Jefferson Davis To Collin S. Tarpley
Washington, Dec. 19, 1855
My Dear Sir: When I received your very kind and interesting letter of the 15th of November, I had hoped it might be possible for me to have returned home in this month, but, in the uncertainty of the case, delayed answering your letter until the present time. The circumstances which surround me now sufficiently establish the fact that I cannot do so without disregarding obligations, among which is prominent my duty to those to whom I am most nearly bound, both by feeling and interest. To the extent of my humble abilities, I have striven to serve our whole country; and, if I have forgotten anything, it has not been my allegiance to Mississippi and my duty to the South. Wherever my personal interest comes in conflict with either, I trust I shall always be ready to sacrifice it. I thank you for your plain advice, for such friendship as you have always evinced for me did not permit me to expect that you would speak to me in studied phrase. The disadvantage of being absent when the legislature shall proceed to consider rival aspirants for the United States Senate is clearly perceived by me, and the injury to be inflicted by my defeat for that office is fully appreciated. I shall be happy, however if the injury is contined to myself; but, as men are but the representatives of ideas, it has no doubt occurred that the effect of such a defeat will have relations far wider than its bearing upon myself. Of those senators who, in 1850, became the objects of special denunciation for their steady adherence to southern rights, all have been endorsed by the people they represented save two—Turney, in whose State the whigs have been ever since in the ascendency , and myself. Yulee was shut out for a time; but Florida has lately done justice to him, and he is again in the Senate.
Others, with better fortune, have remained continually in place, and been re-elected. I have had the satisfaction to believe that the people of Mississippi have been misrepresented, in so far as it has been stated that they had repudiated my course; and for their sake, more than my own, I hope to die thus believing. I have seen something of the manoeuvring to which you refer in the attempts to amuse my friends with the shadow of naming me in connexion with the presidential ticket, and in the declaration that the democratic party north is entitled to the next senator. I am too mindful of my obligations to my friends in the northern part of the State to permit my name to be an obstacle to the accomplishment of any wish they may have in this matter; but there is a broad distinction between a few anxious candidates and the mighty people among whom they live; and I would certainly feel that I had labored to but little purpose if I had now to declare that my love for Mississippi was not graduated by the proximity of its parts to my own dwelling place. I have no means of knowing what will be the probable result; and I could not attempt to affect it by personal solicitation. My position is easily stated, and is that which I have heretofore held; if the legislature should elect me to the Senate, I will accept the honor with pride, and zealously endeavor to discharge the duties of the office. If they should prefer another for their senator, I shall retire to private life, in that position to labor for the honor and interest of our State. Now, as heretofore, I prefer the office of senator to any other, and recent experience has confirmed me in the feeling I expressed to you years ago of total unwillingness to accept any office which Mississippi did not confer. It would certainly be desirable to me that I should not be balloted for if there is any rule founded upon place of residence, or any other paramount consideration, to prevent my election; but that is a matter which I leave to my friends, not only because I am without the information which would enable me to decide the question, but also because, as I cannot ask any member for his vote, or refuse to serve if elected, so I cannot ask any one to consider me out of the list of candidates.
You have lately canvassed the State, and have had opportunities to know the state of public feeling on this subject. You will be present at the session of the legislature, and your general acquaintance with the members will enable you to tell them whatever they desire to know of my feelings and opinions, as you have long been possessed of both. It is part of man’s weakness and vanity to suppose that others preserve a remembrance of what belongs to himself; and thus it appeared to me surprising that members of the legislature should have believed in ’54 that I would not accept the office of senator if elected. A little more knowledge of the world might have taught me how, in the busy whirl of politics, men might in less than a year forget the last occasion on which I had surrendered my own personal wishes, interest, and ambition, to serve in a post where my political friends of the South insisted they had special need for me; and how, at a period a little more remote, I had resigned the office, which of all others I preferred, to be a candidate for an office wholly undesirable to me, that I might thus serve my party—may I not say my State?—when the clouds and darkness of a disastrous defeat hung over it.
But if these and other things, which might have assured them as to what course mine might be, were forgotten, I am sure they had not learned that the election of another would be heralded as my defeat, and offered as further confirmation of Mississippi’s condemnation of the political course pursued by me when her representative. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 5, pp. 147-149. Transcribed from the Washington Union, January 26, 1856.