The Crazy Early Days of the Confederate Congress

February 24, 1862/2012
Volume 3, Issue 8 (72 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

The Crazy Early Days of the Confederate Congress

Reuben Davis by Julian Vannerson, Library of Congress

Reuben Davis by Julian Vannerson, Library of Congress

February 24, 1862. After the war, Reuben Davis, a lawyer who represented Mississippi in the U.S. Congress and then the Confederate Congress, recalled the early days, when the Confederate Congress was so confident that the war would soon be over that it saw no need for military expense or taxation:

“In a conversation which I had about this time [perhaps late February 1862] with Mr. [Judah] Benjamin, the secretary of war, he said to me, ‘There is no doubt that the Southern Confederacy will be recognized by England in ninety days, and that ends the war.’ I asked him if he would not, in the meantime, make vigorous preparations, and endeavor to drive the enemy out of Tennessee.

“He replied that it was wholly unnecessary. I then said that even if recognition by England was certain, and that it would certainly end the war, there might be grave questions to be considered, and grave consequences to be provided for. As for example, if the peace should be declared, each party would, of course, claim all the territory held when the war closed. Was Mr. Benjamin prepared to give up Tennessee and Kentucky?

Judah Benjamin

Judah Benjamin

“The answer was, ‘We shall hold from the Memphis and Charleston [Tennessee] Road south, and the Northern States can keep what is north of that line.’ I was astonished by this reply, and told him plainly that if we could hope for no better result than he promised, I, for one, would rather go back in the Union without further bloodshed.

“. . .I was put upon the military committee. . . . After a few days, I discovered, with sincere regret, that I could not honestly declare myself in harmony with the other members of the committee or with the administration. There was a radical and irreconcilable difference in our views. . .. I was for a bold, aggressive policy, while they advocated caution and delay.

“I believed that our only hope was to concentrate all the forces we could raise into two great invading columns, and then boldly carry the war into the enemy’s country. I argued that it depended largely upon which side took the initiative steps, which section should be invaded, wasted, and destroyed.

“Other members of the committee were confident that the war would be ended in ninety days, and they were opposed to what they considered useless expense. The cry of the demagogue rang long and loud, ‘The poor people must not be taxed.’ This is a favorite watchword for those who court popularity, and I have heard it used with some success both before and since that time.”

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Executive Director, Vermont Humanities Council

SOURCES

David Colbert, ed., Eyewitness to America: 500 Years of American History in the Words of Those Who Saw It Happen, pp. 214-15

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1862

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