Jefferson Davis' Address to the National Democracy

Washington, D.C., May 7, 1860

The undersigned, members of the national democratic party, supporters of its principles, and deeply anxious, by promoting its harmony, to preserve unimpaired the efficiency of its organization, desire to join in counsel with their democratic brethren throughout the United States.

The proceedings of the Convention recently assembled at Charleston have developed a divergence of opinion between the delegations of the different States in relation to the principles which form the basis of our Union. The national democratic platform adopted at Cincinnati in 1856 met the cordial approval of all who believe these United States to be, what their very name imports, a union of States equal, sovereign, and endowed in all respects with equal rights. This approval was based on what seemed to us to be the plain meaning of the resolutions embraced in that platform.

During the four years, however, which have since intervened, it has become painfully apparent that the construction deemed by us so manifestly right is controverted by many members of our party; that other principles are supposed to find contenance in that platform--principles, in out judgment, subversive of the true theory of the Government and of the Constitution to which our Union owes its birth, and on whose preservation its permanent existence depends.

What is the history of the recent Convention at Charleston?

Seventeen States, forming a majority of the whole, adopted with remarkable unanimity a platform of principles so worded as to avoid the possibility of misconstruction--principles deemed political axioms by all who uphold the equal rights of the States as the very basis of the Confederacy. Many delegates from the remaining sixteen States concurred in opinion with this majority, conspicuous amongst whom were delegates from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The States which adopted this platform give electoral votes which can be relied on with absolute certainty in favor of democratic nominees, and well-grounded confidence is entertained of a like result in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. These seventeen States united with Pennsylvania alone comprise a majority of the entire electoral vote of the United States, able to elect the democratic nominees against the combined opposition of all the remaining States.

This platform was deliberately rejected by a combination composed of a small fraction of the delegates from the seventeen democratic States and a very large majority of the delegates of the remaining sixteen States; and a resolution was adopted in its stead simply reaffirming the principles of the Cincinnati platform, without explanation or interpretation of its disputed meaning. This was done with the openly-avowed purpose of enabling the democratic party to wage battle with some chance of success in certain Northern and Western States by presenting to the people as its doctrines principles openly and expressly repudiated by a majority of the democratic State delegations, and by a majority approaching unanimity of the democratic electoral votes of the Union.

The delegations of eight States, together with a portion of that of Delaware, faithful adherents of our party and firm supporters of its principles, were thus, by sheer force of votes cast by delegates from States that will certainly vote for the republican candidates, compelled to withdraw from the Convention, because, in the language of a distinguished delegate [Ethelbert Barksdale], they felt "that it was a burning imputation upon the honor and patriotism of the party, that, claiming to be national, and claiming to have principles for its guide, it should acknowledge for its declaration of faith a creed upon which are placed two distinctly opposite interpretations by its own advocates."

We cannot refrain from expressing our admiration and approval of this lofty manifestation of adherence to principle, rising superior to all considerations of expediency, to all trammels of party, and looking with a single eye to the defence of the constitutional rights of the States.

The delegations of other democratic States, however, (including a few delegates from the seceding States,) not less faithful in devotion to principles, were more hopeful of obtaining from their brethren some satisfactory recognition of sound principles, and decided on remaining in the Convention after distinctly declaring, however, their determination also to withdraw if their just expectations should be disappointed.

It is thus apparent that there was almost entire unanimity of principle in the delegations of the only States on which absolute reliance can be placed for democratic electoral votes, whilst there existed diversity of opinion as to the line of policy best calculated to secure the triumph of those principles. Nor is it matter of surprise that in a conjuncture fo unexpected and anomalous, when, in the enunciation of democratic principles, the voice of Virginia was overborne by that of Ohio, and Louisiana and Arkansas were forced to succumb to Vermont and Michigan, there should be excited feelings, divided counsels, and discordant action.

In the subsequent proceedings of the Convention, however, we think that distinct intimations may be discerned of a disposition on the part of the Convention to recede from its determination, and to afford, either by an amendment of the platform or in some other manner equally satisfactory, such recognition of principles as would effectually obviate misconstruction and secure the harmonious action of the party, and that it was only because of these intimations that the delegations of the remaining democratic States consented to join in the ballots which took place with no other effect than to induce an adjournment to Baltimore to the 18th of June, whilst the seceding delegations adjourned to meet at Richmond on the 2d Monday of the same month.

On this state of facts the path seems open for the united action of the party, and no insuperable obstacle opposes the restoration of its harmony. So believing, we insist that our position as representatives of democratic States and constituencies forms no just bar to our right, but rather imposes on us the duty, of joining our counsels with those of our democratic brethren, and uniting in their efforts to secure the triumph of our principles.

It is plain that, if the Convention shall at Baltimore adopt a satisfactory platform of principles before proceeding to select its candidates, the reason which dictated the withdrawal of the delegations of the eight States will have ceased, and no motive will remain for refusing to unite with their sister States nor for holding an adjourned meeting at Richmond. On the other hand, if the Convention, on reassembling at Baltimore, shall disappoint the just expectations of the remaining democratic States, their delegations cannot fail to withdraw and unite with the eight States which have adjourned to Richmond. In either event there would be unanimous action in support of our principles by all the States which can be relied on for casting democratic electoral votes.

From this statement of facts, is it not evident that the wise and prudent course now to be pursued by the delegations of the eight States is to defer assembling in Richmond until the necessity for such meeting shall become imperative? Ought they not, in view of the already altered condition of affairs, to return to the Convention at Baltimore and aid their sister States in the struggle for the recognition of sound democratic principles? May it not be that their votes would now suffice to turn the scale, to purge the party creed of all heresies, and to emblazon on the party banner its honored device of fidelity to the Constitution and the Union in characters so clear as to defy misconstruction?

Suppose for a moment that in this last struggle for the right they should again be overborne: Is it not, then, equally plain that the delegations of the other democratic States cannot for an instant be suspected of an intention to refuse to redeem their pledge of withdrawal from an assemblage which shall persistently determine on the sacrifice of principle which they themselves have declared indispensable for their united action to a supposed expediency? And will not all the democratic States thus withdrawing and adjourning to Richmond be joined by the true and faithful delegates from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, from Indiana and New York--aye, from every one of our sister States where delegates are found imbued with the living principles of our party, but whose voice has hitherto been stifled in the Convention, because of their being in the minority of their respective delegations?

For it is a striking fact not to be overlooked in this connection, that whether the vote had been taken entirely by States or by delegates, in either event there was a clear majority in the Convention in favor of the recognition of sound constitutional principles, and it was only by taking part of the votes by States in units, and another part by divided States, that an apparent and factitious majority succeeded in preventing that recognition.

The answer to all the foregoing questions seems to us to be clear and plain. The line of conduct we suggest leads, in our judgment, to a reconciliation of differences on a basis of principle. It leads to the united and harmonious action of our party. It does more, infinitely more: It secures vastly added strength to that assertion of principles which none of us would for an instant think of compromising; it compels their recognition and proudly vindicates the action of the seceding delegates, who will thus have secured the object of their struggle, and have merited the applause and gratitude of their democratic brethren.

The contrary course would, we believe, be productive of mischievous consequences. Time does not permit the action of the regular organizations of our party in the respective States, and who alone have the power to speak their will, to meet in council and give instructions to their delegations. How is the voice of California or of Oregon to be heard in time? How are the constituencies of Texas and Virginia to met in State conventions and give authoritative expression of their will before the middle of June? How can the machinery be put in motion by which the democratic voters will direct attendance at Baltimore or Richmond in accordance with their judgment? Evidently, this cannot be done. Evidently, the delegations already elected are the only ones that can act, and they must act on their own judgment in a conjuncture which does not allow opportunity for instruction by their constituencies. A refusal, then, by the delegates of the seceding States to return to Baltimore, a refusal to defer the Richmond meeting until there shall be an uncontrollable necessity for holding it, would inevitably result in incurable division of our party, the sole conservative organization remaining in our country; in its final disruption; worse than all, in the endangering of the successful assertion of its principles, compared with which the success of a single electoral struggle is unworthy of one moment's consideration.

Jeff'n Davis

Members of Congress who signed the address: Senators Robert W. Johnson and William K. Sebastian of Arkansas, Alfred Iverson and Robert Toombs of Georgia, Judah P. Benjamin and John Slidell of Louisiana, R. M. T. Hunter and James M. Mason of Virginia, and Representatives Martin J. Crawford, Lucius J. Gartrell, James Jackson, John J. Jones, Peter E. Love, and John W. H. Underwood, all of Georgia, L. Q. C. Lamar of Mississippi, John H. Reagan of Texas, and Muscoe R. H. Garnett and John S. Millson of Virginia.

From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 6, pp. 289-93. Transcribed from the Washington Constitution, May 17, 1860.

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