Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Appendix D
Speech of Mr. Davis, of Mississippi, in the Senate of the United States (chiefly in answer to Mr. Fessenden, of Maine, on the message of the President of the United States transmitting to Congress the "Lecompton Constitution" of Kansas), February 8, 1858:
- "I wish to express not only my concurrence with the message of the President, but my hearty approbation of the high motive which actuated him when he wrote it. In that paper breathes the sentiment of a patriot, and it stands out in bold contrast with the miserable slang by which he was pursued this morning. It may serve the purposes of a man who little regards the Union to perpetrate a joke on the hazard of its dissolution. It may serve the purpose of a man who never looks to his own heart to find there any impulses of honor, to arraign everybody, the President and the Supreme Court, and to have them impeached and vilified on his mere suspicion. It ill becomes such a man to point to Southern institutions as to him a moral leprosy, which he is to pursue to the end of extermination, and, perverting everything, ancient and modern, to bring it tributary to his own malignant purposes. Not even could that clause of the Constitution which refers to the importation or migration of persons be held up to public consideration by the Senator [Mr. Fessenden] in a studied argument, save as a permission for the slave-trade. Then, everything that is most prominent in relation to the protection of property in that instrument he holds to have been swept away by a statute which prohibited the further importation of Africans. The language of that clause of the Constitution is far broader than the importation of Africans. It is not confined or limited at all to that subject. It says:"
- "The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person."
- "That was a power given to Congress far broader than the slave-trade; and yet the Senator gravely argues that, when that prohibition against the further importation of Africans took place by act of Congress, thenceforward the constitutional shield, which had been thrown over slave property, fell. Sir, it is the only private property in the United States which is specifically recognized in the Constitution and protected by it."
- "There was a time when there was a higher and holier sentiment among the men who represented the people of this country. As far back as the time of the Confederation, when no narrow, miserable prejudice between Northern and Southern men governed those who ruled the States, a committee [pg 541] of three, two of whom were Northern men, reporting upon what they considered the bad faith of Spain in Florida, in relation to fugitive slaves, proposed that negotiations should be instituted to require Spain to surrender, as the States did then surrender, all fugitives escaped into their limits. Hamilton and Sedgwick from the North, and Madison from the South, made that report—men, the loftiness of whose purpose and genius might put to shame the puny efforts now made to disturb that which lies at the very foundation of the Government under which we live."
- "A man not knowing into what presence he was introduced, coming into this Chamber, might, for a large part of this session, have supposed that here stood the representatives of belligerent States, and that, instead of men assembled here to confer together for the common welfare, for the general good, he saw here ministers from States preparing to make war upon each other; and then he would have felt that vain, indeed, was the vaunting of the prowess of one to destroy another. Or if, sir, he had known more—if he had recognized the representatives of the States of the Union—still he would have traced through this same eternal, petty agitation about sectional success, that limit which can not fail, however the Senator from New York (Mr. Seward) may regret it, to bring about a result which every man should, from his own sense of honor, feel, when he takes his seat in this Chamber, that he is morally bound to avoid as long as he retains possession of his seat."
- "To express myself more distinctly: I hold that a Senator, while he sits here as the representative of a State in the Federal Government, is in the relation of a minister to a friendly court, and that the moment he sees this Government in hostility to his own, the day he resolves to make war on this Government, his honor and the honor of his State compel him to vacate the seat he holds."
- "It is a poor evasion for any man to say: "I make war on the rights of one whole section; I make war on the principles of the Constitution; and yet, I uphold the Union, and I desire to see it protected." Undermine the foundation, and still pretend that he desires the fabric to stand! Common sense rejects it. No one will believe the man who makes the assertion, unless he believes him under the charitable supposition that he knows not what he is doing."
- "Sir, we are arraigned, day after day, as the aggressive power. What Southern Senator, during this whole session, has attacked any portion, or any interest, of the North? In what have we now, or ever, back to the earliest period of our history, sought to deprive the North of any advantage it possessed? The whole charge is, and has been, that we seek to extend our own institutions into the common territory of the United States. Well and wisely has the President of the United States pointed to that common territory as the joint possession of the country. Jointly we held it, jointly we enjoyed it in the earlier period of our country; but when, Senator from New York [Mr. Seward], though I did not believe that natural causes, if permitted to flow in their own channel, would have produced any other result than the introduction of slave property into the Territory of Kansas, I am free to admit that I have not yet reached the conclusion that that property would have permanently remained there. That is a question which interest decides. Vermont would not keep African slaves, because they were not valuable to her; neither will any population, whose density is so great as to trade rapidly on the supply of bread, be willing to keep and maintain an improvident population, to feed them in infancy, to care for them in sickness, to protect them in age. And thus it will be found in the history of nations, that, whenever population has reached that density in the temperate zones, serfdom, villenage, or slavery, whatever it has been called, has disappeared."
- "Ours presents a new problem, one not stated by those who wrote on it in the earlier period of our history. It is the problem of a semi-tropical climate, the problem of malarial districts, of staple products. This produces a result different from that which would be found in the farming districts and cooler climates. A race suited to our labor exists there. Why should we care whether they go into other Territories or not? Simply because of the war which is made against our institutions; simply because of the want of security which results from the action of our opponents in the Northern States. Had you made no political war upon us, had you observed the principles of our confederacy as States, that the people of each State were to take care of their domestic affairs, or, in the language of the Kansas bill, to be left perfectly free to form and regulate their institutions in their own way, then, I say, within the limits of each State the population there would have gone on to attend to their own affairs, and would have had little regard to whether this species of property, or any other, was held in any other portion of the Union. You have made it a political war. We are on the defensive. How far are you to push us?"
- "The Senator from Alabama [Mr. Clay] has been compelled to notice the resolutions of his State; nor does that State stand alone. To what issue are you now pressing us? To the conclusion that, because within the limits of a Territory slaves are held as property, a State is to be excluded from the Union. I am not in the habit of paying lip-service to the Union. The Union is strong enough to confer favors; it is strong enough to command service. Under these circumstances, the man deserves but little credit who sings pæans to its glory. If, through a life, now not a short one, a large portion of which has been spent in the public service, I have given no better proof of my affection for this Union than by declarations, I have lived to little purpose, indeed. I think I have given evidence, in every form in which patriotism is ever subjected to a test, and I trust, whatever evil may be in store for us by those who wage war on the Constitution and our rights under it, that I shall be able to turn at least to the past and say, "Up to that [pg 545] period when I was declining into the grave, I served a Government I loved, and served it with my whole heart." Nor will I stop to compare services with those gentlemen who have fair phrases, while they undermine the very foundation of the temple our fathers built. If, however, there be those here who do really love the Union, and the Constitution, which is the life-blood of the Union, the time has come when we should look calmly, though steadily, the danger which besets us in the face."
- "Violent speeches, denunciatory of people in any particular section of the Union, the arraignment of institutions which they inherited and intend to transmit, as leprous spots on the body-politic, are not the means by which fraternity is to be preserved, or this Union rendered perpetual. These were not the arguments which our fathers made when, through the struggles of the Revolutionary War, they laid the foundation of the Union. These are not the principles on which our Constitution, a bundle of compromises, was made. Then the navigating and the agricultural States did not war to see which could most injure the other; but each conceded something from that which it believed to be its own interest to promote the welfare of the other. Those debates, while they brought up all that straggle which belongs to opposite interests and opposite localities, show none of that bitterness which, so unfortunately, characterizes every debate in which this body is involved."
- "The meanest thing—I do not mean otherwise than the smallest thing—which can arise among us, incidentally, runs into this sectional agitation, as though it were an epidemic and gave its type to every disease. Not even could the committees of this body, when we first assembled, before any one had the excuse of excitement to plead, be organized without sectional agitation springing up. Forcibly, I suppose gravely and sincerely, it was contended here that a great wrong was done because New York, the great commercial State, and the emporium of commerce within her limits, was not represented upon the Committee of Commerce. This will go forth to remote corners, and descend, perhaps, to after-times, as an instance in which the Democratic party of the Senate behaved with unfairness toward its opponents; for with it will not descend the fact that the Democratic party only arranged for itself its own portion of the committees, taking the control of them, and left blanks on the committees to be filled by the Opposition; that the Opposition did fill the blanks; that the Opposition had both the Senators from New York, but did not choose to put either of them on that committee, though it afterward formed the basis and staple of their complaint."
- "Mr. President, I concur with my friend from Virginia [Mr. Hunter], and when I rose I did not intend to consume anything like so much time as I have occupied. I think there are points, which have been sprung upon the Senate to-day and heretofore, that require to be answered and to be met. Like my friend from Virginia, I shall feel that it devolves on me, as a representative [pg 546] in part of that constituency which is peculiarly assailed, on another occasion to meet, and, if I am able, to answer, the allegations and accusations which have been heaped, as well on the section in which I live as upon every man who has performed his duty by extending over them the protection for which our Constitution and Government were formed."
originally published in 1881 by D. Appleton & Company, New York, and now in the public domain.