To those who were not actors in the events of the period from 1860 to 1865, it is almost impossible to present a complete and vivid picture of the revolution by States which was practically inaugurated by the action of the convention of the people of South Carolina, on December 20, 1860.

So much has been done by the war, and since the war, to diminish the Stateship of the States of this Union, and to destroy the ideal of State sovereignty upon which the Government and Constitution of the United States were builded by the fathers of the Republic, that the youth of the present generation can hardly conceive the leading idea, the controlling principle, which was the mainspring of the political movement, resulting in the secession of the Southern States and the establishment of the Southern Confederacy.

Nor can any one who did not live in the days which preceded and followed the formation of the new Union of Southern States, in 1861, grasp a full realization of the absolute transfer of allegiance and patriotic duty which was made by the people of the entire South from the old Union to the new Union of States, known as the Confederate States of America.

And yet without a proper grasp of these ideas and of the history of the eighty years’ conflict for the maintenance of the State Rights construction of the United States Constitution as against aggressive consolidation theories and party action, no true understanding of the earnest temper and purposes of the seceding States can be had, and not the faintest conception can be formed of the life and character of Jefferson Davis.

Time will not allow us to do more than glance at the situation, and to extract from the record a few glimpses of those dramatic days to illustrate and to justify the reflections we will suggest to you as appropriate to the sentiment of this memorial day.

The people of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 20th December 1860, passed the following ordinance: “We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the ordinance adopted by us in convention, on the 23rd day of May, in the year of our Lord, 1788, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America, and also all Acts and parts of Acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying the amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed, and that the union now existing between South Carolina and the other States, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved.”

On the 9th of January the people of Mississippi did likewise. Then followed the State of Florida, on the 11th of January, Alabama on the 11th of January, Georgia on the 19th of January, and so on.

On receiving official notice of the secession of Mississippi, President Davis, then in the United States Senate, delivered his farewell address to that body.

“I rise,” he said, “for the purpose of announcing to the Senate that I have satisfactory evidence that the State of Mississippi, by solemn ordinance in convention assembled, has declared her separation from the United States. Under these circumstances, of course, my functions terminate here. It has seemed to be proper that I should appear in the Senate and announce that act and to say something, although very little upon it. The occasion does not invite me to go into the argument, and my physical condition does not permit it, yet something would seem to be necessary, on the part of the State I here represent, on an occasion like this. It is known to Senators who have served here that I have for many years advocated as an essential attribute of State sovereignty the right of a State to secede from the Union. If, therefore, I had not believed there was justifiable cause if I had thought the State was acting without sufficient provocation-still, under my theory of government, I should have felt bound by her action. I, however, may say I think she has justifiable cause, and I approve of her acts. I conferred with the people before that act was taken and counseled them that if they could not remain that they should take the act. I hope none will confound this expression of opinion with the advocacy of the right of a State to remain in the Union and disregard the constitutional obligations by nullification. Nullification and secession are, indeed, antagonistic principles. Nullification is the remedy which is to be sought and applied within the Union against an agent of the United States when the agent has violated constitutional obligations and the State assumes for itself and appeals to other States to support it. But when the States themselves and the people of the State have so acted as to convince us that they will not regard our constitutional rights, then, and then for the first time, arises the question of secession in its practical application. That great man who now reposes with his fathers, who has been so often arraigned for want of fealty to the Union, advocated the doctrine of nullification because it preserved the Union. It was because of his deep-seated attachment to the Union that Mr. Calhoun advocated the doctrine of nullification, which he claimed would give peace within the limits of the Union, and not disturb it, and only be the means of bringing the agent before the proper tribunal of the State for judgment. Secession belongs to a different class of rights, and is to be justified upon the basis that the States are sovereign. The time has been, and I hope the time will come again, when a better appreciation of our Union will prevent anyone denying that each State is a sovereign in its own right. Therefore I say I concur in the act of my State and feel bound by it. We have proclaimed our independence. This is done with no hostility or any desire to injure any section of the country, nor even for our pecuniary benefit, but from the high and solid foundation of defending and protecting the rights we inherited and transmitting them unshorn to our posterity.”

In her ordinance the State of Alabama had invited the other Southern States to send delegates to a convention to meet in Montgomery on the 4th February.

The first work of the Convention of States at Montgomery was the adoption of a provisional constitution for the new Confederacy, which was done on the 8th February.

The next work (on the 9th February) was the unanimous choice of the Hon. Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, as President, and Alexander H Stephens, of Georgia, as Vice-President.

Thus it was, that, at the very inception of their movement to a new Union and an independent nationality, the Southern States turned to Jefferson Davis, at once, as their chosen leader and as the conspicuous exponent of their principles.

And now let us see, how Mr. Davis comprehended those principles, and with what steadfast consistency he interpreted the action of the States of the South.

On June 20th, 1885, Mr. Davis writes to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion, as follows:

“From the statement in regard to Fort Sumter, a child might suppose that a foreign army had attacked the United States-certainly could not learn that the State of South Carolina was merely seeking possession of a fort on her own soil, and claiming that her grant of the site had become void. When the sovereign independent States of America formed a constitutional compact of union, it was provided in the 6th Article thereof that the officers of the United States and of the several States shall be bound by oath or affirmation, (as the case may be) to support the Constitution; and by the law of June 1, 1789, the form of the required oath was prescribed as follows: ‘I, A. B., do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States.’ That was the oath. The obligation was to support the Constitu. tion. It created no new obligation, for the citizen already owed allegiance to his respective State, and through her to the Union of States, of which she was a member. The conclusion is unavoidable that those who did not support, but did violate, the Constitution were they who broke their official oaths. The General Government had only the powers delegated to it by the States. The power to coerce a State was not given but emphatically refused. Therefore to invade a State, to overthrow its government by force of arms, was a palpable violation of the Constitution which officers had sworn to support, and thus to levy war against States which the Federal officers claimed to be still in the Union was the treason defined in the 3rd Section of the 3rd Article of the Constitution, the only treason recognized by the fundamental law of the United States.”

Such was the answer which, after the war had long ended, Jefferson Davis in defence of Lee and Jackson, and Albert Sydney Johnson, and the other Southern officers of the old army, who had resigned their commissions, and obeyed the mandate of their respective States, gave back to the slur, attempted to be cast upon them by the followers of those officers of that army, who obeyed Abraham Lincoln and invaded the South.

When, in the early days of the Confederacy, Kentucky was invaded by the United States army, and her people prevented from acting for themselves on the question of secession, friends of Mr. Davis urged him to send troops into Kentucky, there to support the friends of the Southern States, and to prevent the United States Government from intimidating the Legislature and people of that State. In reply, Mr. Davis said: “I will not do such violence to the rights of the State.” Referring to this matter after the war had ended, when, in view of the failure of the Confederate cause and the loss of Kentucky to the Southern States, a regret that he had not sent troops in 1861 to uphold the Secessionists in Kentucky might well have been pardoned. Mr. Davis in 1884, writes to Dr. Garnett, his personal friend and family physician, who had united with others in urging the above action upon Mr. Davis, thus:

“My answer, as correctly stated by you, shows that my decision was not based on expediency, and however reluctant I may have been to reject the advice of yourself and other friends, in whose judgment and sincerity I had implicit confidence, I could not, for all the considerations involved, disregard the limitations of our Constitution and violate the cardinal principles which had been the guiding star of my political life.”

The venerable editor of the Richmond Enquirer, Mr. Nat. Tyler, writes to Mr. Davis in January, 1885:

“I have always believed if you had assumed absolute power, shot deserters and hung traitors, seized supplies and brought to the front every man capable of bearing arms, that a different result of the war might have been obtained.

But your very sensitive respect for Constitution and law, for the rights and sovereignty of States, is attested by the fact that the wildest license was allowed to the press, and that, ‘right under your nose,’ to use Mr. Stephens’ expression, the Examiner daily expressed sentiments of opposition to your measures which, if any newspaper in the United States had dared to publish against Mr. Lincoln’s recommendations, its editor would have been promptly imprisoned. By any comparison that can be made between. your administration and that of President Lincoln, history will award you far more respect for the essential features of personal liberty, for deference paid to State authority, and for respect shown for constitutional restraint.”

In August, 1886, the Rev. J. Wm. Jones, the able and enthusiastic secretary of the Southern Historical Society, visited Mr. Davis at Beauvoir, Mississippi, and there reports of him: “He talked freely and in the most interesting manner of the causes, progress and results of the war, and, while fully accepting the logical results, he seems profoundly anxious that our children should be taught the truth, and that our people should not forget or ignore the great fundamental principles for which we fought. As for allowing the war to be called “The Rebellion’ and our Confederate people ‘Rebels,’ he heartily repudiated and condemned it. ‘A sovereign cannot rebel,’ he said, ‘and sovereign States could not be in rebellion. You might as well say Germany rebelled against France, or that France, (as she was beaten in the contest) rebelled against Germany.’ He said that once in the hurry of writing he had spoken of it as ‘the civil war,’ but had never used that misnomer again.'”

We stand to-day by the re-opened grave of the Southern Confederacy in which we buried, a quarter of a century ago, all that remained of the glorious hopes which for a period of four heroic years had ennobled and exalted a nation of eight million people. In spirit we attend the freshly opened grave, at this solemn hour, waiting to receive the earthly remains of one who was the longest and to his very latest breath the truest friend of the Confederate South. To-day, and at this hour the last wail of a grief-stricken people, the last sob of a pent up agony, goes forth from the hearts of a nation that once was, and now is no more-forever.

What mortal man, gifted though he be with the powers of eloquence divine, can hope to rise in utterance to the grandeur and the height of the feeling which inspires the hearts that at this hour grieve such grief, and which throb with an agony of bereavement so bereft. It seems to me that there is but one warrant for the presumption which would make one attempt to utter the sentiment of the hour; the warrant that comes from the share which the speaker has had in the hopes that filled the hearts of his countrymen during those four grand years of trial, and the share which he had in the grief which came with the destruction of those hopes in the sudden and eternal death of the nation upon whose future his fondest aspirations had hung. By virtue of such warrant alone I venture to address those who have assembled here to-day, consenting as you here consent, to tear off once more, and for the last time, the scab which had closed over the bleeding wounds of 1865, and to let the stream of woe flow afresh from your hearts, poured out as a sacred libation upon the bier of President Davis.

What a flood of association overpowers us in the reminiscence of those once familiar words, “President Davis!” How they carry us back away “from all the commonplace chaff of life,” from the ignoble atmosphere of “time-servers and self-seekers” to the glorious days of our struggle for an independent national existence, and of our contest for those principles of State sovereignty and constitutional government, of which Jefferson Davis will live in history as the foremost and most uncompromising champion!

We all feel to-day, awakened in our hearts by the fact of his death, one prevailing sentiment of gratitude that such a leader-one so high in moral greatness, so grand in dignity of character, so pure in lofty conception of duty, so loyal to the faith to which he had pledged himself, so brave, so great, so true-was our leader and our President; and that he will, as the type of our Southern civilization, as the incarnation of the principles of constitutional liberty, ever live in history as the noble and unsullied representative of our Southern Confederacy.

Well may we afford, in the presence of this thought, to pass by with contempt the petty malice of those who would malign his memory, and seek to brand with the name of treason that cause to which he gave his life’s best service and for which he encountered martyrdom itself. We know that our cause is forever lost, that no Southern Confederacy will ever again exist, that henceforth we ourselves, and those who live after us in the South, will give our fortunes and our lives, if need be, to the defence of the Government of the United States, and that the flag of the Union will find no truer guardians than the sons of the South will be of its safety and glory; but we also know that the Southern doctrine of the reserved rights of the States, and the independent sovereignty of each, within the Union, properly enforced, will yet be acknowledged by our very revilers themselves as the most important principle of American liberty, and as the only safeguard to this Republic against the opposing principles of consolidation. We may also believe and know that when the calm judgment of history comes to take the place of sectional prejudice and party bitterness, the work of those who fought for the Southern Confederacy will be adjudged to be not in vain, but will be considered, by all true supporters of the United States Constitution as the most timely and valuable protest which has been ever recorded against the encroachment of those who would, by obliterating the States, convert a government of States into a gigantic tyranny. And when that day shall come we can even foretell with confidence that the fidelity of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, to the principles of State rights and State sovereignty will be taught, to the descendants of those who now seek to spit upon his fame, as an example for all to imitate, who understand and appreciate the principles of government which are crystalized in the Constitution of the United States.

Let the petty malice of to-day then pass by us unnoticed and unregarded, and let us cast our prophetic vision into that future when Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, will be held up to the youth of the whole of this great Republic as a man and a statesman worthy of the reverence of mankind by the side of William, Prince of Orange, and of George Washington, President of the United States of America.

Theodore Gaillard Barker

Theodore Gaillard Barker (1832-1917) served as a major in Wade Hampton's cavalry during the War. He was a lawyer in Charleston both before and after the War, and took up rice planting in 1874. He was also a leader in South Carolina Democratic Party.


  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    May God bless President Jefferson Davis and all his descendants.

  • David LeBeau says:

    There’s a fantastic audio clip of the former Senator Sam Ervin telling a story about his cousin Sue Tate. It’s only 90 seconds long and a cute story. We all should have a cousin like Sue. I wish I had one. I won’t spoil it for you, so you’ll have to give it a listen.

  • Paul Yarbrough says:

    THE “President’s day”

  • Richard Scott Farris says:

    HAPPY 216TH BIRTHDAY President Davis!

    Here is a most timely, timeless and definitive American Truth concerning The Cornerstone of our Great American Constitutional Democratic Republic of Republics [Sovereign States] whose Godly Sacred Foundation is of course State Sovereignty from which flows our essential “State’s Rights”!!

  • Michael Turnage says:

    This excellent account of the great President of the Southern Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, should be included in the studies of each Southerner that loves the South’s history during “The Late Unpleasantness.” The writer, Confederate Major T.G. Barker, illustrates Davis’ character and the profound challenges faced by the President of The Confederate States. Indeed, only a witness to such a turbulent time could succeed to convey the history as precisely as this Confederate Major managed to do. Having written this work around the turn of the twentieth century allows him to express his profound respect for the Southern Cause in a way unfamiliar to present day sentiments; current yankee and liberal revisionists would censor every bit of the truth.
    The writer applauds this excellent work by Major Barker as well as The Abbeville Institute for printing such an accurate and informative work exposing the great President of The Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.

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