Jefferson Davis Responds to the Emancipation Proclamation

January 12, 1863 (Monday)

Jefferson Davis was a man of letters. These letters made up words, and there were many, many words.

His address was part State of the Union (or, rather, State of the Dis-Union) and part stump speech. Since the Confederate Congress had last met, much had happened, and Davis was reviewing, extolling the virtues of the armies in the field. Their victories were many, including Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and at Vicksburg.

In fact, he reviewed the entire history of the war thus far – might anyone have missed it – before jumping headlong into his hopes and aspirations, his disappointments and accusations of the Confederate foreign relations. Despite the fact that Europe was growing cold on his new nation, he still believed there was a chance that someone, anyone, might recognize them as a sovereign state.

And then he dove into one of the heaftier reasons why Europe was a bit leary on siding with the South: slavery – specifically, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

He began by asserting that he would not speak on the absurdity of such an act: “We may well leave it to the instincts of that common humanity which a beneficent Creator has implanted in the breasts of our fellow men 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….”

The slaves, according to Davis, were happy in their lot. They were “peaceful and contented.” So, he wondered, why had Lincoln encouraged them “to a general assassination of their masters”?

And so Davis had a plan. Since the Emancipation Proclamation was a military act, it was the military officers who were guilty of inciting this “general assassination.” He decreed that any commissioned officers in the Union army captured by Confederate forces were to be “dealt with in accordance with the laws of those States providing for the punishment of criminals engaged in exciting servile insurrection.”

This meant, of course, that he wished for all captured Union officers to be executed. The enlisted soldiers, being apparent pawns, would be treated as normal.

Happy and contented slaves working a cotton gin – more like cotton grin, eh?

Tossing military matters aside, Davis moved on to the politics of slavery. This servile insurrection, this rising up of the “inferior race” to assassinate their masters was, in reality, “the true nature of the designs of the party which elevated to power the present occupant of the Presidential chair at Washington.”

Though President Lincoln had said numerous times that he didn’t want to end slavery in the South, Davis railed that these were all lies. He went on to cite several pre- and early-war supposed olive branches held out by his Northern counterpart.

What this Emancipation Proclamation was really showing was the Union’s “inability to subjugate the South by force of arms.” It was a way to get the nations of Europe, who had abolished slavery long ago, to find “justification in withholding our just claims to formal recognition.”

But what this Proclamation really meant was that 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.”

Slavery, according to Davis, was essential. Without it, the United States could not go on.

After shuffling through several other subjects, Davis brought his address to a close: “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.”

Slaves loved their work and their masters so much, they did all of their work without pay.

He urged that health of their new nation depended upon the “harmony, energy, and unity of the States.” This was important, since many of his states were far from happy over the crawl towards a more centralized government.

Each of the states, Davis went on to explain, played a special roll in the continuance of the fighting. It was not just in soldiery, but in the materials of war. And in each example he gave, he, perhaps knowlingly, gave reasons why slavery was essential to the Confederate war effort, and thus the Confederate nation.

The cannons in the forts “were cast from the products of mines opened and furnaces built during the war.” These same mines and furnaces could not be worked without slaves. “Our mountain caves yield much of the niter for the manufacture of powder.” These caves and these facilities to manufacture could not be run without slaves.

“From our own foundries and laboratories, from our own armories and workshops, we derive in a great measure the warlike material.” Confederate founderies, laboratories, even the armories and workshops, could not be maintained without slavery. “Cotton and woolen fabrics, shoes and harness, wagons and gun carriages are produced in daily increasing quantities by the factories springing into existence.” The daily increasing quantities, the very existance of cottonfields, were testimony to the need for slavery in the South.

“In the homes of our noble and devoted women, without whose sublime sacrifices our success would have been impossible, the noise of the loom and of the spinning wheel may be heard throughout the land.” While Southern ladies certainly did their part for the war effort, Davis must have known that it wasn’t a simple spinning wheel turing wool and cotton into uniforms, but slave power from start to end.

While the North had more than enough laborers to work the mines, fields and factories, the South had no such luxory. In order for the Confederacy to even begin a war of this magnitude, it needed slavery. Without them, the war would could not have been waged. If the “inferior race” rose up from their “peaceful and contented” slavery, simply put, the South would lose the war and lose the bid for their own nation. Without slavery, the South’s war, it’s culture, and it’s heritage were nothing.

((Source: Jefferson Davis’ Address to the Confederate Congress, January 12, 1863. Official Records, Series 4, Vol. 2, p336-350.))

Creative Commons License
Jefferson Davis Responds to the Emancipation Proclamation by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by