Speech to the State Legislature of Mississippi

Jefferson Davis

December 26, 1862

Friends and Fellow-Citizens, Gentlemen of the House of Representatives and Senate of the State of Mississippi:

You have been involved in a war waged for the gratification of the lust of power and aggrandizement, for your conquest and your subjugation, with a malignant ferocity, and with a disregard and a contempt of the usages of civilisation, entirely unequalled in history. Such, I have ever wamed you, were the characteristics of the Northern people of those with whom our ancestors entered into a Union of consent, and with whom they formed a constitutional compact.… After what has happened during the last two years, my only wonder is, that we consented to live for so long a time in association with such miscreants, and have loved so much a Government rotten to the core.…

You in Mississippi have but little experienced as yet the horrors of the war. You have seen but little of the savage manner in which it is waged by your barbarous enemies. It has been my fortune to witness it in all its terrors; in a part of the country where old men have been torn from their homes, carried into captivity, and immured in distant dungeons, and where delicate women have been insulted by a brutal soldiery, and forced even to cook for the dirty Federal invaders; where property has been wantonly destroyed, the country ravaged, and every outrage committed. And it is with these people that our fathers formed a union and a solemn contract. There is indeed a difference between the two peoples. Let no man hug the delusion that there can be renewed association between them.…

Having been hurried into a war with a people so devoid of every mark of civilisation, you have no doubt wondered that I have not carried out the policy, which I had intended should be our policy, of fighting our battles on the fields of the enemy, instead of suffering him to fight them on ours. This was not the result of my will, but of the power of the enemy. They had at their command all the accumulated wealth of seventy years the military stores which had been laid up during that time. They had grown rich from the taxes wrung from you for the establishing and supporting their manufacturing institutions. We have entered upon a conflict with a nation contiguous to us in territory, and vastly superior to us in numbers. In the face of these facts the wonder is not that we have done little, but that we have done so much.… At the end of twelve months of the war, it was still necessary for us to adopt some expedient to enable us to maintain our ground. The only expedient remaining to us was to call on those brave men who had entered the service of the country at the beginning of the war, supposing that the conflict was to last but a short time, and that they would not be long absent from their homes. The only expedient, I say, was to call on these gallant men; to ask them to maintain their position in front of the enemy, and to surrender for a time their hopes of soon returning to their families and friends. And nobly did they respond to the call. They answered that they were willing to stay; that they were willing to maintain their position, and to breast the tide of invasion. But it was not just that they should stand alone. They asked that the men who had staid at home who had thus far been sluggards in the cause should be forced, likewise, to meet the enemy.

From this resulted the law of Congress, which is known as the conscription act, which declared all men, from the age of eighteen to the age of thirty-five, to be liable to enrolment in the confederate service. I regret that there has been some prejudice excited against the act, and that it has been subjected to harsher criticism than it deserves. And here I may say that an erroneous impression appears to prevail in regard to this act. It is no disgrace to be brought into the army by conscription.

…We assess the property of the citizen we appoint tax-gatherers; why should we not likewise distribute equally the labor, and enforce equally the obligation of defending the country from its enemies?… Thus resulted the conscription act; and thence arose the necessity for the conscription act. The necessity was met; but when it was found that under these acts enough men were not drawn into the ranks of the army to fulfil the purpose intended, it became necessary to pass another conscription act, and another conscription act. It is only of this latter that I desire to speak. Its policy was to leave at home those men needed to conduct the administration, and those who might be required to support and maintain the industry of the country in other words, to exempt from military service those whose labor, employed in other avocations, might be more profitable to the country and to the government, than in the ranks of the army.

I am told that this act has excited some discontent, and that it has provoked censure, far more severe, I believe, than it deserves. It has been said that it exempts the rich from military service, and forces the poor to fight the battles of the country. The poor do, indeed, fight the battles of the country. It is the poor who save nations and make revolutions. But is it true that in this war the men of property have shrunk from the ordeal of the battlefield? Look through the army; cast your eyes upon the maimed heroes of the war whom you meet in your streets and in the hospitals; remember the martyrs of the conflict; and I am sure you will find among them more than a fair proportion drawn from the ranks of men of property. The object of that portion of the act which exempts those having charge of twenty or more negroes, was not to draw any distinction of classes, but simply to provide a force, in the nature of a police force, sufficient to keep our negroes in control. This was the sole object of the clause. Had it been otherwise, it would never have received my signature. As I have already said, we have no cause to complain of the rich. All our people have done well, and, while the poor have nobly discharged their duties, most of the wealthiest and most distinguished families of the South have representatives in the ranks.…

In considering the manner in which the war has been conducted by the enemy, nothing arrests the attention more than the magnitude of the preparations made for our subjugation. Immense navies have been constructed, vast armies have been accumulated, for the purpose of crushing out the rebellion. It has been impossible to meet them in equal numbers; nor have we required it.… But troops must be disciplined in order to develop their efficiency, and in order to keep them at their posts. Above all, to assure this result, we need the support of public opinion. We want public opinion to frown down those who come from the army with sad tales of disaster and prophecies of evil, and who skulk from the duties they owe their country. We rely on the women of the land to turn back these deserters from the ranks.…

The issue before us is one of no ordinary character. We are not engaged in a conflict for conquest or for aggrandizement, or for the settlement of a point of international law. The question for you to decide is: “Will you be slaves or will you be independent?” Will you transmit to your children the freedom and equality which your fathers transmitted to you, or will you bow down in adoration before an idol baser than ever was worshipped by Eastern idolaters? Nothing more is necessary than the mere statement of this issue.… Those men who now assail us,… when left to themselves; have shown that they are incapable of preserving their own personal liberty. They have destroyed the freedom of the press; they have seized upon and imprisoned members of State Legislatures and of municipal councils, who were suspected of sympathy with the South; men have been carried off into captivity in distant States without indictment, without a knowledge of the accusations brought against them, in utter defiance of all rights guaranteed by the institutions under which they live.

…I invoke you not to delay a moment, but to rush forward and place yourself at the disposal of the State. I have been one of those who, from the beginning, looked forward to a long and bloody war; but I must frankly confess that its magnitude has exceeded my expectations. The enemy have displayed more power, and energy, and resources than I had attributed to them. Their finances have held out far better than I imagined would be the case. But I am also one of those who felt that our final success was certain, and that our people had only to be true to themselves to behold the confederate flag among the recognized nations of the earth.

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