Monday, April 29, 1861
Confederate President Jefferson Davis addressed his Congress in Montgomery, Alabama. Historically, this would be remembered as his “all we ask is to be let alone” speech. He began by announcing that the Confederate Constitution had been ratified by all of the Confederate States. There was no doubt in his mind that other states would soon be taken into its fold.
Davis then told how the Union formed during the Revolutionary War was a temporary one, necessary for protection against Great Britain. He examined the United States Constitution, warfare, the differences between the North and the South (mostly focusing on the North’s exploding population) and finally slavery.
Slavery, opined Davis, was allowed under the Constitution, but the climate and soil in the North made slavery unnecessary. The North then sold their slaves to the South and, when they got the ruling majority in Congress, began to pass laws making things more difficult for slave owners. He complained that “fanatical organizations … 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.”
Slaveholders were the true victims here, thought Davis, as they were mobbed and murdered by these fanatics when trying to recapture escaped slaves. This hatred of slavery was caught by the Northern-controlled Congress and turned into hatred for the South. The Republican Party was organized, said Davis, “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.”
While the North was thus “subjugating the South,” Southerners, spoke Davis, were busy focusing upon the “wellbeing and comfort of the laboring class [slaves].” These slaves had “been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction.” All of this was done “under the supervision of a superior race.”
Davis backed away from his justifications of slavery and turned to recent events like the election of Lincoln and battle at Fort Sumter. Then he moved on to matters of state, giving a brief review of what each of the Departments had accomplished since the formation of the Confederate government.
He then ended with how the speech would be remembered:
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 cannot 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.1
Confederates Try to Secure Western Virginia
The B&O Railroad ran from Harpers Ferry through Grafton and then to Wheeling and Parkersburg, two large western Virginia ports on the Ohio River. Realizing that these ports and rail line had to be saved, Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered troops to be raised for their protection.
Major Alonzo Loring was directed to muster troops in the Wheeling area, while Major Francis M. Boykin was ordered to do so in Grafton, a rail hub between Harpers Ferry and Parkersburg.
Loring was to protect the railroad terminus in Wheeling, while not interfering with the business of the B&O Railroad. Rather, he was to offer the company (whose upper echelon leaned towards the North) protection. Boykin was to protect the line around Grafton, holding the road “for the benefit of Maryland and Virginia.” Like Loring, he was not to interfere with the peaceful passage of trains.
Boykin was also asked if Parkersburg would need troops to hold it and what his opinion might be for doing so.2
Maryland, Whose Maryland?
One of the states that Davis was hoping to accept into the fold was Maryland. Just two days prior, Maryland’s Senate unanimously agreed that they did not have the right to pass an act of secession, but could call a “sovereign convention” to do so if the demand was there.
This, however, did not imply that Maryland would stay true to the Union. It was actually calling for a Secession Convention. This bill was then passed to the House of Delegates, who, on this date, surprised everyone by voting it down 53 to 13.
Lack of secession didn’t necessarily mean true-blue for the Union, either. It was approved to put Baltimore in an official state of defense (against Federal troops) and to allocate two-million dollars to the defense of the state. There was even discussion of Maryland issuing her own currency.
Nevertheless, Maryland was in the Union, if not of the Union.3
- Jefferson Davis, Message to Congress April 29, 1861 (Ratification of the Constitution), Montgomery, Alabama. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p787-788. Lee’s letter to Boykin was dated April 30, but his involvement in the plan was stated to Loring on the 29th. [↩]
- Governor Thomas H. Hicks of Maryland and the Civil War by George Lovic Pierce Radcliffe, Johns Hopkins Press, 1901. [↩]