Friday, August 29, 2014

No Sacrificing Convictions to Expediency


After the fall of his government, Jefferson Davis only asked of his captors a fair trial on the merits of his case.  This he was denied after being held in close confinement and torture for two years, his tormentors "vaunted their clemency in not executing their victim."

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

No Sacrificing Convictions to Expediency

"The policy of Reconstruction devised by the victors of the North, was that the men of the Confederacy should pursue no vocation until a pardon had been asked of the President of the United States and granted by him.  Our men considered it a form instituted merely for their humiliation, and as such complied with it as the means of feeding their helpless families, already spent with hardships they had endured.

Necessitas non habet legem is a maxim acceded to by mankind, and [Jefferson Davis] felt that the men who asked pardon did it for a holy and legitimate end.  My husband, even in his letters from prison, combated the idea  of our people expatriating themselves, and since they could not en masse move out of the country . . . they must do the only thing left for them, try to forget in toil and the care of their families the misery which had settled over them and their people.

Throughout this period Mr. Davis had endeavored to preserve silence about everything political, though letters came by hundreds asking his opinion on all political subjects. As he had not asked pardon for an offence he had not committed, he was disenfranchised, and as he could not be held responsible for acts in which he was forbidden by law to participate, his opinion, if given, was perfunctory.  So far, however, from being wounded by his   disenfranchisement, he felt rather proud that Congress had testified to the steady faith he had kept with his own people.

He had not changed his beliefs in the least degree . . . So to the end, he who had served his country in tented field, and in the halls of legislation, and merited and received the acclaim of soldiers and the esteem of statesmen and legislators throughout the United States, kept the dignified tenor of his way, unheeding the sectional clamor when his own conscience approved.

His asking for pardon as the leader of the Confederacy would have been more significant than the petition of one who had held a less high position, and he would not sacrifice his convictions to expediency, even in seeming.

The people of Mississippi, kind and trusting as of old to the man they had honored with their confidence, wished Mr. Davis to allow his name to be used for the Senate.  They said: "The franchise is yours here, and the Congress can but refuse you admission, and your exclusion will be a test question."

Mr. Davis responded: "I remained in prison two years and hoped in vain for a trial, and now scenes of insult and violence, producing alienation between the sections, would be the only result of attempting another test. I am too old to serve you as I once did, and too much enfeebled by suffering to maintain your cause."

(Jefferson Davis, A Memoir by His Wife, Varina, Volume II, N&A Company, 1990, (original 1890), pp. 816-818)