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 doubtful.
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 counteract it.
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 manufacturing powers.
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.