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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Who was Jefferson Davis?

Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, is a much-misunderstood historical figure. Who he was and what he said, stood for, and believed are not what you may think.
After reading his correspondence, his speeches, and learning from historical records, he emerges as a human being who cared greatly for his country and whose repeated efforts to prevent the onset of a Civil War were largely ignored.
He saw the relations between the North and the South as a grab for power related to the westward expansion of the United States, with the North as the aggressor. He repeatedly pointed out that the states were sovereign, that the union was not of unequal states but of equal states, not of the North and South but each state sovereign in itself.
His views are presented cogently, and there is an excellent book published by Random House, from which the following extract is taken:

"The harmony, the efficiency, the perpetuity of our Union require the States, whenever the grants of the Constitution are inadequate to the purposes for which it was ordained, to add from their sovereignty whatever may be needed, and the same motives urge us to seek no power by other means than application to the States.
To all which has been said of the inherent powers of this Government, I answer, it is the creature of the States; as such it could have no inherent power, all it possesses was delegated by the States, and it is therefore that our Constitution is not an instrument of limitations, but of grants. Whatever was then deemed necessary was specifically conveyed; beyond the power so granted, nothing can now be claimed except those incidents which are indispensable to its existence; not merely convenient or conducive, but subordinate and necessary to the exercise of the grants."

Senator Jefferson Davis, Speech in the U.S. House of Representatives, March 16, 1846


Jefferson Davis: The Essential Writings, edited by William J. Cooper, Jr., Modern Library, 2004, page 34.

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