Jefferson Davis (3 June 1808 – 6 December 1889) was the first and only president of the Confederate States of America. A Democrat and a slave-owner, he and his vice president, Alexander H. Stephens, led the Confederacy in their fight against the United States in the American Civil War, before surrendering in 1865.
- If the Confederacy falls, there should be written on its tombstone: Died of a theory.
- The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, quoting a remark he had made in 1864.
- Whether by the House or by the People, if an Abolitionist be chosen President of the United States, you will have presented to you the question of whether you will permit the government to pass into the hands of your avowed and implacable enemies... such a result would be a species of revolution by which the purposes of the Government would be destroyed and the observance of its mere forms entitled to no respect. In that event, in such manner as should be most expedient, I should deem it your duty to provide for your safely outside the Union of those who have shown the will, and would have acquired the power, to deprive you of your birthright and reduce you to worse than the Colonial dependence of your fathers.
- Speech of Jefferson Davis before the Mississippi Legislature (16 November 1858)
- Tradition usually rests upon something which men did know; history is often the manufacture of the mere liar.
- 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.
- The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government
- Sir, it is true that republics have often been cradled in war, but more often they have met with a grave in that cradle. Peace is the interest, the policy, the nature of a popular Government. War may bring benefits to a few, but privation and loss are the lot of the many. An appeal to arms should be the last resort, and only by national rights or national honor can it be justified.
- Debate in the House of Representatives, (6 February 1846).
- Unfortunately, the opinion has gone forth that no politician dares to be the advocate of peace when the question of war is mooted. That will be an evil hour — the sand of our republic will be nearly run — when it shall be in the power of any demagogue, or fanatic, to raise a war-clamor, and control the legislation of the country. The evils of war must fall upon the people, and with them the war-feeling should originate. We, their representatives, are but a mirror to reflect the light, and never should become a torch to fire the pile.
- Speech in Congress, 1846.
- Do they find in the history of St. Domingo, and in the present condition of Jamaica, under the recent experiments which have been made upon the institution of slavery in the liberation of the blacks, before God, in his wisdom, designed it should be done — do they there find anything to stimulate them to future exertion in the cause of abolition ? Or should they not find there satisfactory evidence that their past course was founded in error?
- Speech, 1850.
- Among our neighbors of Central and Southern America, we see the Caucasian mingled with the Indian and the African. They have the forms of free government, because they have copied them. To its benefits they have not attained, because that standard of civilization is above their race. Revolution succeeds Revolution, and the country mourns that some petty chief may triumph, and through a sixty days' government ape the rulers of the earth.
- Speech, 1858.
- What security have you for your own safety if every man of vile temper, of low instincts, of base purpose, can find in his own heart a higher law than that which is the rule of society, the Constitution, and the Bible? These higher-law preachers should be tarred and feathered, and whipped by those they have thus instigated. This, my friends, is what was called in good old revolutionary times, Lynch Law. It is sometimes the very best law, because it deals summary justice upon those who would otherwise escape from all other kinds of punishment.
- Speech in New York, 1858.
- Why, then, in the absence of all control over the subject of African slavery, are you agitated in relation to it? With Pharisaical pretension it is sometimes said it is a moral obligation to agitate, and I suppose they are going through a sort of vicarious repentance for other men's sins... Who gave them a right to decide that it is a sin? By what standard do they measure it? Not the Constitution; the Constitution recognizes the property in many forms, and imposes obligations in connection with that recognition. Not the Bible; that justifies it. Not the good of society; for if they go where it exists, they find that society recognizes it as good...
- Speech in Boston (11 October 1858).
- We recognize the fact of the inferiority stamped upon that race of men by the Creator, and from the cradle to the grave, our Government, as a civil institution, marks that inferiority.
- Reply in the Senate to William H. Seward (29 February 1860), Senate Chamber, U.S. Capitol. As quoted in The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 6, pp. 277–84. Transcribed from the Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 1st Session, pp. 916–18.
- One of the fruitful sources, as I hold it, of the errors which prevail in our country, is the theory that this is a government of one people; that the government of the United States was formed by a mass; and therefore it is taken that all are responsible for the institutions and policies of each. The government of the United States is a compact between the sovereign members who formed it; and if there be one feature common to all the colonies planted upon the shores of America, it was the steady assertion of, and uncompromising desire for, community independence.
- Senate speech, (7 May 1860).
- I will admit no bond that holds me to a party a day longer than I agree to its principles. When men meet together to confer, and ascertain whether or not they do agree, and find that they differ – radically, essentially, irreconcilably differ – what belongs to an honorable position except to part? They cannot consistently act together any longer.
- Reply in the Senate to a speech of Senator Douglas, May 1860.
- ...How idle is this prating about natural rights as though still containing all that had been forfeited.
- 1860, Senate debate.
- There is a relation belonging to this species of property, unlike that of the apprentice or the hired man, which awakens whatever there is of kindness or of nobility of soul in the heart of him who owns it; this can only be alienated, obscured, or destroyed, by collecting this species of property into such masses that the owner is not personally acquainted with the individuals who compose it.
- Senate speech, 1860.
Last speech before the U.S. Senate (1861)
- I rise, Mr. President, for the purpose of announcing to the Senate that I have satisfactory evidence that the State of Mississippi, by a solemn ordinance of her people in convention assembled, has declared her separation from the United States. Under these circumstances, of course, my functions are terminated here. It has seemed to me proper, however, that I should appear in the Senate to announce that fact to my associates, and I will say but very little more. The occasion does not invite me to go into argument, and my physical condition would not permit me to do so if it were otherwise; and yet it seems to become me to say something on the part of the state I here represent, on an occasion so solemn as this.
- It is known to senators who have served with me here that I have for many years advocated, as an essential attribute of state sovereignty, the right of a state to secede from the Union. Therefore, if I had not believed there was justifiable cause; if I had thought that Mississippi was acting without sufficient provocation, or without an existing necessity, I should still, under my theory of the government, because of my allegiance to the state of which I am a citizen, have been bound by her action. I, however, may be permitted to say that I do think that she has a justifiable cause, and I approve of her act. I conferred with her people before that act was taken, counseled them then that, if the state of things which they apprehended should exist when the convention met, they should take the action which they have now adopted.
- I hope none who hear me will confound this expression of mine with advocacy of the right of a state to remain in the Union, and to disregard its constitutional obligations by the nullification of the law. Such is not my theory. Nullification and secession, so often confounded, are indeed antagonistic principles. Nullification is a remedy which it is sought to apply within the Union, and against the agent of states. It is only to be justified when the agent has violated his constitutional obligation, and a state, assuming to judge for itself, denies the right of the agent thus to act, and appeals to the other states of the Union for a decision; but when the states themselves, and when the people of the states, have so acted as to convince us that they will not regard our constitutional rights, then, and then for the first time, arises the doctrine of secession in its practical application.
- A great man who now reposes with his fathers, and who has been often arraigned for a want of fealty to the Union, advocated the doctrine of nullification, because it preserved the Union. It was because of his deep-seated attachment to the Union, his determination to find some remedy for existing ills short of a severance of the ties which bound South Carolina to the other states, that Mr. Calhoun advocated the doctrine of nullification, which he proclaimed to be peaceful, to be within the limits of state power, not to disturb the Union, but only to be a means of bringing the agent before the tribunal of the states for their judgment. Secession belongs to a different class of remedies. It is to be justified upon the basis that the states are sovereign. There was a time when none denied it. I hope the time may come again, when a better comprehension of the theory of our government, and the inalienable rights of the people of the States, will prevent any one from denying that each state is a sovereign, and thus may reclaim the grants which it has made to any agent whomsoever.
- I therefore say I concur in the action of the people of Mississippi, believing it to be necessary and proper, and should have been bound by their action if my belief had been otherwise; and this brings me to the important point which I wish on this last occasion to present to the Senate. It is by this confounding of nullification and secession that the name of the great man whose ashes now mingle with his mother earth has been invoked to justify coercion against a seceded state. The phrase "to execute the laws" was an expression which General Jackson applied to the case of a state refusing to obey the laws while yet a member of the Union. That is not the case which is now presented. The laws are to be executed over the United States, and upon the people of the United States. They have no relation to any foreign country. It is a perversion of terms, at least it is a great misapprehension of the case, which cites that expression for application to a state which has withdrawn from the Union. You may make war on a foreign state. If it be the purpose of gentlemen, they may war against a state which has withdrawn from the Union; but there are no laws of the United States to be executed within the limits of a seceded state. A state finding herself in the condition in which Mississippi has judged she is, in which her safety requires that she should provide for the maintenance of her rights out of the Union, surrenders all the benefits (and they are known to be many), deprives herself of the advantages (they are known to be great), severs all the ties of affection (and they are close and enduring), which have bound her to the Union; and thus divesting herself of every benefit, taking upon herself every burden, she claims to be exempt from any power to execute the laws of the United States within her limits.
- I well remember an occasion when Massachusetts was arraigned before the bar of the Senate, and when then the doctrine of coercion was rife and to be applied against her because of the rescue of a fugitive slave in Boston. My opinion then was the same that it is now. Not in the spirit of egotism, but to show that I am not influenced in my opinion because the case is my own, I refer to that time and that occasion as containing the opinion which I then entertained, and on which my present conduct is based. I then said, if Massachusetts, following her through a stated line of conduct, chooses to take the last step which separates her from the Union, it is her right to go, and I will neither vote one dollar nor one man to coerce her back, but will say to her, God speed, in memory of the kind associations which once existed between her and other states.
- It has been a conviction of pressing necessity, it has been a belief that we are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us, which has brought Mississippi into her present decision. She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races. That Declaration of Independence is to be construed by the circumstances and purposes for which it was made. The communities were declaring their independence; the people of those communities were asserting that no man was born - to use the language of Mr. Jefferson - booted and spurred to ride over the rest of mankind; that men were created equal - meaning the men of the political community; that there was no divine right to rule; that no man inherited the right to govern; that there were no classes by which power and place descended to families, but that all stations were equally within the grasp of each member of the body politic. These were the great principles they announced; these were the end to which their enunciation was directed. They have no reference to the slave; else, how happened it that among the items of arraignment made against George III was that he endeavored to do just what the North had been endeavoring of late to do - to stir up insurrection among our slaves? Had the declaration announced that the negroes were free and equal, how was the prince to be arraigned for stirring up insurrection among them? And how was this to be enumerated among the high crimes which caused the colonies to sever their connection with the mother country? When our Constitution was formed, the same idea was rendered more palpable, for there we find provision made for the very class of persons as property; they were not put upon the footing of equality with white men - not even upon that of paupers and convicts; but, so far as representation was concerned, were discriminated against as a lower caste, only to be represented in the numerical proportion of three-fifths.
- Then, Senators, we recur to the compact which binds us together; we recur to the principles upon which our government was founded; and when you deny them, and when you deny to us the right to withdraw from a government which, thus perverted, threatens to be destructive of our rights, we but tread in the path of our fathers when we proclaim our independence, and take the hazard. This is done not in hostility to others, not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit; but from the high and solemn motive of defending and protecting the rights we inherited, and which it is our sacred duty to transmit unshorn to our children.
- I find in myself, perhaps, a type of the general feeling of my constituents toward yours. I am sure I feel no hostility to you, senators from the North. I am sure there is not one of you, whatever sharp discussion there may have been between us, to whom I cannot now say, in the presence of my God, I wish you well; and such, I am sure, is the feeling of the people whom I represent toward those whom you represent. I therefore feel that I but express their desire when I say I hope, and they hope, for peaceful relations with you, though we must part. They may be mutually beneficial to us in the future, as they have been in the past, if you so will it. The reverse may bring disaster on every portion of the country; and if you will have it thus, we will invoke the God of our fathers, who delivered them from the power of the lion, to protect us from the ravages of the bear; and thus, putting our trust in God, and in our own firm hearts and strong arms, we will vindicate the right as best we may.
- We are not fighting for slavery. We are fighting for independence - and that, or extermination, we will have.
- Reply to James R. Gilmore, 1864
- The past is dead; let it bury its dead. Let me beseech you to lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling. Make your place in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished – a reunited country.
- In the 1880s, as quoted on an inscription at Vicksburg National Military Park.
Quotes about Davis
- The Civil War ended on May 10, 1865, at Irwinville, Georgia. It was then and there that President Jefferson Davis, who personified the Confederacy more than any other single individual, was finally run to ground and captured by Union cavalry. Having fled Richmond on April 2, he was heading westward with the vain hope of continuing the fight against the Yankees in the Trans-Mississippi. By then, he had been deserted by all but his loyal wife and a handful of escorting cavalrymen. With the capture of Davis, the last flame flickering on behalf of southern independence was well and truly snuffed out.
- Jeffrey Evan Brooks, "150th Anniversary of the End of the Civil War? Not Necessarily." (9 April 2015), The Blog of Jeffrey Evan Brooks.
- Mosby, Rhett, Davis, Stephens, and other Confederates had no difficulty conceding what their descendants go to enormous lengths to deny, that the raison d'être of the Confederacy was the defense of slavery. It follows that, as the paramount symbol of the Confederate nation and as the flag of the armies that kept the nation alive, the St. Andrew's cross is inherently associated with slavery. This conclusion is valid whether or not secession was constitutional. It is valid whether or not most southern soldiers consciously fought to preserve slavery. It is valid even though racism and segregation prevailed among nineteenth-century white northerners.
- Jeff Davis did his best when he fled from Richmond to make out of himself a reconstructed woman. He made such a bad failure, however, that he deems the work simply impossible.
- Julia Hayden, the colored school teacher, one of the latest victims of the White man's League, was only seventeen years of age. She was the daughter of respectable parents in Maury County, Tennessee, and had been carefully educated at the Central College, Nashville, a favorite place for the instruction of youth of both sexes of her race. She is said to have possessed unusual personal attractions as well as intelligence. Under the reign of slavery as it is defined and upheld by Davis and Toombs, Julia Hayden would probably have been taken from her parents and sent in a slave coffle to New Orleans to be sold on its auction block. But emancipation had prepared for her a different and less dreadful fate. With that strong desire for mental cultivation which marked the colored race since their freedom, in all circumstances where there is an opportunity left them for its exhibition, the young girl had so improved herself as to become capable of teaching others. She went to Western Tennessee and took charge of a school. Three days after her arrival at Hartsville, at night, two white men, armed with their guns, appeared at the house where she was staying, and demanded the school teacher. She fled, alarmed, to the room of the mistress of the house. The White Leaguers pursued. They fired their guns I through the floor of the room and the young girl fell dead within. Her murderers escaped.
- "Louisiana and the Rule of Terror", The Elevator (10 October 1874), Volume 10, Number 26.
- Davis is categorical in pronouncing four million Americans, and all their descendants for all future time, to be 'the degenerate sons of Ham', fit only to be slaves. This implies that Negroes were descended from the Canaanites. But the Canaanites were not black! Neither were the great majority of the many millions of slaves in the ancient world. We mention these facts as conclusively refuting Davis' thesis, even if there is someone not under legal constraint who is inclined to accept the lunatic notion that anyone today can be justly enslaved because of the episode described in the ninth chapter of Genesis.
- Talk is abroad about removing statues of 'Confederates', meaning prominent Democrats, from the U.S. Capitol and some state capitols. The statue of Democrat Jefferson Davis, the ex-president of the Confederacy who also served as a Democratic Congressman, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of War in a Democratic administration, has been mentioned for possible removal from its place in Kentucky’s state capitol. Interesting. A growing mass call to remove the names of one prominent Democrat after another from the public square. One has to ask? Is it time to rename the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that crosses the Potomac from Virginia to Washington, the latter a majority black city? If so, may I suggest the name of Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first black U.S. Senator, in 1870? Oh, yes. Senator Revels was also a Republican.
- Jeff Lord, "Will Democrats Apologize for Slavery and Segregation?" (25 June 2015), Knowing What We Know Now, The American Spectator.
- The spirit of Jefferson Davis lives!
- The organization of federal units of black soldiers, comprised of both escaped slaves and free men, was taken as an outrage. It struck a raw nerve, never far off in the southern psyche. Fear of a slave insurrection. The prospect of African American men in blue uniforms was taken as an extreme provocation, so much so that it was proposed in the Confederate congress, and endorsed by General Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter, that all Federals captured, black or white, should be summarily executed. This proposal was never adopted, but the Confederate congress did eventually pass, in May 1863, a proclamation instructing President Jefferson Davis to exercise 'full and ample retaliation' against the north for arming black soldiers. Finally, there was simple revenge. The Union army's shelling of Fredericksburg several months before had been a particular sore point, that festered for months as the Confederate army went into winter quarters nearby. One officer, determined to fix the destruction there in his mind's eye, made a special visit to that town one last time before setting out on the road north into Maryland and Pennsylvania.
- The final irony is that the vast majority of blacks have turned against the party of emancipation and individual responsibility and now support the party of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow laws that now imposes dependency and racist quotas. The same Democratic Party that tells them they cannot succeed on their own. The Party that tells them they are not good enough to intellectually compete with whites. And now we have a black candidate spewing the same vile line so that he can become the head overseer. This is the party that tells blacks they need the Democrats as a crutch: the same party that says it is not racist. Perhaps Jefferson Davis did get the last laugh after all. Did he not think that blacks were so inferior to whites that they could not be trusted to look to their own affairs? That without the slave-supporting Democratic Party the black man would be lost and helpless in a world he lacked the intelligence to barely comprehend.
- Gerard Jackson, "The Party of Lincoln vs. the Democrats' hate machine" (9 June 2008), BrookesNews.
- The Alabama Democratic convention [instructed] its delegates to walk out of the national convention if the party refused to adopt a platform pledging a federal slave code for the territories. Other lower-South Democratic organizations followed suit. In February, Jefferson Davis presented the substance of southern demands to the Senate in resolutions affirming that neither Congress nor a territorial legislature could 'impair the constitutional right of any citizen of the United States to take his slave property into the common territories.
- It looked queer to me to see boxes labeled 'His Excellency, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America'. The packages so labeled contained Bass ale or Cognac brandy, which cost 'His Excellency' less than we Yankees had to pay for it. Think of the President drinking imported liquors while his soldiers were living on pop-corn and water!
- I think Stone Mountain is amusing, but then again I find most representations of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson outside of Virginia, and, in Jackson's case, West Virginia, to be amusing. Aside from a short period in 1861-62, when Lee was placed in charge of the coastal defense of South Carolina and Georgia, neither general stepped foot in Georgia during the war. Lee cut off furloughs to Georgia's soldiers later in the war because he was convinced that once home they’d never come back. He resisted the dispatch of James Longstreet's two divisions westward to defend northern Georgia, and he had no answer when Sherman operated in the state. It would be better to see Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood on the mountain, although it probably would have been difficult to get those two men to ride together. Maybe Braxton Bragg would have been a better pick, but no one calls him the hero of Chickamauga. Yet Bragg, Johnston, and Hood all attempted to defend Georgia, and they are ignored on Stone Mountain. So is Joe Wheeler, whose cavalry feasted off Georgians in 1864. So is John B. Gordon, wartime hero and postwar Klansman. Given Stone Mountain's history, Klansman Gordon would have been a good choice. It's also amusing to see Jefferson Davis represented. Yes, Davis came to Georgia, once to try to settle disputes within the high command of the Army of Tennessee, not a rousing success, and once to rally white Georgians to the cause once more after the fall of Atlanta. But any serious student of the war knows that Davis spent much of his presidency arguing with Georgia governor Joseph Brown about Georgia's contribution to the Confederate war effort, and that the vice president of the Confederacy, Georgia's own Alexander Hamilton Stephens, was not a big supporter of his superior. Yet we don't see Brown or Stephens on Stone Mountain, either.