Jefferson Davis served as both a United States Representative and Senator from Mississippi, Secretary of War, 1853-1857 under President Franklin Pierce, and President of the Confederate States, 1861-1865. He was a staunch Southern Unionist who strived to find peaceful solutions to the sectional controversies that would lead to secession of the Southern States. The “Know-Nothingism” mentioned below was a Northern nativist political party of the late 1840s and 1850s which opposed the immigration of Irish and German Catholics — Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts and New Yorker Millard Fillmore were leaders of the party. The following is excerpted from Jefferson Davis’ address of October 2, 1857 at Mississippi City.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Grecian Horses into the Southern Troy
“Colonel Davis rose . . . and referred to various events in the early history of Mississippi . . . that she had never violated the compact of our Union, and unresistingly borne disproportionate burthens for the support of the general government in peace . . . [and] at the first call for soldiers to maintain the honor of the national flag, had, like a Spartan mother, girded the sword upon her sons, who knew well they could never return to the maternal embrace unless they came covered with honorable fame or wrapped in the shroud of death.
[Regarding incessant Northern aggressions borne by the South, were] we to have more compromises to gather further disappointment, and sink still lower from the equality which our Fathers maintained, and transmitted to us? Fraternity and mutual alliance for the interests of each was the motive and purpose for which the Union was formed.
Preparation in the South to maintain her rights in any contingency which the future might and was likely to bring forth, would best serve to strengthen her Northern allies, if they remained true; and would best enable her to dispense with their services, if they should desert.
It was not upon mere party relation that his hopes were founded; it was upon the elevating, purifying power of the doctrine of State rights and strict construction [of the United States Constitution] – the Shibboleth which none but Democrats can pronounce.
In the earlier, and might well be said, in the purer days of the Republic, Mr. Jefferson pronounced the Northern Democracy the neutral allies of the South, and if that alliance was broken there was surely no other on which to rely.
From the foundation of the Government, the party opposed to the Democracy, under its various names and issues had always evinced its tendency to centralization by the latitudinous construction of the powers delegated to the Federal Government.
As examples, he cited the charter of the United States Bank, the enactment of a tariff for protection, a system of internal improvements, a genera distribution of public lands and of public treasure, and last, lowest in tone, and, as its name implied, in intelligence, Know-Nothingism, with its purpose to concede to the Federal Government the power to prescribe the terms on which naturalized citizens should be invested with the right of suffrage in the States.
He said that he considered every departure from strict construction of grants to the Federal Government, as the introduction of another Grecian horse into our Southern Troy, and he invoked every Mississippian to united and vigilant resistance to every such measure.
The South, as a minority section, can alone be secure in her rights by resolutely maintaining the equality and independence of the States, and thus alone could we hope to make our Union perpetual and effective for the great purposes for which it was ordained and established.
He then urged the necessity of home education, of normal schools, and Southern school-books, as the next step after the mother’s pious training in the formation of that character which was essential to progress toward that high destiny to which his anticipation pointed.
If, as was sometimes asserted, Governments contain within themselves the elements of their own destruction, as animate beings have their growth, their maturity to decay; if ours, the last, best hope of civil liberty was, like the many experiments which preceded it, to be engulfed in the sea of time . . . [he hoped] Mississippi would stand conspicuous for all that was virtuous and noble; that through the waves of fanaticism, anarchy and civil strife, her sons would be the Levites who would bear the ark of the Constitution, and when unable to save it from wreck, that in the pile of its sacred timbers their bones would be found mingled.”
(Speech at Mississippi City; The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 6, 1856-1860, L. Crist/M. Dix, editors, LSU Press, 1989, excerpts, pp. 138-139; 153-155)