Jefferson Davis on why the Confederate States were fighting — part 3

And this was the man who was President of the United States under Franklin Pierce, and who is now the heart, soul, and brains of the Southern Confederacy ! (Davis was Sec. Of War under Pierce.GP)

His manner put me entirely at my ease,—the Colonel would be at his, if he stood before Caesar, — and I replied, —

“We thank you, Mr. Davis. It is not often you meet men of our clothes, and our principles, in Richmond.”

“Not often, —- not so often as I could wish; and I trust your coming may lead to a more frequent and a more friendly intercourse between the North and the South.”

“We sincerely hope it may.”

“Mr. Benjamin tells me you have asked to see me, to ”

And he paused, as if desiring we should finish the sentence. The Colonel replied, —

“Yes, Sir. We have asked this interview in the hope that you may suggest some way by which this war can be stopped. Our people want peace, —your people do, and your Congress has recently said that you do. We have come to ask how it can be brought about.”

“In a very simple way. Withdraw your armies from our territory, and peace will come of itself. We do not seek to subjugate you. We are not waging an offensive war, except so far as it is offensive-defensive,-that is, so far as we are forced to invade you to prevent your invading us. Let us alone, and peace will come at once.”

“But we cannot let you alone so long as you repudiate the Union. That is the one thing the Northern people will not surrender.”

“I know. You would deny to us what you exact for yourselves, — the right of self-government.”

“No, Sir,” I remarked. “We would deny you no natural right. But we think Union essential to peace; and, Mr. Davis, could two people, with the same language, separated by only an imaginary line, live at peace with each other? Would not disputes constantly arise, and cause almost constant war between them? ”

“Undoubtedly,-with this generation. You have sown such bitterness at the South, you have put such an ocean of blood between the two sections, that I despair of seeing any harmony in my time. Our children may forget this war, but we cannot.”

“I think the bitterness you speak of, Sir,” said the Colonel, “does not really exist. We meet and talk here as friends; our soldiers meet and fraternize with each other; and I feel sure, that, if the Union were restored, a more friendly feeling would arise between us than has ever existed. The war has made us know and respect each other better than before. This is the view of very many Southern men ; I have had it from many of them, —- your leading citizens.”

“They are mistaken,” replied Mr. Davis. “ They do not understand Southern sentiment. How can we feel any thing but bitterness towards men who deny us our rights? If you enter my house and drive me out of it, am I not your natural enemy?”

“You put the case too strongly. But we cannot fight forever; the war must end at some time; we must finally agree upon something; can we not agree now, and stop this frightful carnage? We are both Christian men, Mr. Davis. Can you, as a Christian man, leave untried any means that may lead to peace? ”

“No, I cannot. I desire peace as much as you do. I deplore bloodshed as much as you do; but I feel that not one drop of the blood shed in this war is on my hands,—I can look up to my God and say this. I tried all in my power to avert this war. I saw it coming, and for twelve years I worked night and day to prevent it, but I could not. The North was mad and blind; it would not let us gov

1864.] 0ur Visit to Richmond. 379

ern ourselves; and so the war came, and now it must go on till the last man of this generation falls in his tracks, and his children seize his musket and fight his battle, unless you acknowledge our right to self – government. We are not fighting for slavery. We are fighting for Independence,–and that, or extermination, we will have.”

“And there are, at least, four and a half millions of us left; so you see you have a work before you,” said Mr. Benjamin, with a decided sneer.

“We have no wish to exterminate you, “answered the Colonel. “ I believe what I have said, — that there is no bitterness between the. Northern and Southern people. The North, I know, loves the South. When peace comes, it will pour money and means into your hands to repair the waste caused by the war; and it would now welcome you back, and forgive you all the loss and bloodshed you have caused. But we must crush your armies, and exterminate your Government. And is not that already nearly done? You are wholly without money, and at the end of your resources. Grant has shut you up in Richmond. Sherman is before Atlanta. Had you not, then, better accept honorable terms while you can retain your prestige, and save the pride of the Southern people?”

Mr. Davis smiled.

“I respect your earnestness, Colonel, but you do not seem to understand the situation. We are not exactly shut up in Richmond. If your papers tell the truth, it is your capital that is in danger, not ours. Some weeks ago, Grant crossed the Rapidan to whip Lee, and take Richmond. Lee drove him in the first battle, and then Grant executed what your people call a ‘ brilliant flank movement,” and fought Lee again. Lee drove him a second time, and then Grant made another ‘ flank-movement ’; and so they kept on,—Lee whipping, and Grant flanking, —until Grant got where he is now. And what is the net result? Grant has lost seventy-five or eighty thousand men, —more than Lee had at the outset, —-and is no nearer taking Richmond than at first; and Lee, whose front has never been broken, holds him completely in check, and has men enough to spare to invade Maryland, and threaten Washington! Sherman, to be sure, is before Atlanta; but suppose he is, and suppose he takes it ? You know, that, the farther he goes from his base of supplies, the weaker he grows, and the more disastrous defeat will be to him. And defeat may come. So, in a military view, I should certainly say our position was better than yours.

“As to money: we are richer than you are. You smile; but admit that our paper is worth nothing, —it answers as a circulating-medium; and we hold it all ourselves. If every dollar of it were lost, we should, as we have no foreign debt, be none the poorer. But it is worth something; it has the solid basis of a large cotton-crop, while yours rests on nothing, and you owe all the world. As to resources: we do not lack for arms or ammunition, and we have still a wide territory from which to gather sup plies. So, you see, we are not in extremities. But if we were,—if’ we were without money, without food, without weapons,-—if’ our whole country were devastated, and our armies crushed and disbanded,—could we, without giving up our manhood, give up our right to govern ourselves? Would you not rather die, and feel yourself a man, than live, and be subject to a foreign power?”

“From your stand-point there is force in what you say,” replied the Colonel.

“But we did not come here to argue with you, Mr. Davis. We came, hoping to find some honorable way to peace; and I am grieved to hear you say what you do. When I have seen your young men dying on the battlefield, and your old men, women, and children starving in their homes, I have felt I could risk my life to save them. For that reason I am here; and I am grieved, grieved, that there is no hope.”

“I know your motives, Colonel Jaquess, and I honor you for them; but what can

380 our Visit to Richmond. [September

I do more than I am doing? I would give my poor life, gladly, if it would bring peace and good-will to the two countries; but it would not. It is with your own people you should labor. It is they who desolate our homes, burn our wheat-fields, break the wheels of wagons carrying away our women and children, and destroy supplies meant for our sick and wounded. At your door lies all the misery and the crime of this war,-—and it is a fearful, fearful account.”

“Not all of it, Mr. Davis. I admit a fearful account, but it is not all at our door. The passions of both sides are aroused. Unarmed men are hanged, prisoners are shot down in cold blood, by yourselves. Elements of barbarism are entering the war on both sides, that should make us—you and me, as Christian men — shudder to think of. In God’s name, then, let us stop it. Let us do some thing, concede something, to bring about peace. You cannot expect, with only four and a half millions, as Mr. Benjamin says you have, to hold out forever against twenty millions.”

Again Mr. Davis smiled.

“Do you suppose there are twenty millions at the North determined to crush us?”

“I do,—to crush your government. A small number of our people, a very small number, are your friends,— Secessionists. The rest differ about measures and candidates, but are united in the determination to sustain the Union. Whoever is elected in November, he must be committed to a vigorous prosecution of the war.”

Mr. Davis still looking incredulous,

I remarked, —
“It is so, Sir. Whoever tells you otherwise deceives you. I think I know Northern sentiment, and I assure you it is so. You know we have a system of lyceum-lecturing in our large towns. At the close of these lectures, it is the custom of the people to come upon the platform and talk with the lecturer. This gives him an excellent opportunity of learning public sentiment. Last winter I lectured before nearly a hundred of such associations, all over the North. —from Dubuque to Bangor,–and I took pains to ascertain the feeling of the people. I found a unanimous determination to crush the Rebellion and save the Union at every sacrifice. The majority are in favor of Mr. Lincoln, and nearly all of those opposed to him are opposed to him because they think he does not fight you with enough vigor. The radical Republicans, who go for slave-suffrage and thorough confiscation, are those who will defeat him, if he is defeated. But if he is defeated before the people, the House will elect a worse man,—I mean, worse for you. It is more radical than he is,—you can see that from Mr. Ashley’s Reconstruction Bill,— and the people are more radical than the House. Mr. Lincoln, I know, is about to call out five hundred thousand more men, and I can’t see how you can resist much longer; but if you do, you will only deepen the radical feeling of the Northern people. They will now give you fair, honorable, generous terms; but let them suffer much more, let there be a dead man in every house, as there is now in every village, and they will give you no terms, — they will insist on hanging every Rebel south of Pardon, my terms. I mean no offence.”

“You give no offence,” he replied, smiling very pleasantly. “I wouldn’t have you pick your words. This is a frank, free talk,and I like you the better for saying what you think. Go on.”

“I was merely going to say, that, let the Northern people once really feel the war,—they do not feel it yet,-and they will insist on hanging every one of your leaders.”

“Well, admitting all you say, I can’t see how it affects our position. There are some things worse than hanging or extermination. I’ve reckon giving up the right of self-government one of those things.”

“By self – government you mean disunion, — Southern Independence ? ”

1864.] Our Visit to Richmond. 381

“And slavery, you say, is no longer an element in the contest.”

“No, it is not, it never was an essential element. It was only a means of bringing other conflicting elements to an earlier culmination. It fired the musket which was already capped and loaded. There are essential differences between the North and the South that will, however this war may end, make them two nations.”

“You ask me to say what I think. Will you allow me to say that I know the South pretty well, and never observed
those differences?”

“Then you have not used your eyes. My sight is poorer than yours, but I have seen them for years.”

The laugh was upon me, and Mr. Benjamin enjoyed it.

“Well, Sir, be that as it may, if I understand you, the dispute between your government and ours is narrowed down to this: Union or Disunion.”

“Yes; or to put it in other words: Independence or Subjugation.”

“Then the two governments are irreconcilably apart. They have no alternative but to fight it out. But it is not so with the people. They are tired of fighting, and want peace; and as they bear all the burden and suffering of the war, is it not right they should have peace, and have it on such terms as they like?”

“I don’t understand you. Be a little more explicit.”

“Well, suppose the two governments should agree to something like this: To go to the people with two propositions: say, Peace, with Disunion and Southern Independence, as your proposition,-and Peace, with Union, Emancipation, No Confiscation, and Universal Amnesty, as ours. Let the citizens of all the United States (as they existed before the war) vote ‘ Yes,’ or ‘ No,‘ on these two propositions, at a special election within sixty days. If a majority votes Disunion, our government to be bound by it, and to let you go in peace. If a majority votes Union, yours to be bound by it, and to stay in peace. The two governments can contract in this way, and the people, though constitutionally unable to decide on peace or war, can elect which of the two propositions shall govern their rulers. Let Lee and Grant, meanwhile, agree to an armistice. This would sheathe the sword; and if once sheathed, it would never again be drawn by this generation.”

“The plan is altogether impracticable. If the South were only one State, it might work; but as it is, if one Southern State objected to emancipation, it would nullify the whole thing; for you are aware the people of Virginia cannot vote slavery out of South Carolina, nor the people of South Carolina vote it out of Virginia.”

“But three-fourths of the States can amend the Constitution. Let it be done in that way, —in any way, so that it be done by the people. I am not a states man or a politician, and I do not know just how such a plan could be carried out; but you get the idea,—that the PEOPLE shall decide the question.”

“That the majority shall decide it, you mean. We seceded to rid ourselves of the rule of the majority, and this would subject us to it again.”

“But the majority must rule finally, either with bullets or ballots.”

“I am not so sure of that. Neither current events nor history shows that the majority rules, or ever did rule. The contrary, I think, is true. Why, Sir, the man who should go before the Southern people with such a proposition, with any proposition which implied that the North was to have a voice in determining the domestic relations of the South, could not live here a day. He would be hanged to the first tree, without judge or jury.”

“Allow me to doubt that. I think it more likely he would be hanged, if he let the Southern people know the majority couldn’t rule,” I replied, smiling.

“I have no fear of that,” rejoined Mr. Davis, also smiling most good-humoredly. “I give you leave to proclaim it from every house-top in the South


8 thoughts on “Jefferson Davis on why the Confederate States were fighting — part 3

  1. The arrogance, duplicity and hypocrisy of Yankees hasn’t changed in 150+ years. They still have a sense of entitlement and a belief that the World revolves around them and what they want. They wouldn’t want the “Union”, if they didn’ t have total control of it, and couldn’t overrule the South and West.

    • James you nailed that one. had Davis given in to the demands of these two “ambassadors’ then there would have been no point in expecting any sort of representataion in Congress.

      I have a couple more notes I will add this weekend. They will be posted to part 3 as comments.

      • I’m looking forward to it. The Yankees have a long history of acting outside of Federal channels and laws. But that stems from their belief that they have supra rights and authority above everyone else. The guerrilla war they fought against us from 1856 on, comes to mind. That’s the answer to their demand; “Who fired the first shot? ” The usual suspects deny it happened, or try to justify it on moral or patriotic grounds. Those “emissaries” sound like modern Yankees with their shifting the blame onto the South, then changing tack and saying both sides were to blame. Then claiming they loved the South in one sentence, before demanding its annihilation in the next. I believe they’re insane and incapable of recognising their illogic and hypocrisy. Their arrogant assumtion that what they say will be believed, accepted and taken as the final authority in all things, is exasperating. They’re just plain evil. No other way to describe it.

      • This is not earth shaking news, just support info for what I have already posted. I may get these articles posted early depending on how some other things around here go. I have contractors in and out and have to deal with them.

        I have heard the war started in the territories, some say John Brown started the conflict. Not ignoring the earlier events, but as a general rule I tend to look mostly at Fort Sumter as the start of the war since that is where most disagreements lead to.

        You are sharp reader, I wonder how many caught the forked tongue comments?

  2. I have about an hour of free time so I will go ahead and post this article–

    THE MISSION TO RICHMOND.; A Card from “Edmund Kirke” Mr. Davis’ Ultimatum.

    Published: July 24, 1864

    The Boston Transcript publishes the following card from the gentleman known as “Edmund Kirke:”

    Editor of the Transcript:

    As the small amount of printer’s ink which you used upon me in last evening’s Transcript somewhat affects my friend Col. JAQUES — for whom you charge me with having “a weakness” — you will, I know, allow me a small space in reply.

    I confess to a “weakness” for Col. JAQUES, and I hope the day may never come when I have not a weakness for him, and for all men like him. I consider him a brave, true, patriotic Christian gentleman. He is widely known and esteemed at the West. Before the war he was for fourteen years President of Quincy College, Illinois, and at the breaking out of the rebellion was selected by Gov. YATES to raise a three years’ regiment.

    He did so, and with that regiment was in the front of the assault at Fort Donelson; did effective service at Pittsburgh Landing; saved our left wing at Perryville; “fought as I never saw man fight before” (those were Gen. ROSECRANS’ exact words to me) at Stone River; stood his ground till three horses were shot under him, and three-fourths of his men lay dead or wounded about him, at Chickamauga, and was the first man to enter the rebel intrenchments on the heights of Mission Ridge. Such a record, I think, should justify any weakness I have for him.

    With his supposed “mission” I have nothing to do. I went with him — or rather, he went with me, for my pass directed Gen. GRANT to “allow J.R. GILMORE and friend to pass our lines and go South” — to Richmond, on Saturday last, and I can say, unequivocally, that the President knew nothing of his accompanying me.

    Mr. LINCOLN, though an old-time friend and acquaintance of Col. JAQUES, has not even seen him for now nearly three years.

    How the newspaper statements in reference to our visit to Mr. DAVIS originated. I do not know. Until 12 o’clock last night — when I returned to my home in this city — I had communicated to no human being, except Gens. BUTLER and GRANT, and the President, the fact of having been in the rebel capital at all.

    So much for your paragraph, Now, allow me a few words in reference to a telegram in this morning’s Advertiser, which charges me with being an attache of the New-York Tribune, and with having some connection with the Sanders-Greeley negotiation that is said to be going on at Niagara Falls.

    I am not, and never have been, connected with the New-York Tribune. At the urgent solicitation of Mr. SIDNEY HOWARD GAY, the managing editor of that journal (who is a very dear and intimate friend of mine,) I did consent, nearly two years ago, to the Tribune Association publishing a cheap edition of my books (but that arrangement was long since discontinued,) and I did, in July last, write half a dozen sketches for that paper.

    I have not, however, exchanged a word with Mr. GREELEY, or even seen him, for fully three months, and I have no connection with, in fact I know nothing of, his “negotiations.”

    This much, however, in reference to that much-talked-of matter, being a Yankee. I can guess. It will result in nothing. JEFFERSON DAVIS said to me last Sunday (and, with all his faults, I believe him a man of truth:) “This war must go on till the last of this generation falls in his tracks, and his children seize his musket and fight our battle, unless you acknowledge our right to self-government. We are not fighting for Slavery. We are fighting for INDEPENDENCE, and that, or extermination, we will have.”

    It Messrs. SANDERS, HOLCOMBE, THOMPSON & CO. have “pulled the wool” over the eyes of Mr. GREELEY, they have not pulled it over the eyes of Mr. LINCOLN. He, I know, fully understands and appreciates their overtures, and you can safely assure your readers that the interests and honor of the country are safe in his hands. If every man, woman and child in this nation knew him as I do, they would believe this, and would say, as I do, GOD BLESS HIM.

    I have returned from the South much prostrated by disease contracted there, but if my strength allows, I shall tell you and your readers “How and why I went to Richmond,” in the next (September) number of the Atlantic Monthly. You have alluded to me as “Edmund Kirke,” and the reading public know me by that cognomen, but as I desire to be considered “personally responsible” for the statements herein, I subscribe my true name hereto.


    No. 37 West Cedar-street, Boston.



    The Troy Times identifies this gentlemen as follows:

    “Mr. ‘Edmund Kirke,’ whose real name is J.R. GILMORE, is well known in the literary world. He purchased the Knickerbocker Magazine several years ago of LOUIS GAYLORD CLARK, and, after running it a year or two, sold out, and established, in connection with Mr. CHARLES GODFREY LELAND, the Continental Monthly. Subsequently he visited the South, and gathered materials for his book, Among the Pines, which has achieved a deserving success throughout the North. Last Summer Mr. GILMORE spent some six weeks in Tennessee, the fruits of which visit afterwards appeared in a series of graphic descriptive letters in the New-York Tribune. Mr. G. is the author of several works on Southern life and manners, the titles of which we do not here recall. For the past ten or fifteen years he has devoted much time to the study of the ‘peculiar institution’ and all its adjuncts, and has consequently familiarized himself with the habits and language of the Southern people.”

  3. THE MISSION TO RICHMOND.; Edmund Kirke’s Statement.

    Published: August 14, 1864
    At Pawtucket, on Wednesday; Mr. GILLMORE, (“Edmond Kirke”) delivered a lecture, in which he described his interview with JEFF. DAVIS, during a late visit to Richmond, and the substance of their conversation on the terms of a peace. The Providence Press gives the following report of Mr. GILMORE’s remarks:

    “I went to Richmond with the Rev. Col. JAQUES, and went with the hope of making negotiations which might result in a peace. If we should succeed, we thought that the consciousness of having served our country would pay our expenses. If we failed, we might still serve the country by letting the people of the North know what was the reason of our failure; for I went with propositions, on the basis of which I might have made an arrangement for peace with Mr. DAVIS, and if we were unsuccessful, it would be useful for the country to know what propositions were rejected. We went to Richmond in an ambulance, and were three hours on the way after we entered the rebel lines. We entered Richmond at 10 o’clock, and planted our white flag in the very heart of the rebel capital.

    As we stopped, Judge OULD, the rebel Commissioner of Exchange, directed Col. JAQUES to button up his overcoat, as it was dangerous to be seen with a blue uniform in the streets of Richmond. We were taken to a hotel and shown up to ‘No. 60,’ a shabby room with some fine furniture in very bad order. We were provided with supper and directed how to apply for an interview with the President. The next morning we directed a note to Secretary BENJAMIN asking an interview with the President, and were invited to call upon him, when we made an engagement to meet the President that evening, which was Sunday.

    On meeting our engagement, we were shown into the State Department, where we saw Mr. BENJAMIN, a small, plump, black-haired, black-eyed man, seated in his usual peace, and at his right a pale, thin man, dressed in a suit of darkish gray, with a mouth and chin expressive of the greatest determination. We told him simply that we came without official authority, but knowing the opinions of our Government, to see on what terms peace might be made.

    Mr. DAVIS replied, quietly, withdraw your armies from our territory and peace will follow of itself. We told him that the Northern people would never agree to any plan which did not include the establishment of the Union. Mr. DAVIS said that we could never live in peace. The North had sowed such a bitterness between the two sections that we never could have peace in this generation.

    We then urged upon him that it was his duty to use every effort to put an end to this monstrous bloodshed. He acknowledged this, and declared that none of the blood shed in this war could he lay to his own charge. They, the South, were not fighting for Slavery; they were fighting for independence; and independence or extermination they would have. We then tried to show him that the position of the rebel armies was such that it was better for them to give up the contest while they could do it with honor; but he was unwiling to admit that his armies were in such a desperate position. He laid the blame of the barbarity of this war entirely upon the North, utterly ignoring the instances of rebel barbarity which we brought to his notice. I then had a considerable conversation with Mr. DAVIS, in which I directly offered him the terms which I had been authorized to suggest; but as he did not show any disposition to meet me, I did not state them explicitly. These terms will be given through the newspapers in a short time. They were, in general, entire abolition, a general amnesty, no confiscation, the debts of the South to be ignored, the debts of the general Government to be borne by all the States. Mr. DAVIS declared that such terms could never be accepted by the Southern people, and that rather than submit to them they would sake their whole property and their national existence.”

  4. Speaking of President Davis, some transplant trendy Lefties at the University of Texas Austin, have vandalised the Jefferson Davis statue on campus. Apparently, they voted to have it removed, but the adults ignored them. So they reverted to their usual juvenile delinquency. The number of new Confederate memorials being erected in Texas is growing by the year.

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