Five Southern Senators Resign!

Monday, January 21, 1861

As suspected, five senators from seceded states resigned their positions on this date. Stephen Mallory and David Yulee of Florida, Clement Clay and Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama, and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi each gave sorrowful, heart-wrenching speeches before their fellow senators and friends.

The scene can best be set by Clement Clay’s wife, who was watching from the Senate galleries:

“The galleries of the Senate, which held, it is estimated, a thousand people, were packed, principally with women, who, trembling with excitement, awaited the announcements of the day…. As each Senator, speaking for his State, concluded his solemn renunciation of allegiance to the United States, women grew hysterical and waved their handkerchiefs, encouraging them with cries of sympathy and admiration. Men wept and embraced each other mournfully. . . . Scarcely a member of that senatorial body but was pale with the terrible significance of the hour. There was everywhere a feeling of suspense, as if visibly the pillars of the temple were being withdrawn and the great governmental structure was tottering; nor was there a patriot on either side who did not deplore and whiten before the evil that brooded so low over the nation.”1

Jefferson said that he concurred “in the action of the people of Mississippi, believing it to be necessary and proper, and should have been bound by their action if my belief had been otherwise.”

Though he was convinced of Mississippi’s right to secession, he conceded that it might not be so easy a task as simply leaving the Union. “A State finding herself in the condition in which Mississippi has judged she is, in which her safety requires that she should provide for the maintenance of her rights out of the Union, surrenders all the benefits (and they are known to be many), deprives herself of the advantages (they are known to be great), severs all the ties of affection (and they are close and enduring), which have bound her to the Union; and thus divesting herself of every benefit, taking upon herself every burden, she claims to be exempt from any power to execute the laws of the United States within her limits.”

Though there had been arguments between Davis and his fellow senators in the past, “whatever of offense there has been to me, I leave here; I carry with me no hostile remembrance.” In turn, he offered an “apology for any pain which, in heat of discussion, I have inflicted.”

And with that, he bade the United States a “final adieu.”2

  1. From A Belle of the Fifties by Virginia Clay-Clopton, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1905. []
  2. Jefferson Davis’s Farewell Address in the U. S. Senate, January 21, 1861. []
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4 thoughts on “Five Southern Senators Resign!

  1. I guess I have not previously considered the possibility that there would be deep and sincere regret on the part of some representatives. Thanks for posting this excerpt of Davis’ speech. He was eloquent in his concession that there were benefits to be lost even as he felt there were compelling reasons for the parting.

    1. There was quite a bit of sincere regret (though maybe “regret” isn’t the right word.. but definitely sentimental apprehension) around this time.

      It was very soon forgotten by both sides, however. In a few short months sides will be completely picked and there’s very little turning back.

      That’s what makes this point in history so amazingly fascinating to me.


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