Jefferson Davis' Speech at Washington, D.C.
City Hall grounds, July 9, 1860
Happy am I to greet this vast multitude, assembled in the cause of our common country. I deeply regret that my physical inability to address you as my heart prompts, requires me to be exceedingly brief. Here for many years it has been my fortune to spend a portion of my time. For four years I was connected with you continually; learned to know your moral attributes; learned to know your peculiar characteristics. I knew how to labor for your natural interests. I trust, therefore, I may be allowed to speak to you of the people of Washington. Some entertain the foolish idea that because you have no vote, therefore you have no right to interfere in the national politics of the day. But you have the deepest interest; that high intelligence which sends forth its promptings to every portion of the country. Why then should not you assemble? Why should you not speak to your fellow-citizens of every portion of the country? Who else so deeply interested in the affairs of the Federal Government? Who else so dependent upon just administration of federal affairs? Who else so deeply interested in having the government administered with full and equal justice to all; and that it should be preserved in those vital energies which give protection whereever legislation exists? But we have heard it said that the democratic party is dead. Dead! Here I lay my hand upon its heart, and in its quick pulsations feel that vitality that sends it to victory. No, it is not dead. Born of the oppression of the mother country, when democracy arose to assert equal rights; baptised in the blood of the Revolution, rocked in the cradle of civil and religious liberty since 1800, it has lived, and lives to-day, with all its vital energies to fulfil the duties of this government, and meet the requirements of 1860. [Applause.] The speaker then proceeded briefly to contrast all the other parties in the country with the democratic.
First, he said, came that spurious and decayed off-shoot of democracy, which, claiming that this Federal government has no power, leaves the people our next greatest evil, despotism; and denies protection to our Constitutional rights. Next comes the party that proclaims the Union and the Constitution, but that dares not tell what the Constitution is--a mere catchword, sounding, but meaning nothing. Then, my friends, there is the "rail-splitter," aptly selected for the purpose, first proclaiming there was an "irrepressible conflict" between the sections; and having proved himself able to rend the yoke, who so fit as he, with such a theory as that, to be selected for the accursed performance of rending the Union? Then, my friends, comes the true democracy, proclaiming the Constitution and the Union, and what the Constitution is; writing your opinions on your banner, throwing it to the winds, and inviting all who believe to command worship at the altar of truth. [Applause.] This banner proclaims the futility of Abe Lincoln's efforts to rend the Union. Though he did rend the yoke, he will find the Constitution and the Union worse than any black gum in the forest.
Our cause is onward. Our car is the Constitution; our fires are up; let all who would ride into the haven of a peaceful country come on board, and those who will not, I warn that the cow- catcher is down--let stragglers beware! [Cheers.] We have before us in this canvass the highest duty which can prompt the devoted patriot. Our country is in danger. Our Constitution is assailed by those who would escape from declaring their opinions--by those who seek to torture its meaning, and by those who would trample upon its obligations. What is our Union? A bond of fraternity, by the mutual agreement of sovereign States; it is to be preserved by good faith--by strictly adhering to the obligations which exist between its friendly and confederate States. Otherwise we should transmit to our children the very evil under which our fathers groaned--a government hostile to the rights of the people, not resting upon their consent, trampling upon their privileges, and calling for their resistance. But I place my trust in democracy--in that democracy which has borne this country on from its commencement, which has illustrated all its bright passages of history, which has contributed to it all which is grand and manly, all which has elevated and contributed to its progress--the democracy of Washington, of Jefferson, of Jackson, and of Buchanan [great applause] shall be the democracy of the next four years. [Renewed applause.]
During the entire period of my intercourse with the people of Washington, I do not recollect of ever having seen such a multitude of citizens as those assembled here this evening. But more than that--during the time I have been speaking, as my eye runs over the vast throng before me, I can say never have I seen so quiet, so orderly, so patriotic a concourse of people (judging from the expression of their countenances) as is assembled here to-night. [Applause.]
The national democracy present a ticket to the country which may well inspire the most lofty patriotism. The name of Breckinridge comes down by lineal descent from one who asserted the great principles of 1798, as reaffirmed at Baltimore; and as for Lane, he is too modest to boast of the deeds of his younger days. No doubt he has split a hundred rails to Lincoln's one! [Laughter and cheers.] Let us then be encouraged to go into the conflict, determined to succeed, and transmit to our children the rich inheritance we have received from our fathers unimpaired. [Applause.]
From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 6, pp. 357-60. Transcribed from the Washington Evening Star, July 11, 1860.