Jefferson Davis Provisional President of Confederacy

February 18, 1861/2011
Volume 2, Issue 7 (19 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Jefferson Davis Sworn in as Provisional President of the Confederacy

On February 18, Jefferson Davis became provisional president of the Confederate States of America. (In November he would be elected without opposition to a six-year term.) His inaugural address concluded with these words:

Jefferson Davis, Provisional President of the Confederacy

Jefferson Davis, Provisional President of the Confederacy

It is joyous in the midst of perilous times to look around upon a people united in heart, where one purpose of high resolve animates and actuates the whole; where the sacrifices to be made are not weighed in the balance against honor and right and liberty and equality. Obstacles may retard, but they cannot long prevent, the progress of a movement sanctified by its justice and sustained by a virtuous people. Reverently let us invoke the God of our fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which by his blessing they were able to vindicate, establish, and transmit to their posterity. With the continuance of his favor ever gratefully acknowledged, we may hopefully look forward to success, to peace, and to prosperity.

On the same day, Vermont Representative Justin S. Morrill addressed his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives about one of sixty-six proposals that would be made to deal with the secession crisis — a constitutional amendment to protect slavery in the states.

“In 1860 Mr. Lincoln was elected,” he observed, “because he was opposed to the extension of slavery into the Territories, and opposed to the general maladministration of the Government for the last eight years.”

Hon. Justin S. Morrill, circa 1865

Hon. Justin S. Morrill,
circa 1865

Then, putting his finger squarely on the crux of the secession debate, he remarked, “Let the rock upon which we split — slavery extension — and no other, be marked on the map.”

By late 1860, most white Southerners had convinced themselves that president-elect Lincoln was an abolitionist and that their slave property would be threatened once he was inaugurated on March 4. Morrill attempted to disabuse Southern members of the House of that notion:

“I know of no one who claims or desires the constitutional power to interfere with the domestic institutions of any State. As it requires three fourths of all the States to carry any amendment of the Constitution, with fifteen slave States sure to vote against it, no amendment authorizing interference with slavery in the States could succeed, until the whole number of States amounted to sixty, and of these it would require the entire concurrence of forty-five. It is unnecessary to spend more time in discussing a measure that cannot pass, and which, if it could pass, would not give the slave States one whit more of security than they now practically enjoy.”

While Morrill noted that an amendment such as the one proposed was, in fact, unnecessary to safeguard slavery, he emphasized that it was inconceivable that such an amendment could pass. Noting that of the original thirteen colonies, only one was a free state, Morrill asserted that there was a tenacious effort “to foist the word slavery into [the Constitution], in order to secure to it, by a prolific brood of logical inferences, a higher degree of protection as property. But, to suppose that nineteen free States would [in 1861] consent to give slavery greater power or privileges, under a reconstruction of the Constitution, than was consented to seventy years ago, when there was but one free State, is simply absurd. It is a libel upon the age.”

SOURCE: Congressional Globe, 36th Cong., 2nd Sess., pp. 1005-1008

Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, President and Vice President of the Confederate States of America

Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens,
President and Vice President of the Confederate States of America

Jefferson Davis’ Inaugural Address
Rep. Justin Morrill’s Speech on Slavery Amendment
Harper’s Weekly Account of Davis Inauguration


Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1861

2 responses to “Jefferson Davis Provisional President of Confederacy

  1. Pingback: Willie Lincoln Dies and Jefferson Davis Inaugurated | Civil War Book of Days

  2. Pingback: Willie Lincoln Dies and Jefferson Davis Inaugurated | Vermont Humanities

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