President of the Confederate States of America.
Autograph Letter Signed, Jeffn Davis, one and one-third pages, quarto, Montgomery, Alabama, April 18, 1861. As provisional president of the Confederate States, to D. F. Jamison, president of the South Carolina Convention.
“I have the pleasure to receive your letter of the 9th inst[ant] enclosing a copy of a Resolution, passed by the Convention of the people of South Carolina. For this kind expression of their confidence in me as the Provisional President of the Confederate States, permit me to return through you, my profound and grateful acknowledgments. The approval of a body, so distinguished for its talents and patriotism encourages me in the effort to fulfill the requirements of a position, accepted with much distrust of my ability. With thanks to yourself, personally, for the friendly manner in which you have done me the honor to communicate the Resolution of the Convention.”
Six days before this letter, on April 12, the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter. On April 18, the day Jefferson Davis wrote the present letter, Robert E. Lee refused Lincoln’s offer to be field commander of the U.S. Army and decided to accept the command of the Virginia forces. On April 19 Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring parts of the Southern Confederacy in a state of blockade and denounced any molestation of Federal vessels on the high seas as piracy. In retrospect, Jefferson Davis’s letter reflects a great irony. The support by the seceded states for the President of the Confederacy would erode as the war became protracted. The very issue on which the great struggle centered, self-government for the individual Southern states, became a divisive factor that contributed to the defeat of the Confederacy.
When South Carolina withdrew from the Union in December 1860, Jefferson Davis still opposed secession, though he believed that the Constitution gave a state the right to withdraw from the original compact of states. Twelve days after Mississippi seceded, Davis made a moving farewell speech in the U.S. Senate and pleaded eloquently for peace between brothers. He had hardly returned to his Brierfield plantation (in Davis Bend, Mississippi, south of Vicksburg) when the Confederate Convention in Montgomery, Alabama, chose him provisional president. Inaugurated on February 18, 1861, his first act was to send a peace commission to Washington to prevent an armed conflict. Lincoln refused to see his emissaries and made secret preparations to send armed ships to relieve Fort Sumter. When Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers, four more states, including Virginia, promptly seceded. Jefferson Davis faced a dire crisis. A president without precedent, he had to mold a brand-new nation in the midst of a war. With few resources except cotton and courage, with a white population only one-quarter that of the North, and with a small fraction of the North’s industrial power, with inferior railroads, no powder mill, no navy, and no shipyard, the agricultural South was in no condition to fight a war.
This item is associated with the following category in our inventory:
- Civil War