January 21, 1861 – Five U.S. senators from three southern states resigned their seats after delivering emotional farewell speeches on the Senate floor.
The five men were Stephen R. Mallory and David L. Yulee of Florida, Clement C. Clay, Jr. and Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama, and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. Mallory tearfully urged reason over passion, Yulee declared he had to leave the Union with his state, Clay noted the years of mounting tension leading up to this separation, and Fitzpatrick said his first loyalty was with Alabama.
Davis spoke last. He reminded fellow senators that when Massachusetts had threatened to secede, he had honored their right to choose without fear of Federal invasion. He asserted that the Republicans’ claim that the phrase “all men are created equal” did not augment the Constitution because the Constitution came afterward and was the only law of the land defining the limited powers of the Federal government. Moreover, the word “men” was not intended to include slaves because they were not regarded as citizens at that time.
Davis said: “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… If I had thought that Mississippi was acting without sufficient provocation… I should still, under my theory of government, because of my allegiance to the State of which I am a citizen, have been bound by her action.”
Davis pointed out that southerners “tread but in the paths of our fathers when we proclaim our independence and take the hazard… 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 the rights we inherited, and which it is our duty to transmit unshorn to our children… 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.”
- Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 5
- Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 301
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 28-29
- White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161