Jefferson Davis to Robert Barnwell Rhett, Jr.
Warren County, Missi., Nov. 10, 1860.
Dear Sir:--I had the honor to receive, last night, yours of the 27th
ulto., and hasten to reply to the inquiries proprounded. Reports of the
election leave little doubt that the event you anticipated has occurred,
that electors have been chosen securing the election of Abraham
Lincoln, and I will answer on that supposition.
My home is so isolated that I have had no intercourse with those who
might have aided me in forming an opinion as to the effect produced on
the mind of our people by the result of the recent election, and the
impressions which I communicate are founded upon antecedent expressions.
1. I doubt not that the Gov'r of Missi. has convoked the Legislature
to assemble within the present month, to decide upon the course which
the State should adopt in the present emergency. Whether the Legislature
will direct the call of a convention, of the State, or appoint
delegates to a convention of such Southern States as may be willing to
consult together for the adoption of a Southern plan of action, is
2. If a convention, of the State, were assembled, the proposition to
secede from the Union, independently of support from neighboring States,
would probably fail.
3. If South Carolina should first secede, and she alone should take
such action, the position of Missi. would not probably be changed by
that fact. A powerful obstacle to the separate action of Missi. is the
want of a port; from which follows the consequence that her trade being
still conducted through the ports of the Union, her revenue would be
diverted from her own support to that of a foreign government; and being
geographically unconnected with South Carolina, an alliance with her
would not vary that state of case.
4. The propriety of separate secession by So. Ca. depends so much
upon collateral questions that I find it difficult to respond to your
last enquiry, for the want of knowledge which would enable me to
estimate the value of the elements involved in the issue, though
exterior to your state. Georgia is necessary to connect you with Alabama
and thus to make effectual the cooperation of Missi. If Georgia would
be lost by immediate action, but could be gained by delay, it seems
clear to me that you should wait. If the secession of So. Ca. should be
followed by an attempt to coerce her back into the Union, that act of
usurpation, folly and wickedness would enlist every true Southern man
for her defence. If it were attempted to blockade her ports and destroy
her trade, a like result would be produced, and the commercial world
would probably be added to her allies. It is therefore probable that
neither of those measures would be adopted by any administration, but
that federal ships would be sent to collect the duties on imports
outside of the bar; that the commercial nations would feel little
interest in that; and the Southern States would have little power to
The planting states have a common interest of such magnitude, that
their union, sooner or later, for the protection of that interest is
certain. United they will have ample power for their own protection, and
their exports will make for them allies of all commercial and
The new states have a heterogeneous population, and will be slower
and less unanimous than those in which there is less of the northern
element in the body politic, but interest controls the policy of states,
and finally all the planting communities must reach the same
conclusion. My opinion is, therefore, as it has been, in favor of
seeking to bring those states into cooperation before asking for a
popular decision upon a new policy and relation to the nations of the
earth. If So. Ca. should resolve to secede before that cooperation can
be obtained, to go out leaving Georgia and Alabama and Louisiana in the
Union, and without any reason to suppose they will follow her; there
appears to me to be no advantage in waiting until the govt. has passed
into hostile hands and men have become familiarized to that injurious
and offensive perversion of the general government from the ends for
which it was established. I have written with the freedom and
carelessness of private correspondence, and regret that I could not give
more precise information. Very respectfully, Yrs, etc..
From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 6, pp. 368-71. Transcribed from the Hartford Evening Press, May 28, 1867.