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Davis, Jefferson (1808-1889) to Francis W. Pickens re: prophesy of a Civil War; secession

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC04624 Author/Creator: Davis, Jefferson (1808-1889) Place Written: Washington, D.C. Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 1861/01/13 Pagination: 3 p. + docket 20.4 x 16.4 cm

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC04624 Author/Creator: Davis, Jefferson (1808-1889) Place Written: Washington, D.C. Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 1861/01/13 Pagination: 3 p. + docket 20.4 x 16.4 cm

Summary of Content: Prophesizes that the South is "probably soon to be involved in that fiercest of human strifes, a Civil War," and discusses secession and withdrawal of southerners from the U.S. Congress.

Background Information: In early February 1861, the states of the lower South established a new government, the Confederate States of America, in Montgomery, Alabama, and drafted a constitution. Although modelled on the U....S. Constitution, this document specifically referred to slavery, state sovereignty, and God. It explicitly guaranteed slavery in the states and territories, but prohibited the international slave trade. It also limited the President to a single six-year term, gave the President a line-item veto, required a two-thirds vote of Congress to admit new states, and prohibited protective tariffs and government funding of internal improvements.
As President, the Confederates selected former U.S. Senator and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (1808-1889). The Alabama secessionist William L. Yancey (1814-1863) introduced Davis as Confederate President by declaring: "The man and the hour have met. Prosperity, honor, and victory await his administration."
At first glance, Davis seemed much more qualified to be President than Lincoln. Unlike the new Republican President, who had no formal education, Davis was a West Point graduate. And while Lincoln had only two weeks of military experience, as a militia captain, without combat experience in the Black Hawk War, Davis had served as a regimental commander during the Mexican War. In office, however, Davis's rigid, humorless personality; his poor health; his inability to delegate authority; and, above all, his failure to inspire confidence in his people would make him a far less effective chief executive than Lincoln. During the war, a southern critic described Davis as "false and hypocritical...miserable, stupid, one-eyed, dyspeptic, arrogant...cold, haughty, peevish, narrow-minded, pig-headed, [and] malignant."
Following secession, the Confederate states attempted to seize federal property within their boundaries, including forts, customs houses, and arsenals. Several forts, however, remained within Union hands, including Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida, and Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina's harbor.
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Full Transcript:
Washington, D.C.,
January 13, 1861
Governor F.W. Pickens,
My dear Sir,
A serious and sudden attack of neuralgia has prevented me from fulfilling my promise to communicate more fully by ...mail than could safely be done by telegraph. I need hardly say to you that a request for a conference on questions of defense had to me the force of a command; it, however, found me under a proposition from the Governor of Mississippi, to send me as a commander to Virginia, and another to employ me in the organization of the State militia. But more that all I was endeavoring to secure the defeat of the nomination of a foreign collector for the port of Charleston, and at that time it was deemed possible that in the Senate we could arrest all hostile legislation such as might be designated either for the immediate or future coercion of [2] the South. It now appears that we shall lack one or two votes to effect the legislative object just mentioned, and it was decided last evening, in a conference which I was not able to attend, that the Senators of the seceded States should promptly withdraw upon the telegraphic information already received. I am still confined to my bed, but hope soon to be up again, and, at as early a day as practicable, to see you. I cannot place any confidence in the adherence of the administration to a fixed line of policy. The general tendency is to hostile measures, and against these it is needful for you to prepare. I take it for granted that the time allowed to the garrison of Fort Sumter has been diligently employed by yourselves, so that before you could be driven out of your earthworks you will be able to capture the fort which commands them. I have not sufficiently learned your policy in relation to the garrison at Fort Sumter, to understand whether the expectation is to compel them to capitulate for want of [3] supplies, or whether it is only to prevent the transmission of reports and the receipt of orders. To shut them up with a view to starve them into submission would create a sympathetic action much greater that any which could be obtained on the present issue. I doubt very much the loyalty of the garrison, and it has occurred to me that if they could receive no reinforcements - and I suppose you sufficiently command the entrance to the harbor to prevent it - that there could be no danger of the freest intercourse between the garrison and the city. We have today news of the approach of a mixed commission from Fort Sumter and Charleston, but nothing further that the bare fact. We are probably soon to be involved in that fiercest of human strife, a civil war. The temper of the Black Republicans is not to give us our rights in the Union, or allow us to go peaceably out of it. If we had no other cause, this would be enough to justify our secession, at whatever hazard. When I am better I will write again, if I do not soon see you.
Very sincerely yours,
Jefferson Davis
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People: Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889

Historical Era: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877

Subjects: CongressConfederate States of AmericaConfederate General or LeaderMilitary HistoryCivil WarSecession

Sub Era: The American Civil War

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