The Papers of Jefferson Davis
 
The Papers of Jefferson Davis

Watercolor on ivory by George L. Saunders 1840s National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

 Jefferson Davis to Congress of the Confederate States


Richmond, 2. May 1864.

You are assembled under circumstances of deep interest to your country, and it is fortunate that coming, as you do, newly elected by the people and familiar with the condition of the various localities, you will be the better able to devise measures adapted to meet the wants of the public service, without imposing unnecessary burthens on the citizen. The brief period which has elapsed since the last adjournment of Congress has not afforded sufficient opportunity to test the efficacy of the most important laws then enacted, nor have the events occurring in the interval been such as materially to change the state of the country.

The unjust war commenced against us in violation of the rights of the States, and in usurpation of power not delegated to the government of the United States, is still characterised by the barbarism with which it has heretofore been conducted by the enemy. Aged men, helpless women and children, appeal in vain to the humanity which should be inspired by their condition, for immunity from arrest, incarceration or banishment from their homes. Plunder and devastation of the property of non-combatants, destruction of private dwellings and even of edifices devoted to the worship of God, expeditions organised for the sole purpose of sacking cities, consigning them to the flames, killing the unarmed inhabitants and inflicting horrible outrages on women and children are some of the constantly recurring atrocities of the invader. It cannot reasonably be pretended that such acts conduce to any end which their authors dare avow before the civilized world, and sooner or later Christendom must mete out to them the condemnation which such brutality deserves. The suffering thus ruthlessly inflicted upon the people of the invaded Districts has served but to illustrate their patriotism. Entire unanimity and zeal for their country's cause have been pre-eminently conspicuous among those whose sacrifices have been greatest. So, the army which has borne the trials and dangers of the war; which has been subjected to privations and disappointments, (tests of manly fortitude far more severe than the brief fatigues and perils of actual combat,) has been the centre of cheerfulness and hope. From the camp comes the voice of the soldier patriots invoking each who is at home, in the sphere he best may fill, to devote his whole energies to the support of a cause, in the success of which, their confidence has never faltered. They, the veterans of many a hard-fought field, tender to their country, without limit of time, a service of priceless value to us, one which posterity will hold in grateful remembrance.

In considering the state of the country, the reflection is naturally suggested, that this is the third Congress of the Confederate States of America. The provisional Government was formed, its Congress held four sessions, lived its appointed term, and passed away. The permanent Government was then organised, its different Departments established, a Congress elected which also held four sessions, served its full constitutional term, and expired. You, the second Congress under the permanent Government, are now assembled at the time and place appointed by law for commencing your session. All these events have passed into history, notwithstanding the threat of our prompt subjugation made three years ago by a people that presume to assert a title to govern States whose separate and independent sovereignty was recognised by treaty with France and Great Britain in the last century, and remained unquestioned for nearly three generations. Yet these very governments, in disregard of duty and treaty obligations which bind them to recognise as independent, Virginia and other Confederate States, persist in countenancing by moral influence, if not in aiding by unfair and partial action, the claim set up by the Executive of a foreign government, to exercise despotic sway over the States thus recognised, and treat the invasion of them by their former limited and special agent, as though it were the attempt of a Sovereign to suppress a rebellion against lawful authority. Ungenerous advantage has been taken of our present condition, and our rights have been violated, our vessels of war detained in ports to which they had been invited by proclamations of neutrality, and in one instance our flag also insulted where the sacred right of asylum was supposed to be secure; while one of these governments has contented itself with simply deprecating by deferential representations the conduct of our enemy in the constantly recurring instances of his contemptuous disregard of neutral rights and flagrant violations of public law. It may be that foreign governments, like our enemies, have mistaken our desire for peace unreservedly expressed, for evidence of exhaustion, and have thence inferred the probability of success in the effort to subjugate or exterminate the millions of human beings who in these States prefer any fate to submission to their savage assailants. I see no prospect of an early change in the course heretofore pursued by these governments; but when this delusion shall have been dispelled, and when our independence, by the valor and fortitude of our people, shall have been won against all the hostile influences combined against us, and can no longer be ignored by open foes or professed neutrals, this war will have left with its proud memories, a record of many wrongs which it may not misbecome us to forgive, some for which we may not properly forbear from demanding redress. In the meantime it is enough for us to know that every avenue of negotiation is closed against us: that our enemy is making renewed and strenuous efforts for our destruction, and that the sole resource for us as a people secure in the justice of our cause, and holding our liberties to be more precious than all other earthly possessions, is to combine and apply every available element of power for their defence and preservation.

On the subject of the exchange of prisoners, I greatly regret to be unable to give you satisfactory information. The government of the United States, while persisting in failure to execute the terms of the cartel, make occasional deliveries of prisoners and then suspend action without apparent cause. I confess my inability to comprehend their policy or purpose. The prisoners held by us, in spite of humane care are perishing from the inevitable effects of imprisonment and the home-sickness produced by the hopelessness of release from confinement. The spectacle of their suffering augments our longing desire to relieve from similar trials our own brave men who have spent so many weary months in a cruel and useless imprisonment, endured with heroic constancy. The delivery, after a suspension of some weeks, has just been resumed by the enemy, but as they give no assurance of intent to carry out the cartel, an interruption of the exchange may recur at any moment.

The reports of the Departments herewith submitted, are referred to for full information in relation to the matters appertaining to each. There are two of them on which I deem it necessary to make special remark.

The report of the Secretary of the Treasury states facts justifying the conclusion that the law passed at the last session for the purpose of withdrawing from circulation the large excess of Treasury Notes heretofore issued, has had the desired effect; and that by the 1st. July the amount in circulation will have been reduced to a sum not exceeding $230,000,000. It is believed to be of primary importance that no further issue of notes should take place, and that the use of the credit of the Government should be restricted to the two other modes provided by Congress, viz, the sale of bonds and the issue of certificates bearing interest, for the price of supplies purchased within our limits. The law as it now stands, authorises the issue by the Treasury of new notes to the extent of two-thirds of the amount received under its provisions. The estimate of the amount funded under the law, is shown to be $300,000,000, and if two-thirds of this sum be re-issued, we shall have an addition of $200,000,000 to our circulation -------- believed to be already ample for the business of the country. The addition of this large sum to the volume of the currency would be attended by disastrous effects, and would produce the speedy recurrence of the evils from which the funding law has rescued the country. If our arms are crowned with the success which we have so much reason to hope, we may well expect that this war cannot be prolonged beyond the current year, and nothing would so much retard the beneficent influence of peace on all the interests of our country, as the existence of a great mass of currency not redeemable in coin. With our vast resources the circulation, if restricted to its present volume, would be easily manageable, and by gradual absorption in payment of public dues, would give place to the precious metals, the only basis of a currency adapted to commerce with foreign countries. In our present circumstances, I know of no mode of providing for the public wants, which would entail sacrifices so great as a fresh issue of Treasury Notes, and I trust that you will concur in the propriety of absolutely forbidding any increase of those now in circulation.

Officers have been appointed and despatched to the Trans-Mississippi States, and the necessary measures taken for the execution of the laws, enacted to obviate delays in administering the Treasury and other Executive Departments in those States; but sufficient time has not elapsed to ascertain the results.

In relation to the most important of all subjects at the present time, the efficiency of our armies in the field, it is gratifying to assure you that the discipline and instruction of the troops have kept pace with the improvement in material and equipment. We have reason to congratulate ourselves on the results of the legislation on this subject and on the increased administrative energy in the different bureaux of the War Department, and may not unreasonably indulge anticipations of commensurate success in the ensuing campaign.

The organisation of reserves is in progress, and it is hoped they will be valuable in affording local protection without requiring details and detachments from active force.

Among the recommendations contained in the report of the Secretary of War, your attention is specially invited to those in which legislation is suggested on the following subjects, viz, The tenure of office of the General Officers in the provisional army: and a proper discrimination in the compensation of the different grades:

The provision required in aid of invalid officers who have resigned in consequence of wounds or of sickness contracted while in service:

The amendment of the law which deprives officers in the field of the privilege of purchasing rations and thus adds to their embarrassment, instead of conferring the benefit intended:

The organisation of the general staff of the army; in relation to which a special message will shortly be addressed to you, containing the reasons which compelled me to with-hold my approval of a bill passed by your predecessors, at too late a period of the session to allow time for returning it for their reconsideration:

The necessity for an increase in the allowance now made for the transportation of officers travelling under orders:

The mode of providing officers for the execution of the conscript laws:

The means of securing greater despatch and more regular administration of justice in examining and disposing of the records of cases reported from the courts martial and military courts in the army.

The recent events of the war are highly creditable to our troops, exhibiting energy and vigilance combined with the habitual gallantry which they have taught us to expect on all occasions. We have been cheered by important and valuable successes in Florida, Northern Mississippi, Western Tennessee and Kentucky, Western Louisiana and Eastern North Carolina, reflecting the highest honor on the skill and conduct of our commanders, and on the incomparable soldiers whom it is their privilege to lead. A naval attack on Mobile was so successfully repulsed at the outer works that the attempt was abandoned, and the nine months' siege of Charleston has been practically suspended, leaving that noble city and its fortresses imperishable monuments to the skill and fortitude of its defenders. The armies in Northern Georgia and in Northern Virginia still oppose with unshaken front a formidable barrier to the progress of the invader; and our generals, armies and people are animated by cheerful confidence.

Let us then, while resolute in devoting all our energies to securing the realisation of the bright auspices which encourage us, not forget that our humble and most grateful thanks are due to Him, without whose guidance and protecting care, all human efforts are of no avail, and to whose interposition are due the manifold successes with which we have been cheered.

Jefferson Davis 



 

From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 10, pp. 378-87. Transcribed from a signed copy in the National Archives, RG109, Documents in the Official Records, Series 4, Volume 3, pp. 365-68.

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