All We Ask is to be Let Alone

A special (second) session of the Provisional Confederate Congress assembled in Montgomery to prepare for defense. President Jefferson Davis submitted his first message to the Congress, and it was the most optimistic and emotional one of his career.

Davis began by announcing that the permanent Confederate Constitution “has been ratified by conventions in each of those States to which it was referred.” Davis expressed confidence that more states would be admitted into the Confederacy in the future.

Davis then explained that he had asked Congress to assemble earlier than its scheduled date to respond to President Abraham Lincoln’s militia proclamation issued two weeks earlier. The president reminded the members of Congress that when the colonies rebelled against Great Britain, they did so as independent, sovereign entities, not as a nation under one unified government. And when the United States was formed, first under the Articles of Confederation and then under the U.S. Constitution, it was under the condition that each state would retain its independent and sovereign character.

Under this arrangement, Davis found it strange that Lincoln and his Republican administration belonged to a “political school which has persistently claimed that the government thus formed was not a compact between States, but was in effect a national government, set up above and over the States.” Under growing Republican influence, the Federal government “has been gradually perverted into a machine for their control in their domestic affairs,” and as such, “the principals have been made subordinate to the agents appointed by themselves.”

Davis argued that once the northern states “had reached a number sufficient to give their representation a controlling voice in the Congress, a persistent and organized system of hostile measures against the rights of the owners of slaves in the Southern States was inaugurated and gradually extended… fanatical organizations, supplied with money by voluntary subscriptions, were assiduously engaged in exciting amongst the slaves a spirit of discontent and revolt; means were furnished for their escape from their owners and agents secretly employed to entice them to abscond…”

“Finally,” wrote Davis, “a great party was organized… with the avowed object of using its power for the total exclusion of the slave States from all participation in the benefits of the public domain, acquired by all the States in common, whether by conquest or purchase; of surrounding them entirely by States in which slavery should be prohibited; of thus rendering the property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless, and thereby annihilating in effect property worth thousands of millions of dollars. This party, thus organized, succeeded in the month of November last in the election of its candidate for the Presidency of the United States.”

Meanwhile, the president stated, under “the increasing care and attention for the well-being and comfort of the laboring class, dictated alike by interest and humanity, the African slaves… had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers; well supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction… and the production of the South in cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man.”

With the rights and interests of the southern states being threatened by northern subjugation, according to Davis, their only defense was to secede from the Union. Davis wrote: “Here it may be proper to observe that from a period as early as 1798 there had existed in all of the States of the Union a party, almost uninterruptedly in the majority, based upon the creed that each State was in the last resort the sole judge as well of its wrongs as of the mode and measure of redress… this principle is an axiom as applied to the relations of independent sovereign States, such as those which had united themselves under the constitutional compact.”

Davis then explained how the Confederate nation had been formed, and how the Lincoln administration had refused to meet with Confederate envoys to negotiate a peace between the two separate nations. Davis asserted that “whilst the commissioners were receiving assurances calculated to inspire hope of the success of their mission, the Secretary of State and the President of the United States had already determined to hold no intercourse with them whatever; to refuse even to listen to any proposals they had to make, and had profited by the delay created by their own assurances in order to prepare secretly the means for effecting hostile operations.”

Davis accused the Lincoln administration of handling the Fort Sumter situation in bad faith, and noted that as soon as Lincoln had learned that the relief mission had failed, he immediately “issued the declaration of war against this Confederacy which has prompted me to convoke you… the high functionary affects total ignorance of the existence of an independent Government, which… is exercising its functions without question over seven sovereign States… He calls for an army of 75,000 men to act as a posse comitatus in aid of the process of the courts of justice in States where no courts exist whose mandates and decrees are not cheerfully obeyed and respected by a willing people.”

The president argued that Lincoln’s proclamation “was a plain declaration of war,” which was unconstitutional because “under the Constitution of the United States the President was usurping a power granted exclusively to the Congress.” Despite this, “many of the States seemed quite content to submit to the exercise of the power assumed by the President… and were actively engaged in levying troops to be used for the purpose indicated in the proclamation.” Davis stated that he had no choice but to respond by authorizing issuance of letters of marque and reprisal for private shipowners to wage war on Federal shipping.

Davis then turned to Lincoln’s blockade proclamation of the 19th: “Its announcement of a mere paper blockade is so manifestly a violation of the law of nations that it would seem incredible that it could have been issued by authority… If such proclamation was issued it could only have been published under the sudden influence of passion, and we may rest assured mankind will be spared the horrors of the conflict it seems to invite.”

The president then summarized the activities taking place in the various executive departments, which included his dispatch of Vice President Alexander H. Stephens to develop a common defense program between the Confederacy and the newly seceded state of Virginia. Davis also repeated assurances that the Confederacy sought to continue free trade: “Free transit has been secured for vessels and merchandise passing through the Confederate States; and delay and inconvenience have been avoided as far as possible, in organizing the revenue service of the various railways entering into our territory… no effort will be spared to free commerce from all unnecessary embarrassments and obstructions.”

Davis proudly noted that “in every portion of our country there has been exhibited the most patriotic devotion to our common cause… A people thus united and resolved can not shrink from any sacrifice which they may be called on to make, nor can there be a reasonable doubt of their final success, however long and severe may be the test of their determination to maintain their birthright of freedom and equality, as a trust which it is their first duty to transmit undiminished to their posterity.”

The address concluded:

“We feel that our cause is just and holy; we protest solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any sacrifice, save that of honor and independence; we seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the States with which we were lately confederated; all we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms. This we will, this we must, resist to the direst extremity. The moment that this pretension is abandoned the sword will drop from our grasp, and we shall be ready to enter into treaties of amity and commerce that can not but be mutually beneficial. So long as this pretension is maintained with a firm reliance on that Divine Power which covers with its protection the just cause, we will continue to struggle for our inherent right; to freedom, independence, and self-government.”

A reporter for a London newspaper wrote: “It is certain that Mr. Davis is the heart and brains of the Government and his popularity with the people is, at this time, unbounded.”


  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5724
  • Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 55
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 67
  • Record of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States, April 29, 1861 to May 21, 1861,
  • Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 458-67

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