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ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A HISTORY.*
BY JOHN G. NICOLAY AND JOHN HAY, PRIVATE SECRETARIES TO THE PRESIDENT.
THE MONTGOMERY CONFEDERACY.
OLLOWING the successive ordinances of secession passed by the cottonStates, their delegations withdrew one by one from Congress. In this final step their senators and members adopted no concerted method, but went according to individual convenience or caprice; some making the briefest announcement of their withdrawal, others delivering addresses of considerable length. These parting declarations contain nothing of historical interest. They are a mere repetition of what they had said many times over in debate: complaints of Northern aggression and allegations of Northern hostility; they failed to make any statement or acknowledgment of the aggressions and hostility on the part of the South against the North. The ceremony of withdrawal, therefore, was formal and perfunctory; pre-announced and recognized as a foregone conclusion, it attracted little attention from Congress or the public. Only two cases were exceptional,-that of Mr. Bouligny, a representative from Louisiana, who, as already mentioned, remained loyal to the Union and retained his seat in the House; and that of Senator Wigfall of Texas, who, radically and outspokenly disloyal, yet kept his seat in the Senate, not only through the remainder of Mr. Buchanan's term, but even during the special session assembled, according to custom, to confirm the nominations made by President Lincoln immediately after his inauguration.
despite its constant avowals of a desire to promote union, was originated and managed by the little clique of Virginia conspirators whose every act, if not preconceived, at least resulted in treasonable duplicity.
The secession conventions of the cottonStates had appointed delegates equal in number to their former senators and representatives in Congress. These met in Montgomery, Alabama, on the 4th day of February, 1861, to form a Southern Confederacy. The Washington caucus, it will be remembered, suggested the 15th of the month. But such had been the success, or, rather, the want of opposition to the movement, that it was probably considered advisable to hasten the programme, and instead of only having preliminary secession complete by the 4th of March, to finish the whole structure of an independent government before the inauguration of President Lincoln. Thus far Mr. Buchanan had not offered the slightest impediment to the insurrection; it might reasonably be inferred that this inaction on his part would continue to the end of his term. Mr. Lincoln would be powerless until officially invested with the executive duties, and thus the formal organization of a Southern Confederacy could proceed at convenient leisure and in perfect immunity from disturbance.
The meeting at Montgomery had its immediate origin in the resolutions of a committee of the Mississippi Legislature, adopted January 29th; and it is another evidence of the secret and swift concert of secession leaders, that in six days thereafter the delegates of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida were assembled for conference. The delegates from Texas joined them later on. An organization was effected by choosing Howell Cobb chairman, and the body called itself a Provisional Congress, though it was merely a revolutionary council, invested with no direct representation of the people, but appointed by the secession conventions. Its reactionary spirit was shown in returning to the antiquated and centralizing mode of voting by States. This same rule under the old Congress of the Confederation had produced nothing but delay and impotence, and earned deserved contempt; and these * Copyright by J. G. Nicolay and John Hay, 1886-7. All rights reserved.
One of the remarkable coincidences of the secession conspiracy is, that on the same day which witnessed the meeting of a peace convention in Washington city to deceive and confuse further the public opinion of the North with discussion of an impossible compromise, the delegates of the seceded States convened at Montgomery, Alabama, to consolidate rebellion and prepare for armed resistance. It is not impossible that this was a piece of strategy, purposely designed by the secession leaders; for the Washington peace conference,
identical delegates, after incorporating the rule in their provisional scheme of government, immediately rejected it when framing their permanent one. We may infer that they employed it at the moment, because it was admirably suited to the use of cliques and the purposes of intrigue. Very little more than half the delegates of four States could carry a measure, and the minority of total membership could exercise full power of legislation. A project of government was perfected on February 8th, and the name of the "Confederate States of America" was adopted.
This first project was provisional only, to serve for one year; and the Provisional Congress retained the legislative power for the same period. The temporary continuance of certain United States laws and officials was provided for. On the following day (February 9th) it elected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi President and Alexander H. Stephens of VOL. XXXV.-9.
Georgia Vice-President of the new Confederacy. The body then set itself more seriously at work to prepare a permanent constitution which should go into effect a year later. This labor it completed and adopted on the 11th of March. In this permanent constitution, as in the provisional one, they adhered closely to the letter and spirit of the Constitution of the United States, making few changes other than those which the pretensions and designs of the rebellion made essential.
"The new constitution professed to be established by each State acting in its sovereign and independent character,' instead of simply by 'we the people.' It provided that in newly acquired territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial Government'; also for the right of transit and sojourn for slaves and other property,' and the right to
reclaim slaves and other persons' to service or labor. It did not, as consistency required, provide for the right of secession, or deny the right of coercion; on the contrary, all its implications were against the former and in favor of the latter; for it declared itself to be the supreme law of the land, binding on the judges in every State. It provided for the punishment of treason; and declared that no State should enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation, grant letters of marque and reprisal, coin money, lay duties, keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, make any compact with another State or with a foreign power;-a sweeping practical negation of the whole heretical dogma of State supremacy upon which they had built their revolt."*
Stephens, being a member of the Congress, was sworn into office as Vice-President, February 10th. Davis, with becoming modesty, remained absent during the election; being sent for, he arrived and was formally inaugurated on February 18th. His inaugural address presents few salient points. In later times he has disavowed the fiery and belligerent harangues the newspapers reported him to have made on his way to assume his new duties. Perhaps the most important announcement of his inaugural was the opinion that the new Confederacy might welcome the border slave-States; "but beyond this," he continued, "if I mistake not the judgment and will of the people, a reunion with the States from which we have separated is neither practicable nor desirable." Superficially, it appeared that the new government had been agreed upon among the leaders, with unusual harmony and unanimity; and such is the impression conveyed in the books written long years after by the two principal chiefs. But plausible reports have come down by tradition, that no previous legislative body had ever developed an equal amount of jealousy and bitterness to that which manifested itself in the Provisional Congress; that there were more candidates for President than States in the Confederacy, Georgia alone having furnished four aspirants, and that the rivalry between Toombs and Cobb in fact brought about the selection of Davis, who had openly expressed his preference for the post of General-in-Chief of the future rebel armies. Cobb might indeed dispute the prize of leadership with Davis, and especially with Toombs, who was, of all the candidates, least suited for such a task. It was Cobb who was the master spirit of secession intrigue in Buchanan's Cabinet; it was Cobb who carried the wavering Georgia convention into secession; it was Cobb who reappeared as the dominating power in the Montgomery Nicolay, "The Outbreak of Rebellion."
Congress. Practically, it was Cobb who by recent secret manipulations had made_the Confederacy possible, and erected the Confederate constitution. He might without vanity aspire to become its chief officer; yet with a truer recognition of the fitness of things, the choice of the delegates fell upon Davis, who, for a longer period and with deeper representative characteristics, had been the real embodiment and head of the conspiracy.
Jefferson Davis was born in Christian (afterwards Todd) county, Kentucky, June 3d, 1808. Soon afterwards his father removed to Mississippi; but the boy was sent to complete the education begun by home and academic studies, to Transylvania University, where he remained till the age of sixteen. Appointed in that year a cadet at the Military Academy at West Point, he received the thorough training of that institution, graduating in June, 1828; he was then attached to the army, and served as a lieutenant of infantry in the Black Hawk war and other campaigns against the Indians. He resigned his military commission in 1835, having attained the grade of first lieutenant of dragoons. Returning to Mississippi, he secluded himself in plantation life, devoting his time largely to political studies calculated to qualify him for a public career. In 1843 he launched himself on the tide of Mississippi politics, by a speech in the Democratic State convention, which attracted considerable notice. From the very first he became a central party figure in his State, was made a presidential elector in 1844, and chosen a representative in Congress in 1845. When the Mexican war broke out, Davis's military training and experience naturally carried him into the campaign as colonel of a volunteer regiment called the Mississippi Rifles; and he rendered valuable service and won deserved distinction in the storming of Monterey and the battle of Buena Vista. Returned from the war, the governor of Mississippi appointed him to the United States Senate to fill a vacancy. When the next legislature met, it confirmed the governor's choice by electing him for the remainder of the term; and a subsequent legislature reëlected him for the full term succeeding.
From the beginning to the end of his public career Davis posed as a disciple of Calhoun and an advocate of the extreme doctrine of State-rights. His maiden speech in the Mississippi convention of 1843 was to recommend Calhoun as an alternative presidential candidate; his parting address on leaving the Senate in 1861 drew a contrast between Calhoun as the advocate of nullification, and himself as the advanced defender of secession. So also, when President Polk offered him the commis
sion of brigadier-general of volunteers, to reward his military service in Mexico, the Quixot ism which was a marked feature of Davis's character moved him to employ the incident for the ostentatious championship of State-rights. He declined the offer, his biographer says, "on the ground that no such commission could be conferred by Federal authority, either by appointment of the President or by act of Congress."
His next State-rights exploit occurred in 1851. A strong party in Mississippi, violently opposing the compromise measures of 1850, organized a resistance movement in that State, and undertook upon that issue to elect General Quitman governor in 1851. A preliminary election, however, in the month of September, showed them to be some seven thousand votes in the minority; whereupon Quitman withdrew from the contest. Jefferson Davis immediately resigned his full term in the United States Senate and took up the canvass for governor of Mississippi, which Quitman had ingloriously abandoned. Davis's short campaign was brilliant but unsuccessful; he was beaten about one thousand votes by Hon. Henry S. Foote, the Union candidate, who had also resigned the remainder of his senatorship to make the contest.
The defeat appeared to have a salutary influence upon Davis's politics, but it proved transient. In the presidential campaign of 1852 a forlorn-hope of the State-rights fanatics nominated Quitman for President. Davis, with a wiser calculation, forsook his reckless friends and supported Pierce; and for this adhesion Pierce gave him a seat in his Cabinet as Secretary of War. The history of the Kansas trouble shows how faithful he was in this position to pro-slavery interests; and when Buchanan succeeded, he again became a senator for Mississippi, and assumed the leadership of the ultra-Democrats. Years afterwards he explained that in abandoning for a while his extreme course, he was conforming his actions to the decision which Mississippi pronounced in 1851 in favor of the Union. "His opinions," he said, "the result of deliberate convictions, he had no power to change." When, therefore, he entered the Cabinet of President Pierce in 1853 as Secretary of War, and when again on the accession of President Buchanan the Legislature of Mississippi returned him to the Senate, he was by his own declaration, and by the evidence of his subsequent words and deeds, only an acting Unionist, who at heart cherished the belief of Federal usurpation, and hoped and labored for the hour of confederated State resistance.
It may not be without interest to call attention at this point to a few coincidences in the
careers of Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln. They were both born in Kentucky — Davis in the south-western, Lincoln near the central part of the State. They were both near the same age, Davis being less than nine months the elder. Both were taken in their early years from their birthplaces — Davis's parents emigrating south to Mississippi, Lincoln's north to Indiana and Illinois. Both were soldiers in the Black Hawk war - Davis as lieutenant of Regulars, Lincoln as captain of Volunteers. Both were candidates for presidential elector in 1844. Both were soon elected to Congress Davis in 1845, Lincoln in 1846. Both were successful politicians and popular orators. Both were instinctively studious, introspective, self-contained. Both rose to distinction through the advocacy of an abstract political idea. Both became the chiefs of rival sections in a great civil war.
These are the only points of resemblance, and the contrasts running through their lives are bold and radical. It is unnecessary to present them in detail; they are comprehended and expressed in their opposing leaderships. If chance or fate had guided their parents to exchange their routes of emigration from Kentucky; if Lincoln had grown up on a Southern cotton plantation, and Davis had split rails to fence a Northern farm; if the tall Illinois pioneer had studied trigonometry at West Point, and the pale Mississippi student had steered a flat-boat to New Orleans, education might have modified but would not have essentially changed either. Lincoln would never have become a political dogmatist, an apostle of slavery, a leader of rebellion; Davis could never have become the champion of a universal humanity, the author of a decree of emancipation, the martyr to liberty. Their natures were antipodal, and it is perhaps by contemplating the contrast that the character of Davis may be best understood.
His dominant mental traits were subtlety and will. His nature was one of reserve and pride. His biographers give us no glimpse of his private life. They show us little sympathy of companionship, or sunshine of genial humor. Houston is reported to have said of him that he was "as ambitious as Lucifer and as cold as a lizard." His fancy lived in a world of masters and slaves. His education taught him nothing but the law of subordination and the authority of command. A Democrat by party name, he was an aristocrat in feeling and practice. He was a type of the highest Southern culture and most exclusive Southern caste. His social ideas were of the past. In political theory he was a sophist, and not a logician. With him,"consent of the governed" in a State was truth; "consent of the gov
JEFFERSON DAVIS, PRESIDENT OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA.
erned " in a Territory was error. "Rebellion"
(FROM A PHOTOGRAPH BY BRADY.)
interest. In his own State, a majority of seven thousand against Quitman in September he treated as a dangerous political heresy to be overthrown by his personal championship. A majority of one thousand against himself in November he affected to regard as a command to stultify his own opinions. His beliefs were at war with the most essential principles of American government. He denied the truth of the Declaration of Independence, denied