Desperate Times, Desperate Measures, Desperate Politics
T he President is annoyed, has lost his temper, and seems distressed and almost gloomy," wrote Thomas Bragg the day after his departure from the cabinet. As the military situation grew desperate in February and March 1862, Davis appeared increasingly beleaguered. "All is lost," Bragg feared. "Our people are dispirited and losing confidence."1 He no doubt exaggerated. The spirit of self-sacrifice had by no means disappeared, and calls for throwing back the Yankee invaders and even taking the offensive echoed across the Confederacy.
A combination of despair over recent defeats, criticism of the government, and continuing faith in Jefferson Davis tested the mettle of a political system that had little place for legitimate opposition. Pockets of disloyalty had appeared in several states, attacks on the administration had become more vocal, debates on strategy had intensified, and the need for strong war measures had grown apace. Yet the prevalence of antiparty attitudes prevented administration critics from coalescing into an effective opposition. During the spring of 1862 enactment of the first conscription law and the suspension of habeas corpus raised questions that revealed anew the intimate and complex relationship between Confederate policies and state politics, as well as fundamental differences over the meaning of the Confederate revolution.