February 4th, 1861

1861_davis_inauguralIt was Thomas Jefferson who lamented that slavery would ultimately be the “rock upon which the old Union would split.”

Now the hammer had come down, and it came down hard. Already six states, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana and Georgia, declared themselves to be free and sovereign states, separating themselves from the Union. Even as pamphlets with titles like “The South Alone Should Govern the South” circulated radical elements wove their way through Southern society to take hold, rejecting any form of compromise. Despite the efforts of its Governor, Sam Houston, a Constitutional Unionist, the Legislature reaffirmed the Texas Secessionist Convention. Voting with the six states that had already left, all that was needed now were the results of a referendum later that month. Yet none who left, or who were looking to leave had any intention of standing alone. Even before Abraham Lincoln would be sworn in as the 16th President of the United States, they would have a Republic of their own, one that would not be dominated by free states, one that would preserve for them the institution and foundations of their prosperity: slavery.

On February 4th, 1861 that new union would take form as delegates met in the small, unpaved frontier town of Montgomery, Alabama with the express “purpose of consulting with each other as to the most effectual mode of securing concerted and harmonious action in whatever measures may be deemed most desirable for our common peace and security.” Six states, with the advice of Texas, which soon would become the seventh, would form the provisional government of the Confederate States of America. Within five short days former United States Secretary of War and Senator from Mississippi, Jefferson Davies would be elected as their first, and ultimately only, President, though only Provisionally at this point, as ‘The Orator of Secession’ William Yancey handed the reigns of the new Revolution to him, declaring, “The man and the hour have met. We now hope that prosperity, honor, and victory await his administration.” Yet, for whatever might have been said as they perhaps convinced themselves that they were Patriots, no different than George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, seeking to protect what was theirs from an overbearing, far distant Government that sought to rob from them their power and their property in the Union Alexander Stephens perhaps offered the strongest view of what this new government was founded upon.

A man who had been considered a moderate voice, and who sought to remind the South that though the Republicans controlled the White House Congress was controlled by the Democrats, he would be elected to the Confederate Congress before being selected as the first Vice President of the C.S.A. Contending that Thomas Jefferson was wrong in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote “ that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” he would inform an audience in Savannah, Georgia not even a month later, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.”
Whatever the cause or the case might have been to meet it, to rise to it they took the democratic tradition of the peaceful transition of power that had been a hallmark of the American Republic since the first election and destroyed it. They did so for the sole reason that they did not approve of the results of the election a few months prior. They would not wait and see, they would not seek compromise, they would not give this new President even a moments reprieve, fearing what he might do with his new Executive Power. Instead, they would fire on Federal troops, the would chase vessels carrying supplies to military facilities, but even louder than that they would proclaim they were no longer bound by the Constitution of the United States.

By mid April the Confederates would begin their bombardment of Fort Sumter. Three days later President Lincoln would call-up troops in response as the cry for war sounded through the streets of the North and the South. The Civil War, that long and bloodied struggle that would claim the lives of more 650,000 Americans, would be upon us.


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