Community Rights: Jefferson Davis, 1858

Born in Kentucky to Samuel and Jane (Cook) Davis on June 3, 1808, Jefferson Davis is perhaps most famously known for his role as President of the Confederate States of America from 1861 until 1865. However, in his youth, Mr. Davis attended Transylvania University, graduated from West Point, and served as a colonel of a volunteer regiment during the Mexican–American War. Later, he would go on to serve his constituents as a United States Senator (representing the State of Mississippi), and the U.S. Secretary of War under President Pierce. As a senator, he debated against secession, but believed that each state was sovereign and had the unquestionable right to withdraw from the Union. However, as history belongs to the victor – Mr. Davis has been ignored, discredited, and his thoughtful writings all but forgotten. However, in the intellectual and maturely considered case of State Sovereignty, his is an important voice to ponder.

“Having achieved your independence, having passed through the Confederation, you assented to the formation of our present constitutional Union. You did not surrender your sovereignty. Your fathers had sacrificed too much to claim, as a reward of their toil, merely that they should have a change of masters; and a change of masters it would have been had Massachusetts surrendered her State Sovereignty to the Central Government, and consented that the Central Government should have the power to coerce a State. But if this power does not exist, if this sovereignty has not been surrendered, then who can deny the words of soberness and truth spoken by your candidate this evening, when he has pleaded to you the cause of State independence, and the right of a community to be judge of its own domestic affairs?” – Address of Jefferson Davis at Faneuil Hall, Boston, Oct. 12, 1858

Read the rest of Mr. Davis’s speech at: Jefferson Davis in Boston, 1858, or by looking for it alphabetically under the Resource Downloads Tab.

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3 Responses to Community Rights: Jefferson Davis, 1858

  1. spinoza1111 says:

    As it happened, however, Jeff Davis ran roughshod over state’s rights as well as individual rights as President of the Confederacy. Habeas Corpus was suspended in the South for the duration, and not for a temporary period in response to a clear and present danger as it was under Lincoln.

    A Southern draft existed throughout the war rather than just after 1863 as in the case of the Union. In contrast the the Union’s infamous exemption for men who could pay three hundred dollars, in the South, men who owned at least twenty slaves were exempt.

    The North’s newspapers were allowed to publish anti-Lincoln and anti-Union articles throughout the war and advocated “peace” candidates in the election of 1864 which Lincoln, ever-faithful to the Constitution, refused to even consider suspending. Whereas conveniently for Davis and by design, the Confederate constitution gave the CSA President a six year term.

    And as opposed to the free press of the North, not only were anti-war newspapers suppressed: throughout the South commencing in the 1830s, no Abolitionist papers were allowed to be circulated.

    Jeff Davis’ belief in a right of secesh certainly stopped short of West Virginia, a distinct and anti-slavery society that was part of Virginia at the beginning of the war. Jeff Davis sent troops to keep West Virginia in the Confederacy. He also suppressed the significant minorities in each state of the CSA that wished to form peace-making governments.

    In short, the South went to war under Richmond, and far more than Washington, Richmond was a central government, proto-Fascist in its behavior. After Lee’s surrender, the TRAITOR Davis, unlike Lee, wanted to continue the war.

    • carknow32 says:

      Of course I’m sure we’ll have to agree to respectfully disagree. However, I thought I’d offer another perspective…

      First, both the United States and the Confederacy utilized conscription as a device to encourage or force volunteering. The Confederacy passed this law in April of 1862, and the U.S. Congress followed in July. The concern with the Confederacy was that most soldiers one year term would be up, and would want to return home – thus leaving the army weakened and open to attack from the Federal invaders. However, relatively few were actually drafted.

      Secondly, the Confederate Congress authorized suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in certain places and isolated cases, such as in Feb. 1862 with Richmond and Petersburg, when McClellan’s army was at the gates of the Confederate Capitol. It was also suspended in western Virginia and eastern Tennessee (where Pro-Federal groups were prone to disrupt), and South Carolina being under direct attack. The difference here was the way the Lincoln administration handled the suspension of habeas corpus in the north – declaring it first, and then getting Congressional approval (whereas the Confederacy gave Congressional approval first). In Feb. 14, 1862, the Lincoln administration ended the first suspension, and said that it was used because every department of the Government was paralyzed by treason, and responded energetically. However, in Sept. 24, 1862 – with a dour look for the upcoming election, the President suspended habeas corpus again, this time all over the north – which worked wonders for the election. The Lincoln Administration also sought to keep the matter of arbitrary arrests out of the courts as well. For instance, in Jan. 31, 1863 – Attorney General Bates (U.S) wrote that a decision against habeas corpus by the Supreme Court would do more good to the rebels than the worst defeat our armies have yet sustained.

      The Confederacy did not suspend habeas corpus for the duration of the war, and Jefferson Davis only declared martial law over selected areas of the Confederacy (from Feb 27, 1862 – Feb 13, 1863 and Feb 15, 1864 to July 31, 1864) You can read President Davis’s habeas corpus proclamation at this link

  2. spinoza1111 says:

    The suspension of Sep 1862 was due to resistance to Lincoln’s call up of state militia and when Congress met in March 1863, Lincoln was indemnified: Congress approved his actions in retrospect. Lincoln acted in the absence of a sitting Congress.

    In the midterm elections of 1862 and the Presidential elections of 1864, significant candidates called for peace and were allowed to run. Whereas no antiwar or antislavery sentiment was allowed in the South.

    Taney believed that because Habeas Corpus was discussed in Article 1, this meant that only Congress could suspend it. These believers in “original meaning” will always be creative in reading in what they want. But Lincoln had taken an oath of office to protect and defend and clearly he acted in Congress’ interests in defending the Union, for without the Union, Congress would be a joke, an advisory body.

    You’re cherry picking facts and not reading. The over-arching FACT about the South was that it was a slave society, and a society that countenances slavery has no genuine habeas corpus, only white skin privilege.

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