President Jefferson Davis submitted his message on the state of the Confederacy to the Confederate Congress as it assembled for its third session at Richmond. By this time, inflation was plaguing the South, as the printing of paper money without backing by precious metals sent the cost of living skyrocketing. The Confederate military still held firm against the Federals, but resources were dwindling and there was little hope for foreign aid.
Davis declared that the first two years of the new nation “affords ample cause for congratulation and demands the most fervent expression of our thankfulness to the Almighty Father, who has blessed our cause.” He cited recent Confederate military successes as “another example of the impossibility of subjugating a people determined to be free; and have demonstrated that no superiority of numbers or available resources can overcome the resistance offered by such valor in combat, such constancy under suffering, and such cheerful endurance of privation as have been conspicuously displayed by this people in the defense of their rights and liberties.”
Davis still held out hope that foreign nations would recognize Confederate independence, but he acknowledged that such an opportunity was quickly vanishing due to increased Federal aggression, both on land and at sea.
He bitterly denounced the recent Emancipation Proclamation: “We may well leave it to the instincts of common humanity which a beneficent Creator has implanted in the breasts of our fellowmen of all countries to pass judgment on a measure by which several millions of human beings of an inferior race, peaceful and contented laborers in their sphere, are doomed to extermination, while at the same time they are encouraged to a general assassination of their masters by the insidious recommendation ‘to abstain from violence unless in necessary self-defense.’”
To Davis, the proclamation was “complete and crowning proof of the true nature of the designs of the (Republican) party which elevated to power the present occupant of the Presidential chair at Washington.” He cited President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address of March 1861 (in which Lincoln pledged not to interfere with slavery where it already existed) as evidence that the party had lied about its intentions all along.
He went on: “Our own detestation of those who have attempted the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man is tempered by profound contempt for the impotent rage which it discloses.” Davis announced that he would turn over any commissioned Federal officers enforcing it to the appropriate state government, “that they may be dealt with in accordance with the laws of those States providing for the punishment of criminals engaged in exciting servile insurrections.”
According to Davis, the proclamation could only produce three possible outcomes: “the extermination of the slaves, the exile of the whole white population from the Confederacy, or absolute and total separation of these States from the United States.” Davis asserted that Lincoln’s decree proved his “inability to subjugate the South by force of arms,” and its appeal to morality provided foreign nations the “justification in withholding our just claims to formal recognition.” Ultimately, the “restoration of the Union has been rendered forever impossible by the adoption of a measure which from its very nature neither admits of retraction nor can coexist with union.”
Turning to the Treasury Department, Davis asked members of Congress to approve legislation improving the Confederacy’s financial structure to pay down the national debt: “Among the subjects to which your attention will be specially devoted during the present session you will no doubt deem the adoption of some comprehensive system of finance as being of paramount importance.”
Regarding the War Department, Davis requested “some revision of the exemption law (i.e., the amended Conscription Act) of last session. Serious complaints have reached me of the inequality of its operation,” and Davis recommended exempting enough men to form local police squads that would keep law and order at home while the rest of the men fought the war.
Davis also stated, “I recommend to the Congress to devise a proper mode of relief to those of our citizens whose property has been destroyed by order of the Government, in pursuance of a policy adopted as a means of national defense. It is true that full indemnity cannot now be made, but some measure of relief is due to those patriotic citizens who have borne private loss for the public good, whose property in effect has been taken for public use, though not directly appropriated.”
Davis reminded Congress, “Our Government, born of the spirit of freedom and of the equality and independence of the States, could not have survived a selfish or jealous disposition, making each only careful of its own interest or safety. The fate of the Confederacy, under the blessing of Divine Providence, depends upon the harmony, energy, and unity of the States.”
The president concluded, “With hearts swelling with gratitude let us, then, join in returning thanks to God, and in beseeching the continuance of his protecting care over our cause and the restoration of peace with its manifold blessings to our beloved country.”
- Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), Never Call Retreat: Centennial History of the Civil War Book 3. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1965.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Kindle Edition), 2011.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press (Kindle Edition), 1988.
- Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (facsimile of the 1866 edition). New York: Fairfax Press, 1990.