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Davis' 1861 Speech Looked at State of the Confederacy

As Confederate and Union armies prepared to go to winter quarters in 1861, military operations began to wane. Inclement weather usually kept the two warring parties from major engagements when the temperatures were frigid and the roads nearly impassable. While soldiers settled down for a few months of boredom, politicians made speeches about either side’s cause. In November 1861, President Jefferson Davis faced the Confederate Congress for what could be called his State of the Union address.

The year of 1861 had been a trying one for Davis. Early in the year when Mississippi seceded from the Union, Davis faced the United States’ Congress as one of the state’s senators. In his resignation speech, Davis bore no ill will to his colleagues from the north and the constituents they represent. Davis maintained he and his constituents hoped for “peaceable relations” with the north but also warned they would defend the south with “firm hearts and strong arms.”

Following that speech, Davis returned to his Briarfield plantation near Vicksburg, Miss., only to be selected to be President of the Confederacy. In his new position, Davis attempted to build a country, a new currency and create an army while at war.

Davis lauded a succession of victories at Bethel, Manassas, Springfield, Lexington, Leesburg and Belmont. Davis maintained such victories, “checked the wicked invasion which greed of gain and the unhallowed lust for power brought upon our soil, and has proved that numbers cease to avail when directed against a people fighting for the sacred right of self-government and the privileges of freemen.”

The southern president described the recent harvest as good, the Confederate financial system as “hopeful” and recent Federal military operations as “barbarous.” Davis criticized the Lincoln administration and Union army for initiating battles in the south when the fledgling Confederacy only wanted to be left alone to build a new nation. Davis also mentioned the on-going Trent Affair involving two Confederate diplomats who were taken off a British vessel and imprisoned in Boston harbor.

The challenge of building a new nation also caused the south to embrace more industry in the region. While the harvest of agriculture had been good, the south also began the work of becoming more self sufficient with industry of their own.

Davis also looked forward to an improving railroad system throughout the South. At the start of the Civil War, southern railroads were not uniform with different widths of rails.

Davis thanked a kind Providence for the South’s military victories over the past seven months and a bountiful agricultural harvest. Davis looked to that same Providence to deliver the South from the war he knew would continue in the New Year.

In closing, Davis paid tribute to the southern people stating, “Liberty is always won where there exists the unconquerable will to be free.”