Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

By Felicity Allen | Go to book overview
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Civil war was raging under the Capitol dome as Congress convened in December 1865, Republicans lined up against each other. The speech of Schuyler Colfax had been the opening gun. The battle was over what should be done with, or to, the Southern states. Moderates were for President Andrew Johnson's plan of Reconstruction, to restore the Union; Radicals were for keeping the states out of the Union, and ruling them as conquered provinces. Thaddeus Stevens marshaled Radicals in the House, and Charles Sumner, in the Senate. 1

Jefferson Davis saw a likeness to the French Revolution, when “the most violent passions were developed after the strife had ceased, for then the blood shedding passed from the cruel sword to the more cruel gown, from the necessities of the battle field to the vindictiveness of the party.” So did the British minister who said Sumner was “very like Robespierre”—“remorseless.” On January 16, 1866, Sumner resolved that Davis and Clay should be tried “before a military tribunal or courtmartial.” It looked as if Joseph Holt would get his way. 2

Davis was in the midst of a letter to Varina when he heard this and said, “you can no longer cherish the hope which was formerly indulged.”

Strengthen your heart for the high responsibilities imposed on you & go forward on the path of duty, accepting every providence with the comforting assurance that it must be right. Truth is powerful and the common sense of justice recoils, after the paroxism of passion subsides, from continuance in wrong doing. Then I say, of the final result of any proceeding against me, be hopeful; my conduct has been too public, too consistent to be perverted, after slanderers are confronted by true witnesses.

Luckily for Davis, the Senate was cool just then to Sumner's proposals. This one was never implemented. 3 461


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