Jefferson Davis to Susan Bullitt Dixon
Beauvoir P.O., Harrison, Co., Miss.
27th Sept., 1879.
My Dear Mrs. Dixon:
Though this acknowledgment of your letter has been long delayed, believe me it has not arisen from any want of sympathy in your purpose, or willingness to protect the memory of your true hearted husband from the injustice to which you refer. I was not a member of the Senate when the Kansas-Nebraska bill was introduced, and enacted. Of the preliminary action, my engrossing duties in the War Office rendered me but little attentive, and my books, papers, and letters were so extensively pillaged during, as well as after, the war, that I have but little to which I can refer to refresh my memory of events occurring at the period to which your inquiries tend. What I do know, and distinctly remember, I will relate:
On Sunday morning, before the hour of church, Judge Douglas, with a number of members of the Senate, and Ho. of Rep’s, came to my residence and explained to me that the Committee on Territory of the Senate and House, had agreed upon a bill which Judge Douglas as Chairman of the Committee on Territories would report the next morning to the Senate, simultaneously with a like report in the House, if the bill should receive the sanction, and be supported by the President.
After considering the terms of the bill, and seeing in them nothing which I could not approve, or from which I believed the President would dissent, I told the gentlemen that they were either a day too late or too early, that the President received no visitors on Sunday, but that they could readily consult him to-morrow. It was then explained that the morrow, Monday, was the day on which the Committee of the House could report, and to loose that opportunity would involve much delay, and that they had therefore come to me to secure for them an interview with the President. I went with them, left them in his audience chamber, and after explaining to him the circumstances of the visit, he returned with me to meet the gentlemen waiting. When the bill had been fully explained to him, its text, its intent, and its purpose, he, as anticipated, declared his opinion in its favor, and the gentlemen left him with the assurance they came to obtain before testing the question of their bill before the two Houses of Congress.
All the stories which attribute to President Pierce the inauguration of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, as well as those which would make him first oppose and then approve it, are utterly false. His course in the U. S. Senate, to all who had marked and pondered it, sufficiently foreshadowed his action upon any question involving the power of the Federal Government, and the people of the States. As to myself, I have stated at what stage I became acquainted with the Kansas-Nebraska bill, but the gentlemen who came to visit me knew sufficiently well my opinion as to the rights of the people of the States in the common property, the Territories of the United States, to come to me for aid as far as I could render it, to promote the purpose then declared—the fulfillment of the Compromise of 1850, the recognition of the equal rights of all the people of the States, and the repeal of a law discriminating specially against one section of the Union. The States Rights doctrine of the Constitution, the creed of the men who won our Independence and formed the Union, had no abler or more faithful advocate than your honored husband, Archibald Dixon, at that time Senator of Kentucky. He who introduced the provision into the Constitution of Kentucky, protecting the rights of property against the power of Legislature or Conventions, might well have been looked to for such an amendment as that which he is reported to have offered to the bill of Mr. Douglas in its original form.
When in 1850, the proposition was made to extend the line of 36°30ʹ, called the Missouri Compromise line, it was opposed on the ground that the Government had no delegated power to control the institutions of the States, and that the Territory should be left free as embryo States, to mold themselves as climate and production might decide. This being, as Mr. Douglas used to express it, the true intent and meaning of the action of 1850, the resulting consequence, as any honest mind must admit, was the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in regard to all the Territory of the United States. Mr. Dixon did not require any other motive than that which integrity and constitutional law so plainly dictated, but if he had, the motive assigned in connection with the Hon. Mr. Atchison is wanting in that consistency which truth always possesses. Those who knew that gentleman intimately, knew that he left the Senate with no desire to return, and that neither his pride nor his principle would have allowed him to accept a position obtained as this story would represent to have been contemplated. I am, Madam, yours faithfully,
Dixon, Mo. Compromise, 457–60.