Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Jefferson Davis, Last of the Senate Giants
Jefferson Davis was a Unionist and struggled to his last days as a Mississippi Senator to push Congress toward a solution to the sectional crisis. He belonged to the Calhoun school that saw preserving the rights of the South in the federal Union as paramount; he saw secession as a last resort of the States in order to preserve their sovereignty, if the Constitution they had ratified voluntarily in 1787, and its federal agent, became destructive of those rights. Davis was born on this day in 1808.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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Jefferson Davis Last of the Senate Giants
"The theory of State Rights and the belief in secession had been understood in both sections equally, when advantage dictated understanding: as late as 1846 the State government of Massachusetts had been willing to secede, had passed resolutions to that end, in opposition to the Mexican War.
The North alone now repudiated State sovereignty because it had no interest to serve with its support. After the Republican senators had rejected the Crittenden Compromise, which gave to them every eventual advantage and to the South nothing in the end, they would not listen to a proposal of a convention of the States; they were then challenged for a compromise proposal of their own, but not a Republican replied.
At this distance it is certain that the deadlock exactly suited the North, for its purpose was to subdue the South at all costs; in a policy that conceded nothing and demanded everything, the North meant to "ride over the South rough-shod."
The South was willing at this time to accept any measure that guaranteed it even less than its Constitutional rights in the territories; but the north no longer desired equality of sectional power; the North was bent on domination.
By refusing to budge from this position, the North forced the South to act for its preservation, and by means of the slavery issue the shrewdness of the Yankee succeeded, as always, of putting his enemy in the wrong.
There was probably not a single phase of the conflict that Mr. Davis failed, in a sense, to understand; and yet, in the end, he could not see why men would not follow the law, or why the inflamed sections would not abide by compromises. Men sometimes act reasonably, but never logically; this was a distinction that Mr. Davis, being logical, could not grasp.
[After his final speech and resignation from the United States Senate after Mississippi had seceded, Davis] painfully moved through the crowded Senate chamber out into the street, [and for him] the old Constitutional republic came . . . to a dramatic end. There would no longer be a Union in the exact sense of that word; there would be a uniformity; for one of the two types of American civilization must absolutely prevail. Davis left the Senate smaller; it would never be so large again; he was the last of the Senate giants.
All the night of January 21 he suffered, sleepless; the nervous strain of the last six months had broken him down. His neuralgia had spread film over one iris; he was almost blind in that eye. Mrs. Davis, anxious in the next room, heard him say, again and again, in a tone of agony:
"May God have us in His Holy keeping, and grant that before it is too late peaceful councils may prevail."
(Jefferson Davis, His Rise and Fall, Allen Tate, Minton, Balch & Company, 1929, pp. 12-13)