears the distinct assertion of State sovereignty, and nowhere the slightest suggestion of any purpose on the part of the States to consolidate themselves into one body. Will any candid, well-informed man assert that, at any time between 1776 and 1790, a proposition to surrender the sovereignty of the States and merge them in a central government would have had the least possible chance of adoption? Can any historical fact be more demonstrable than that the States did, both in the Confederation and in the Union, retain their sovereignty and independence as distinct communities, voluntarily consenting to federation, but never becoming the fractional parts of a nation? That such opinions should find adherents in our day, may be attributable to the natural law of aggregation; surely not to a conscientious regard for the terms of the compact for union by the States.

In all free governments the constitution or organic law is supreme over the government, and in our Federal Union this was most distinctly marked by limitations and prohibitions against all which was beyond the expressed grants of power to the General Government. In the foreground, therefore, I take the position that those who resisted violations of the compact were the true friends, and those who maintained the usurpation of undelegated powers were the real enemies of the constitutional Union.



African Servitude.—A Retrospect.—Early Legislation with Regard to the Slave-Trade.—The Southern States foremost in prohibiting it.—A Common Error corrected.—The Ethical Question never at Issue in Sectional Controversies.—The Acquisition of Louisiana.—The Missouri Compromise.—The Balance of Power.—Note.—The Indiana Case.

Inasmuch as questions growing out of the institution of negro servitude, or connected with it, will occupy a conspicuous place in what is to follow, it is important that the reader should have, in the very outset, a right understanding of the true nature and character of those questions. No subject has been more generally misunderstood or more persistently misrepresented. The institution itself has ceased to exist in the United States; the generation, comprising all who took part in the controversies to which it gave rise, or for which it afforded a pretext, is passing away; and the misconceptions which have prevailed in our own country, and still more among foreigners remote from the field of contention, are likely to be perpetuated in the mind of posterity, unless corrected before they become crystallized by tacit acquiescence.

It is well known that, at the time of the adoption of the Federal Constitution, African servitude existed in all the States that were parties to that compact, unless with the single exception of Massachusetts, in which it had, perhaps, very recently ceased to exist. The slaves, however, were numerous in the Southern, and very few in the Northern, States. This diversity was occasioned by differences of climate, soil, and industrial interests—not in any degree by moral considerations, which at that period were not recognized, as an element in the question. It was simply because negro labor was more profitable in the South than in the North that the importation of negro slaves had been, and continued to be, chiefly directed to the Southern ports.[1] For the same reason slavery was abolished by the States of the Northern section (though it existed in several of them for more than fifty years after the adoption of the Constitution), while the importation of slaves into the South continued to be carried on by Northern merchants and Northern ships, without interference in the traffic from any quarter, until it was prohibited by the spontaneous action of the Southern States themselves.

The Constitution expressly forbade any interference by Congress with the slave-trade—or, to use its own language, with the "migration or importation of such persons" as any of the States should think proper to admit—"prior to the year 1808." During the intervening period of more than twenty years, the matter was exclusively under the control of the respective States. Nevertheless, every Southern State, without exception, either had already enacted, or proceeded to enact, laws forbidding the importation of slaves.[2] Virginia was the first of all the States, North or South, to prohibit it, and Georgia was the first to incorporate such a prohibition in her organic Constitution.

Two petitions for the abolition of slavery and the slave-trade were presented February 11 and 12, 1790, to the very first Congress convened under the Constitution.[3] After full discussion in the House of Representatives, it was determined, with regard to the first-mentioned subject, "that Congress have no authority to interfere in the emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of them within any of the States"; and, with regard to the other, that no authority existed to prohibit the migration or importation of such persons as the States might think proper to admit—"prior to the year 1808." So distinct and final was this statement of the limitations of the authority of Congress considered to be that, when a similar petition was presented two or three years afterward, the Clerk of the House was instructed to return it to the petitioner.[4]

In 1807, Congress, availing itself of the very earliest moment at which the constitutional restriction ceased to be operative, passed an act prohibiting the importation of slaves into any part of the United States from and after the first day of January, 1808. This act was passed with great unanimity. In the House of Representatives there were one hundred and thirteen (113) yeas to five (5) nays; and it is a significant fact, as showing the absence of any sectional division of sentiment at that period, that the five dissentients were divided as equally as possible between the two sections: two of them were from Northern and three from Southern States.[5]

The slave-trade had thus been finally abolished some months before the birth of the author of these pages, and has never since had legal existence in any of the United States. The question of the maintenance or extinction of the system of negro servitude, already existing in any State, was one exclusively belonging to such State. It is obvious, therefore, that no subsequent question, legitimately arising in Federal legislation, could properly have any reference to the merits or the policy of the institution itself. A few zealots in the North afterward created much agitation by demands for the abolition of slavery within the States by Federal intervention, and by their activity and perseverance finally became a recognized party, which, holding the balance of power between the two contending organizations in that section, gradually obtained the control of one, and to no small degree corrupted the other. The dominant idea, however, at least of the absorbed party, was sectional aggrandizement, looking to absolute control, and theirs is the responsibility for the war that resulted.

No moral nor sentimental considerations were really involved in either the earlier or later controversies which so long agitated and finally ruptured the Union. They were simply struggles between different sections, with diverse institutions and interests.

It is absolutely requisite, in order to a right understanding of the history of the country, to bear these truths clearly in mind. The phraseology of the period referred to will otherwise be essentially deceptive. The antithetical employment of such terms as freedom and slavery, or "anti-slavery" and "pro-slavery," with reference to the principles and purposes of contending parties or rival sections, has had immense influence in misleading the opinions and sympathies of the world. The idea of freedom is captivating, that of slavery repellent to the moral sense of mankind in general. It is easy, therefore, to understand the effect of applying the one set of terms to one party, the other to another, in a contest which had no just application whatever to the essential merits of freedom or slavery. Southern statesmen may perhaps have been too indifferent to this consideration—in their ardent pursuit of principles, overlooking the effects of phrases.

This is especially true with regard to that familiar but most fallacious expression, "the extension of slavery." To the reader unfamiliar with the subject, or viewing it only on the surface, it would perhaps never occur that, as used in the great controversies respecting the Territories of the United States, it does not, never did, and never could, imply the addition of a single slave to the number already existing. The question was merely whether the slaveholder should be permitted to go, with his slaves, into territory (the common property of all) into which the non-slaveholder could go with his property of any sort. There was no proposal nor desire on the part of the Southern States to reopen the slave-trade, which they had been foremost in suppressing, or to add to the number of slaves. It was a question of the distribution, or dispersion, of the slaves, rather than of the "extension of slavery." Removal is not extension. Indeed, if emancipation was the end to be desired, the dispersion of the negroes over a wider area among additional Territories, eventually to become States, and in climates unfavorable to slave-labor, instead of hindering, would have promoted this object by diminishing the difficulties in the way of ultimate emancipation.

The distinction here defined between the distribution, or dispersion, of slaves and the extension of slavery—two things altogether different, although so generally confounded—was early and clearly drawn under circumstances and in a connection which justify a fuller notice.

Virginia, it is well known, in the year 1784, ceded to the United States—then united only by the original Articles of Confederation—her vast possessions northwest of the Ohio, from which the great States of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota, have since been formed. In 1787—before the adoption of the Federal Constitution—the celebrated "Ordinance" for the government of this Northwestern Territory was adopted by the Congress, with the full consent, and indeed at the express instance, of Virginia. This Ordinance included six definite "Articles of compact between the original States and the people and States in the said Territory," which were to "for ever remain unalterable unless by common consent." The sixth of these articles ordains that "there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said Territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."

In December, 1805, a petition of the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of the Indiana Territory—then comprising all the area now occupied by the States of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin—was presented to Congress. It appears from the proceedings of the House of Representatives that several petitions of the same purport from inhabitants of the Territory, accompanied by a letter from William Henry Harrison, the Governor (afterward President of the United States), had been under consideration nearly two years earlier. The prayer of these petitions was for a suspension of the sixth article of the Ordinance, so as to permit the introduction of slaves into the Territory. The whole subject was referred to a select committee of seven members, consisting of representatives from Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Kentucky, and New York, and the delegate from the Indiana Territory.

On the 14th of the ensuing February (1806), this committee made a report favorable to the prayer of the petitioners, and recommending a suspension of the prohibitory article for ten years. In their report the committee, after stating their opinion that a qualified suspension of the article in question would be beneficial to the people of the Indiana Territory, proceeded to say:

"The suspension of this article is an object almost universally desired in that Territory. It appears to your committee to be a question entirely different from that between slavery and freedom, inasmuch as it would merely occasion the removal of persons, already slaves, from one part of the country to another. The good effects of this suspension, in the present instance, would be to accelerate the population of that Territory, hitherto retarded by the operation of that article of compact; as slaveholders emigrating into the Western country might then indulge any preference which they might feel for a settlement in the Indiana Territory, instead of seeking, as they are now compelled to do, settlements in other States or countries permitting the introduction of slaves. The condition of the slaves themselves would be much ameliorated by it, as it is evident, from experience, that the more they are separated and diffused the more care and attention are bestowed on them by their masters, each proprietor having it in his power to increase their comforts and conveniences in proportion to the smallness of their numbers."

These were the dispassionate utterances of representatives of every part of the Union—men contemporary with the origin of the Constitution, speaking before any sectional division had arisen in connection with the subject. It is remarkable that the very same opinions which they express and arguments which they adduce had, fifty years afterward, come to be denounced and repudiated by one half of the Union as partisan and sectional when propounded by the other half.

No final action seems to have been taken on the subject before the adjournment of Congress, but it was brought forward at the next session in a more imposing form. On the 20th of January, 1807, the Speaker laid before the House of Representatives a letter from Governor Harrison, inclosing certain resolutions formally and unanimously adopted by the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of the Indiana Territory, in favor of the suspension of the sixth article of the Ordinance and the introduction of slaves into the Territory, which they say would "meet the approbation of at least nine tenths of the good citizens of the same." Among the resolutions were the following:

"Resolved unanimously, That the abstract question of liberty and slavery is not considered as involved in a suspension of the said article, inasmuch as the number of slaves in the United States would not be augmented by this measure.

"Resolved unanimously, That the suspension of the said article would be equally advantageous to the Territory, to the States from whence the negroes would be brought, and to the negroes themselves....

"The States which are overburdened with negroes would be benefited by their citizens having an opportunity of disposing of the negroes which they can not comfortably support, or of removing with them to a country abounding with all the necessaries of life; and the negro himself would exchange a scanty pittance of the coarsest food for a plentiful and nourishing diet, and a situation which admits not the most distant prospect of emancipation for one which presents no considerable obstacle to his wishes."

These resolutions were submitted to a committee drawn, like the former, from different sections of the country, which again reported favorably, reiterating in substance the reasons given by the former committee. Their report was sustained by the House, and a resolution to suspend the prohibitory article was adopted. The proposition failed, however, in the Senate, and there the matter seems to have been dropped. The proceedings constitute a significant and instructive episode in the political history of the country.

The allusion which has been made to the Ordinance of 1787, renders it proper to notice, very briefly, the argument put forward during the discussion of the Missouri question, and often repeated since, that the Ordinance afforded a precedent in support of the claim of a power in Congress to determine the question of the admission of slaves into the Territories, and in justification of the prohibitory clause applied in 1820 to a portion of the Louisiana Territory.

The difference between the Congress of the Confederation and that of the Federal Constitution is so broad that the action of the former can, in no just sense, be taken as a precedent for the latter. The Congress of the Confederation represented the States in their sovereignty, each delegation having one vote, so that all the States were of equal weight in the decision of any question. It had legislative, executive, and in some degree judicial powers, thus combining all departments of government in itself. During its recess a committee known as the Committee of the States exercised the powers of the Congress, which was in spirit, if not in fact, an assemblage of the States.

On the other hand, the Congress of the Constitution is only the legislative department of the General Government, with powers strictly defined and expressly limited to those delegated by the States. It is further held in check by an executive and a judiciary, and consists of two branches, each having peculiar and specified functions.

If, then, it be admitted—which is at least very questionable—that the Congress of the Confederation had rightfully the power to exclude slave property from the territory northwest of the Ohio River, that power must have been derived from its character as an assemblage of the sovereign States; not from the Articles of Confederation, in which no indication of the grant of authority to exercise such a function can be found. The Congress of the Constitution is expressly prohibited from the assumption of any power not distinctly and specifically delegated to it as the legislative branch of an organized government. What was questionable in the former case, therefore, becomes clearly inadmissible in the latter.

But there is yet another material distinction to be observed. The States, owners of what was called the Northwestern Territory, were component members of the Congress which adopted the Ordinance for its government, and gave thereto their full and free consent. The Ordinance may, therefore, be regarded as virtually a treaty between the States which ceded and those which received that extensive domain. In the other case, Missouri and the whole region affected by the Missouri Compromise, were parts of the territory acquired from France under the name of Louisiana; and, as it requires two parties to make or amend a treaty, France and the Government of the United States should have cooeperated in any amendment of the treaty by which Louisiana had been acquired, and which guaranteed to the inhabitants of the ceded territory "all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States," and "the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and the religion they profess."—("State Papers," vol. ii, "Foreign Relations," p. 507.)

For all the reasons thus stated, it seems to me conclusive that the action of the Congress of the Confederation in 1787 could not constitute a precedent to justify the action of the Congress of the United States in 1820, and that the prohibitory clause of the Missouri Compromise was without constitutional authority, in violation of the rights of a part of the joint owners of the territory, and in disregard of the obligations of the treaty with France.

The basis of sectional controversy was the question of the balance of political power. In its earlier manifestations this was undisguised. The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, and the subsequent admission of a portion of that Territory into the Union as a State, afforded one of the earliest occasions for the manifestation of sectional jealousy, and gave rise to the first threats, or warnings (which proceeded from New England), of a dissolution of the Union. Yet, although negro slavery existed in Louisiana, no pretext was made of that as an objection to the acquisition. The ground of opposition is frankly stated in a letter of that period from one Massachusetts statesman to another—"that the influence of our part of the Union must be diminished by the acquisition of more weight at the other extremity."[6]

Some years afterward (in 1819-'20) occurred the memorable contest with regard to the admission into the Union of Missouri, the second State carved out of the Louisiana Territory. The controversy arose out of a proposition to attach to the admission of the new State a proviso prohibiting slavery or involuntary servitude therein. The vehement discussion that ensued was continued into the first session of a different Congress from that in which it originated, and agitated the whole country during the interval between the two. It was the first question that ever seriously threatened the stability of the Union, and the first in which the sentiment of opposition to slavery in the abstract was introduced as an adjunct of sectional controversy. It was clearly shown in debate that such considerations were altogether irrelevant; that the number of existing slaves would not be affected by their removal from the older States to Missouri; and, moreover, that the proposed restriction would be contrary to the spirit, if not to the letter, of the Constitution.[7] Notwithstanding all this, the restriction was adopted, by a vote almost strictly sectional, in the House of Representatives. It failed in the Senate through the firm resistance of the Southern, aided by a few patriotic and conservative Northern, members of that body. The admission of the new State, without any restriction, was finally accomplished by the addition to the bill of a section for ever prohibiting slavery in all that portion of the Louisiana Territory lying north of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes, north latitude, except Missouri—by implication leaving the portion south of that line open to settlement either with or without slaves.

This provision, as an offset to the admission of the new State without restriction, constituted the celebrated Missouri Compromise. It was reluctantly accepted by a small majority of the Southern members. Nearly half of them voted against it, under the conviction that it was unauthorized by the Constitution, and that Missouri was entitled to determine the question for herself, as a matter of right, not of bargain or concession. Among those who thus thought and voted were some of the wisest statesmen and purest patriots of that period.[8]

This brief retrospect may have sufficed to show that the question of the right or wrong of the institution of slavery was in no wise involved in the earlier sectional controversies. Nor was it otherwise in those of a later period, in which it was the lot of the author of these memoirs to bear a part. They were essentially struggles for sectional equality or ascendancy—for the maintenance or the destruction of that balance of power or equipoise between North and South, which was early recognized as a cardinal principle in our Federal system. It does not follow that both parties to this contest were wholly right or wholly wrong in their claims. The determination of the question of right or wrong must be left to the candid inquirer after examination of the evidence. The object of these preliminary investigations has been to clear the subject of the obscurity produced by irrelevant issues and the glamour of ethical illusions.

[Footnote 1: It will be remembered that, during her colonial condition, Virginia made strenuous efforts to prevent the importation of Africans, and was overruled by the Crown; also, that Georgia, under Oglethorpe, did prohibit the introduction of African slaves until 1752, when the proprietors surrendered the charter, and the colony became a part of the royal government, and enjoyed the same privileges as the other colonies.]

[Footnote 2: South Carolina subsequently (in 1803) repealed her law forbidding the importation of slaves. The reason assigned for this action was the impossibility of enforcing the law without the aid of the Federal Government, to which entire control of the revenues, revenue police, and naval forces of the country had been surrendered by the States. "The geographical situation of our country," said Mr. Lowndes, of South Carolina, in the House of Representatives on February 14, 1804, "is not unknown. With navigable rivers running into the heart of it, it was impossible, with our means, to prevent our Eastern brethren ... engaged in this trade, from introducing them [the negroes] into the country. The law was completely evaded.... Under these circumstances, sir, it appears to me to have been the duty of the Legislature to repeal the law, and remove from the eyes of the people the spectacle of its authority being daily violated."

The effect of the repeal was to permit the importation of negroes into South Carolina during the interval from 1803 to 1808. It in probable that an extensive contraband trade was carried on by the New England slavers with other ports, on account of the lack of means to enforce the laws of the Southern States forbidding it.]

[Footnote 3: One from the Society of Friends assembled at Philadelphia and New York, the other from the Pennsylvania society of various religious denominations combined for the abolition of slavery.

For report of the debate, see Benton's "Abridgment," vol. i, pp. 201-207, et seq.]

[Footnote 4: See Benton's "Abridgment," vol. i, p. 397.]

[Footnote 5: One was from New Hampshire, one from Vermont, two from Virginia, and one from South Carolina.—(Benton's "Abridgment," vol. iii, p. 519.)

No division on the final vote in the Senate.]

[Footnote 6: Cabot to Pickering, who was then Senator from Massachusetts.—(See "Life and Letters of George Cabot," by H. C. Lodge, p. 334.)]

[Footnote 7: The true issue was well stated by the Hon. Samuel A. Foot, a representative from Connecticut, in an incidental reference to it in debate on another subject, a few weeks after the final settlement of the Missouri case. He said: "The Missouri question did not involve the question of freedom or slavery, but merely whether slaves now in the country might be permitted to reside in the proposed new State; and whether Congress or Missouri possessed the power to decide."]

[Footnote 8: The votes on the proposed restriction, which eventually failed of adoption, and on the compromise, which was finally adopted, are often confounded. The advocacy of the former measure was exclusively sectional, no Southern member voting for it in either House. On the adoption of the compromise line of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes, the vote in the Senate was 34 yeas to 10 nays. The Senate consisted of forty-four members from twenty-two States, equally divided between the two sections—Delaware being classed as a Southern State. Among the yeas were all the Northern votes, except two from Indiana—being 20—and 14 Southern. The nays consisted of 2 from the North, and 8 from the South.

In the House of Representatives, the vote was 134 yeas to 42 nays. Of the yeas, 95 were Northern, 39 Southern; of the nays, 5 Northern, and 37 Southern.

Among the nays in the Senate were Messrs. James Barbour and James Pleasants, of Virginia; Nathaniel Macon, of North Carolina; John Gaillard and William Smith, of South Carolina. In the House, Philip P. Barbour, John Randolph, John Tyler, and William S. Archer, of Virginia; Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina (one of the authors of the Constitution); Thomas W. Cobb, of Georgia; and others of more or less note.

(See speech of the Hon. D. L. Yulee, of Florida, in the United States Senate, on the admission of California, August 6, 1850, for a careful and correct account of the compromise. That given in the second chapter of Benton's "Thirty Years' View" is singularly inaccurate; that of Horace Greeley, in his "American Conflict," still more so.)]


The Session of 1849-'50.—The Compromise Measures.—Virtual Abrogation of the Missouri Compromise.—The Admission of California.—The Fugitive Slave Law.—Death of Mr. Calhoun.—Anecdote of Mr. Clay.

The first session of the Thirty-first Congress (1849-'50) was a memorable one. The recent acquisition from Mexico of New Mexico and California required legislation by Congress. In the Senate the bills reported by the Committee on Territories were referred to a select committee, of which Mr. Clay, the distinguished Senator from Kentucky, was chairman. From this committee emanated the bills which, taken together, are known as the compromise measures of 1850.

With some others, I advocated the division of the newly acquired territory by an extension to the Pacific Ocean of the Missouri Compromise line of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude. This was not because of any inherent merit or fitness in that line, but because it had been accepted by the country as a settlement of the sectional question which, thirty years before, had threatened a rupture of the Union, and it had acquired in the public mind a prescriptive respect which it seemed unwise to disregard. A majority, however, decided otherwise, and the line of political conciliation was then obliterated, as far as it lay in the power of Congress to do so. An analysis of the vote will show that this result was effected almost exclusively by the representatives of the North, and that the South was not responsible for an action which proved to be the opening of Pandora's box.[9]

However objectionable it may have been in 1820 to adopt that political line as expressing a geographical definition of different sectional interests, and however it may be condemned as the assumption by Congress of a function not delegated to it, it is to be remembered that the act had received such recognition and quasi-ratification by the people of the States as to give it a value which it did not originally possess. Pacification had been the fruit borne by the tree, and it should not have been recklessly hewed down and cast into the fire. The frequent assertion then made was that all discrimination was unjust, and that the popular will should be left untrammeled in the formation of new States. This theory was good enough in itself, and as an abstract proposition could not be gainsaid; but its practical operation has but poorly sustained the expectations of its advocates, as will be seen when we come to consider the events that occurred a few years later in Kansas and elsewhere. Retrospectively viewed under the mellowing light of time, and with the calm consideration we can usually give to the irremediable past, the compromise legislation of 1850 bears the impress of that sectional spirit so widely at variance with the general purposes of the Union, and so destructive of the harmony and mutual benefit which the Constitution was intended to secure.

The refusal to divide the territory acquired from Mexico by an extension of the line of the Missouri Compromise to the Pacific was a consequence of the purpose to admit California as a State of the Union before it had acquired the requisite population, and while it was mainly under the control of a military organization sent from New York during the war with Mexico and disbanded in California upon the restoration of peace. The inconsistency of the argument against the extension of the line was exhibited in the division of the Territory of Texas by that parallel, and payment to the State of money to secure her consent to the partition of her domain. In the case of Texas, the North had everything to gain and nothing to lose by the application of the practice of geographical compromise on an arbitrary line. In the case of California, the conditions were reversed; the South might have been the gainer and the North the loser by a recognition of the same rule.

The compensation which it was alleged that the South received was a more effective law for the rendition of fugitives from service or labor. But it is to be remarked that this law provided for the execution by the General Government of obligations which had been imposed by the Federal compact upon the several States of the Union. The benefit to be derived from a fulfillment of that law would be small in comparison with the evil to result from the plausible pretext that the States had thus been relieved from a duty which they had assumed in the adoption of the compact of union. Whatever tended to lead the people of any of the States to feel that they could be relieved from their constitutional obligations by transferring them to the General Government, or that they might thus or otherwise evade or resist them, could not fail to be like the tares which the enemy sowed amid the wheat. The union of States, formed to secure the permanent welfare of posterity and to promote harmony among the constituent States, could not, without changing its character, survive such alienation as rendered its parts hostile to the security, prosperity, and happiness of one another.

It was reasonably argued that, as the Legislatures of fourteen of the States had enacted what were termed "personal liberty laws," which forbade the cooeperation of State officials in the rendition of fugitives from service and labor, it became necessary that the General Government should provide the requisite machinery for the execution of the law. The result proved what might have been anticipated—that those communities which had repudiated their constitutional obligations, which had nullified a previous law of Congress for the execution of a provision of the Constitution, and had murdered men who came peacefully to recover their property, would evade or obstruct, so as to render practically worthless, any law that could be enacted for that purpose. In the exceptional cases in which it might be executed, the event would be attended with such conflict between the State and Federal authorities as to produce consequent evils greater than those it was intended to correct.

It was during the progress of these memorable controversies that the South lost its most trusted leader, and the Senate its greatest and purest statesman. He was taken from us—

"Like a summer-dried fountain, When our need was the sorest;"—

when his intellectual power, his administrative talent, his love of peace, and his devotion to the Constitution, might have averted collision; or, failing in that, he might have been to the South the Palinurus to steer the bark in safety over the perilous sea. Truly did Mr. Webster—his personal friend, although his greatest political rival—say of him in his obituary address, "There was nothing groveling, or low, or meanly selfish, that came near the head or the heart of Mr. Calhoun." His prophetic warnings speak from the grave with the wisdom of inspiration. Would that they could have been appreciated by his countrymen while he yet lived!

Note.—While the compromise measures of 1850 were pending, and the excitement concerning them was at its highest, I one day overtook Mr. Clay, of Kentucky, and Mr. Berrien, of Georgia, in the Capitol grounds. They were in earnest conversation. It was the 7th of March—the day on which Mr. Webster had delivered his great speech. Mr. Clay, addressing me in the friendly manner which he had always employed since I was a schoolboy in Lexington, asked me what I thought of the speech. I liked it better than he did. He then suggested that I should "join the compromise men," saying that it was a measure which he thought would probably give peace to the country for thirty years—the period that had elapsed since the adoption of the compromise of 1820. Then, turning to Mr. Berrien, he said, "You and I will be under ground before that time, but our young friend here may have trouble to meet." I somewhat impatiently declared my unwillingness to transfer to posterity a trial which they would be relatively less able to meet than we were, and passed on my way.

[Footnote 9: The vote in the Senate on the proposition to continue the line of the Missouri Compromise through the newly acquired territory to the Pacific was twenty-four yeas, to thirty-two nays. Reckoning Delaware and Missouri as Southern States, the vote of the two sections was exactly equal. The yeas were all cast by Southern Senators; the nays were all Northern, except two from Delaware, one from Missouri, and one from Kentucky.]


Reelection to the Senate.—Political Controversies in Mississippi.—Action of the Democratic State Convention.—Defeat of the State-Rights Party.—Withdrawal of General Quitman and Nomination of the Author as Candidate for the Office of Governor.—The Canvass and its Result.—Retirement to Private Life.

I had been reelected by the Legislature of Mississippi as my own successor, and entered upon a new term of service in the Senate on March 4, 1851.

On my return to Mississippi in 1851, the subject chiefly agitating the public mind was that of the "compromise" measures of the previous year. Consequent upon these was a proposition for a convention of delegates, from the people of the Southern States respectively, to consider what steps ought to be taken for their future peace and safety, and the preservation of their constitutional rights. There was diversity of opinion with regard to the merits of the measures referred to, but the disagreement no longer followed the usual lines of party division. They who saw in those measures the forerunner of disaster to the South had no settled policy beyond a convention, the object of which should be to devise new and more effectual guarantees against the perils of usurpation. They were unjustly charged with a desire to destroy the Union—a feeling entertained by few, very few, if by any, in Mississippi, and avowed by none.

There were many, however, who held that the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and the purposes for which the Union was formed, were of higher value than the mere Union itself. Independence existed before the compact of union between the States; and, if that compact should be broken in part, and therefore destroyed in whole, it was hoped that the liberties of the people in the States might still be preserved. Those who were most devoted to the Union of the Constitution might, consequently, be expected to resist most sternly any usurpation of undelegated power, the effect of which would be to warp the Federal Government from its proper character, and, by sapping the foundation, to destroy the Union of the States.

My recent reelection to the United States Senate had conferred upon me for six years longer the office which I preferred to all others. I could not, therefore, be suspected of desiring a nomination for any other office from the Democratic Convention, the meeting of which was then drawing near. Having, as a Senator of the State, freely participated in debate on the measures which were now exciting so much interest in the public mind, it was very proper that I should visit the people in different parts of the State and render an account of my stewardship.

My devotion to the Union of our fathers had been so often and so publicly declared; I had, on the floor of the Senate, so defiantly challenged any question of my fidelity to it; my services, civil and military, had now extended through so long a period, and were so generally known—that I felt quite assured that no whisperings of envy or ill will could lead the people of Mississippi to believe that I had dishonored their trust by using the power they had conferred on me to destroy the Government to which I was accredited. Then, as afterward, I regarded the separation of the States as a great, though not the greatest, evil.

I returned from my tour among the people at the time appointed for the meeting of the nominating convention of the Democratic (or State-Rights) party. During the previous year the Governor, General John A. Quitman, had been compelled to resign his office to answer an indictment against him for complicity with the "filibustering" expeditions against Cuba. The charges were not sustained; many of the Democratic party of Mississippi, myself included, recognized a consequent obligation to renominate him for the office of which he had been deprived. When, however, the delegates met in party convention, the committee appointed to select candidates, on comparison of opinions, concluded that, in view of the effort to fix upon the party the imputation of a purpose of disunion, some of the antecedents of General Quitman might endanger success. A proposition was therefore made, in the committee on nominations, that I should be invited to become a candidate, and that, if General Quitman would withdraw, my acceptance of the nomination and the resignation of my place in the United States Senate, which it was known would result, was to be followed by the appointment by the Governor of General Quitman to the vacated place in the Senate. I offered no objection to this arrangement, but left it to General Quitman to decide. He claimed the nomination for the governorship, or nothing, and was so nominated.

To promote the success of the Democratic nominees, I engaged actively in the canvass, and continued in the field until stricken down by disease. This occurred just before the election of delegates to a State Convention, for which provision had been made by the Legislature, and the canvass for which, conducted in the main upon party lines, was in progress simultaneously with that for the ordinary State officers. The Democratic majority in the State when the canvass began was estimated at eight thousand. At this election, in September, for delegates to the State Convention, we were beaten by about seven thousand five hundred votes. Seeing in this result the foreshadowing of almost inevitable defeat, General Quitman withdrew from the canvass as a candidate, and the Executive Committee of the party (empowered to fill vacancies) called on me to take his place. My health did not permit me to leave home at that time, and only about six weeks remained before the election was to take place; but, being assured that I was not expected to take any active part, and that the party asked only the use of my name, I consented to be announced, and immediately resigned from the United States Senate. Nevertheless, I soon afterward took the field in person, and worked earnestly until the day of election. I was defeated, but the majority of more than seven thousand votes, that had been cast a short time before against the party with which I was associated, was reduced to less than one thousand.[10]

In this canvass, both before and after I became a candidate, no argument or appeal of mine was directed against the perpetuation of the Union. Believing, however, that the signs of the time portended danger to the South from the usurpation by the General Government of undelegated powers, I counseled that Mississippi should enter into the proposed meeting of the people of the Southern States, to consider what could and should be done to insure our future safety, frankly stating my conviction that, unless such action were taken then, sectional rivalry would engender greater evils in the future, and that, if the controversy was postponed, "the last opportunity for a peaceful solution would be lost, then the issue would have to be settled by blood."

[Footnote 10: The following letter, written in 1853 to the Hon. William J. Brown, of Indiana, formerly a member of Congress from that State, and subsequently published, relates to the events of this period, and affords nearly contemporaneous evidence in confirmation of the statements of the text:

"Washington D.C., May 7, 1853.

"My dear Sir: I received the 'Sentinel' containing your defense of me against the fate accusation of disunionism, and, before I had returned to you the thanks to which you are entitled, I received this day the St. Joseph 'Valley Register,' marked by you, to call my attention to an article in answer to your defense, which was just in all things, save your too complimentary terms.

"I wish I had the letter quoted from, that you might publish the whole of that which is garbled to answer a purpose. In a part of the letter not published, I put such a damper on the attempt to fix on me the desire to break up our Union, and presented other points in a form so little acceptable to the unfriendly inquirers, that the publication of the letter had to be drawn out of them.

"At the risk of being wearisome, but encouraged by your marked friendship, I will give you a statement in the case. The meeting of October, 1849, was a convention of delegates equally representing the Whig and Democratic parties in Mississippi. The resolutions were decisive as to equality of right in the South with the North to the Territories acquired from Mexico, and proposed a convention of the Southern States. I was not a member, but on invitation addressed the Convention. The succeeding Legislature instructed me, as a Senator, to assert this equality, and, under the existing circumstances, to resist by all constitutional means the admission of California as a State. At a called session of the Legislature in 1850, a self-constituted committee called on me, by letter, for my views. They were men who had enacted or approved the resolutions of the Convention of 1849, and instructed me, as members of the Legislature, in regular session, in the early part of the year 1850. To them I replied that I adhered to the policy they had indicated and instructed me in their official character to pursue.

"I pointed out the mode in which their policy could, in my opinion, be executed without bloodshed or disastrous convulsion, but in terms of bitter scorn alluded to such as would insult me with a desire to destroy the Union, for which my whole life proved me to be a devotee.

"Pardon the egotism, in consideration of the occasion, when I say to you that my father and my uncles fought through the Revolution of 1776, giving their youth, their blood, and their little patrimony to the constitutional freedom which I claim as my inheritance. Three of my brothers fought in the war of 1812. Two of them were comrades of the Hero of the Hermitage, and received his commendation for gallantry at New Orleans. At sixteen years of age I was given to the service of my country; for twelve years of my life I have borne its arms and served it, zealously, if not well. As I feel the infirmities, which suffering more than age has brought upon me, it would be a bitter reflection, indeed, if I was forced to conclude that my countrymen would hold all this light when weighed against the empty panegyric which a time-serving politician can bestow upon the Union, for which he never made a sacrifice.

"In the Senate I announced that, if any respectable man would call me a disunionist, I would answer him in monosyllables.... But I have often asserted the right, for which the battles of the Revolution were fought—the right of a people to change their government whenever it was found to be oppressive, and subversive of the objects for which governments are instituted—and have contended for the independence and sovereignty of the States, a part of the creed of which Jefferson was the apostle, Madison the expounder, and Jackson the consistent defender.

"I have written freely, and more than I designed. Accept my thanks for your friendly advocacy. Present me in terms of kind remembrance to your family, and believe me, very sincerely yours,

"Jefferson Davis.

"Note.—No party in Mississippi ever advocated disunion. They differed as to the mode of securing their rights in the Union, and on the power of a State to secede—neither advocating the exercise of the power.

"J.D." ]


The Author enters the Cabinet.—Administration of the War Department.—Surveys for a Pacific Railway.—Extension of the Capitol.—New Regiments organized.—Colonel Samuel Cooper, Adjutant-General.—A Bit of Civil-Service Reform.—Reelection to the Senate.—Continuity of the Pierce Cabinet.—Character of Franklin Pierce.

Happy in the peaceful pursuits of a planter; busily engaged in cares for servants, in the improvement of my land, in building, in rearing live-stock, and the like occupations, the time passed pleasantly away until my retirement was interrupted by an invitation to take a place in the Cabinet of Mr. Pierce, who had been elected to the Presidency of the United States in November, 1852. Although warmly attached to Mr. Pierce personally, and entertaining the highest estimate of his character and political principles, private and personal reasons led me to decline the offer. This was followed by an invitation to attend the ceremony of his inauguration, which took place on the 4th of March, 1853. While in Washington, on this visit, I was induced by public considerations to reconsider my determination and accept the office of Secretary of War. The public records of that period will best show how the duties of that office were performed.

While in the Senate, I had advocated the construction of a railway to connect the valley of the Mississippi with the Pacific coast; and, when an appropriation was made to determine the most eligible route for that purpose, the Secretary of War was charged with its application. We had then but little of that minute and accurate knowledge of the interior of the continent which was requisite for a determination of the problem. Several different parties were therefore organized to examine the various routes supposed to be practicable within the northern and southern limits of the United States. The arguments which I had used as a Senator were "the military necessity for such means of transportation, and the need of safe and rapid communication with the Pacific slope, to secure its continuance as a part of the Union."

In the organization and equipment of these parties, and in the selection of their officers, care was taken to provide for securing full and accurate information upon every point involved in the determination of the route. The only discrimination made was in the more prompt and thorough equipment of the parties for the extreme northern line, and this was only because that was supposed to be the most difficult of execution of all the surveys.

In like manner, my advocacy while in the Senate of an extension of the Capitol, by the construction of a new Senate-Chamber and Hall of Representatives, may have caused the appropriation for that object to be put under my charge as Secretary of War.

During my administration of the War Department, material changes were made in the models of arms. Iron gun-carriages were introduced, and experiments were made which led to the casting of heavy guns hollow, instead of boring them after casting. Inquiries were made with regard to gunpowder, which subsequently led to the use of a coarser grain for artillery.

During the same period the army was increased by the addition of two regiments of infantry and two of cavalry. The officers of these regiments were chosen partly by selection from those already in service in the regular army and partly by appointment from civil life. In making the selections from the army, I was continually indebted to the assistance of that pure-minded and accurately informed officer, Colonel Samuel Cooper, the Adjutant-General, of whom it may be proper here to say that, although his life had been spent in the army, and he, of course, had the likes and dislikes inseparable from men who are brought into close contact and occasional rivalry, I never found in his official recommendations any indication of partiality or prejudice toward any one.

When the first list was made out, to be submitted to the President, a difficulty was found to exist, which had not occurred either to Colonel Cooper or myself. This was, that the officers selected purely on their military record did not constitute a roster conforming to that distribution among the different States, which, for political considerations, it was thought desirable to observe—that is to say, the number of such officers of Southern birth was found to be disproportionately great. Under instructions from the President, the list was therefore revised and modified in accordance with this new element of geographical distribution. This, as I am happy to remember, was the only occasion in which the current of my official action, while Secretary of War, was disturbed in any way by sectional or political considerations.

Under former administrations of the War Office it had not been customary to make removals or appointments upon political grounds, except in the case of clerkships. To this usage I not only adhered, but extended it to include the clerkships also. The Chief Clerk, who had been removed by my predecessor, had peculiar qualifications for the place; and, although known to me only officially, he was restored to the position. It will probably be conceded by all who are well informed on the subject that his restoration was a benefit to the public service.[11]

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