Jefferson Davis' Speech at Richmond, Va.
Executive Mansion, January 5, 1863
Friends and Fellow-citizens: Of the title as corrected, I am proud--the other I would scorn to hold.--[Applause.]
I am happy to be welcomed on my return to the Capital of our Confederacy--the last hope, as I believe, for the perpetuation of that system of government which our forefathers founded--the asylum of the oppressed and the home of true representative liberty.
Here, in the ancient Commonwealth of Virginia the great principles of human government were proclaimed by your ancestors; here great battles for freedom have been fought, when the grand system they founded was attempted to be overturned by those who got possession of a government which they could not comprehend, and which, in six months, they see themselves wholly unable to administer.
Anticipating the overthrow of that Government which you had inherited, you assumed to yourselves the right, as your fathers had done before you, to declare yourselves independent, and nobly have you advocated the assertion which you have made. Here, upon your soil, some of the fiercest battles of the Revolution were fought, and upon your soil it closed by the surrender of Cornwallis. Here again are men of every State; here they have congregated, linked in the defence of a most sacred cause. They haved battled, they have bled upon your soil, and it is now consecrated by blood which cries for vengeance against the insensate foe of religion as well as of humanity, of the altar as well as of the hearthstone.
You have shown yourselves in no respect to be degenerate sons of your fathers. You have fought mighty battles, and your deeds of valor will live among the richest spoils of Time's ample page. It is true you have a cause which binds you together more firmly than your fathers were. They fought to be free from the usurpations of the British crown, but they fought against a manly foe. You fight against the offscourings of the earth.--[Applause.]
Men who were bound to you by the compact which their fathers and themselves had entered into to secure to you the rights and principles not only guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence, but rights which Virginia wisely and plainly reserved in her recognition of the government in which she took a part, now come to you with their hands steeped in blood, robbing the widow, destroying houses, seizing the grey-haired father, and incarcerating him in prison because he will not be a traitor to the principles of his fathers and the land that gave him birth.
Recently, my friends, our cause has had the brightest sunshine to fall upon it, as well in the West as in the East. Our glorious Lee, the valued son, emulating the virtues of the heroic Light-horse Harry, his father, has achieved a victory at Fredericksburg, and driven the enemy back from his last and greatest effort to get "on to Richmond." But a few, however, did get on to Richmond.--(Laughter.) A few, I trust, may come from every battle fleid to fulfil the pledge they made that they would come to Richmond-- but they will come as captives, not as conquerors. (Applause.)
In the West, too, at Murfreesboro you have gained a victory over hosts vastly superior to our own in number. You have achieved a result there as important, as brilliant as that which occurred on the soil of Virginia; and cotemporaneously at Vicksburg, where they were struggling to get possession of the great artery, the control of the Mississippi river, to answer the demands of the North West. In every combat there they have been beaten, and I trust they will be beaten in future. Out of this victory is to come that dissatisfaction in the North West, which will rive the power of that section; and thus we see in the future the dawn--first separation of the North West from the Eastern States, the discord among them which will paralyze the power of both;--then for us future peace and prosperity.
Every crime which could characterize the course of demons has marked the course of the invader. The Northern portion of Virginia has been ruthlessly desolated--the people not only deprived of the means of subsistence, but their household property destroyed, and every indignity which the base imagination of a merciless foe could suggest inflicted, without regard to age, sex or condition. In like manner their step has been marked in every portion of the Confederacy they have invaded. They have murdered prisoners of war; they have destroyed the means of subsistence of families; they have plundered the defenceless, and exerted their most malignant ingenuity to bring to the deepest destitution those whose only offence is that their husbands and sons are fighting for their homes and their liberties. In one instance, in the Northwestern part of Mississippi, I have heard of them plundering the home of a poor widow, taking her only cow, and then offering her the oath of allegiance as the terms upon which they would furnish her rations. Worthy to be a matron of the Southern Confederacy, she refused it, and when I last heard of her, which was before the enemy was driven from her home, she was living upon parched corn. May God bless her. She is worthy to be a Matron of the Southern Confederacy. (Applause.)--Every crime conceivable, from the burning of defenceless towns to the stealing of our silver forks, and spoons, has marked their career. In New Orleans Butler has exerted himself to earn the execrations of the civilised world, and now returns with his dishonors thick upon him to receive the plaudits of the only people on earth who do not blush to think he wears the human form. He has stolen millions of dollars in New Orleans from private citizens, although the usages of war exempt private property from taxation by the enemy. It is in keeping, however, with the character of the people that seeks dominion over you, claim to be your masters, to try to reduce you to subjection--give up to a brutal soldiery your towns to sack, your homes to pillage and incite servile insurrection. But in the latter point they have failed save in this that they have heaped if possible a deeper disgrace upon themselves. They have come to disturb your social organizations on the plea that it is a military necessity. For what are they waging war? They say to preserve the Union. Can they preserve the Union by destroying the social existence of a portion of the South? Do they hope to reconstruct the Union by striking at everything which is dear to man? By showing themselves so utterly disgraced that if the question was proposed to you whether you would combine with hyenas or Yankees, I trust every Virginian would say, give me the hyenas.-- [Cries of "Good! good!" and applause.]
My friends, constant labor in the duties of office, borne down by care, and with an anxiety which has left me scarcely a moment for repose, I have had but little opportunity for social intercourse among you. I thank you for this greeting, and hope the time may come soon when you and I alike, relieved of the anxieties of the hour, may have more of social intercourse than has heretofore existed, and that I may come to participate in those quiet enjoyments that one cannot experience when his mind is constantly dwelling upon the struggles of his country. Whilst a man's sympathy is attracted by the sufferings of fellow creatures, whilst every pulse of his heart beats in response to the trials, and every thought is directed to the dangers of his country, there is little time for the cultivation of the social enjoyments that pertain to a time of peace. I can only give this as my excuse for my seldom appearance among you. I can also say, with entire sincerity, that I have nothing to regret, coupled with all the sacrifices which this struggle for the independence of our Confederacy has brought to me. I have borne my full share in the sacrifices of the people of whom I am a part, but I now feel if they had been greater they would have served only to render me more devoted to you. (Applause.)
War is an evil in every form in which it can be presented, but it has its palliating circumstances. This is a new government, formed of independent States, each jealous of its own sovereignty. It is necessary that it should be tried in the severe erucible in which we are being tested, in order to cement us together. The enjoyments and comforts we have been compelled to renounce, the long months of deep anxiety each has felt, the unceasing labors that have tested our united energies, the sacrifices we have been subjected to in common, and the glory which encircles our brow has made us a band of brothers, and, I trust, we will be united forever. (Applause.)
On your soil has the blood of every State been shed--from your soil has gone home the maimed soldier, and the soldier disabled by disease, and to every State of the Confederacy has been borne the story of the hospitality of Virginians; how the kind women have nursed his wasted form and bathed his fevered brow. When in years to come arises the recollection of these kind attentions, his eyes will fill with tears of gratitude and in his heart he will bless the good women of Virginia.
By the firm friendship soldiers from different States have formed and cemented by mutual hardships and dangers; by the glory in which all alike participate; by the congeniality of thought and sentiment, which united us at first in a common destiny, and the thousand events and associations which have since tended to render us more united by all these causes the existence of jealousies and rivalries will be prevented, and when peace and prosperity shall come to us, we will go on assisting each other to develop the great political ideas upon which our Government is based and the immense resources which nature has lavished upon us. Of the former we are awakening to an appreciation of their deep significance. In the latter direction we are displaying unexampled energy. Our mines have been made to yield up neglected wealth, and manufactories start up as if by magic. We are becoming independent in several ways. If the war continues, we shall only grow stronger and stronger as each year rolls on. Compare our condition to-day with that which existed one year ago. See the increasing power of the enemy, but mark that our own has been proportionably greater, until we see in the future nothing to disturb the prospect of the independence for which we are struggling.--One year ago many were depressed and some despondent. Now deep resolve is seen in every eye, an unconquerable spirit nerves every arm. And gentle woman, too, who can estimate the value of her services in this struggle? [Applause.] The mother who has given her son, the wife who has given her husband, the girl who has given her sweetheart, are not all their fingers busy making clothing for the troops in the field, and their words of encouragement a most animating impulse to the soldier? Whilst their prayers go up for the safety of a friend or relative in the field, always coupled with them is the earnest aspiration for the independence of our country. With such noble women at home, and such heroic soldiers in the field, we are invincible. [Applause.]
I thank you my friends for the kind salutation to-night, it is an indication that at some future time we shall be better acquainted. I trust we shall all live to enjoy some of the fruits of the great struggle in which we are engaged. My prayers are for your individual and collective welfare. May God prosper our cause and may we live to give to our children untarnished the rich inheritance which our Fathers gave to us. Good night.
From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 9, pp. 10-16. Transcribed from the Richmond Enquirer, January 7, 1863.