Editorial on Jefferson Davis


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, May 18, 1861

This edition of Harper's Weekly has a number of important stories and illustrations. Of particular note are the full page illustrations of Union Soldiers and Wilson's Fighting Brigade. These are nice examples of period uniforms and equipment. There is also a nice Full page illustration of some Confederate Soldiers under the Rebel Flag.

(Scroll down to see entire page, Newspaper Thumbnails will take you to the page of interest)


The lady Davis

The Washington Arsenal

Editorial on Jeff Davis

Virginia Joins Civil War

Virginia Joins the Civil War

Union Soldiers

Union Soldiers

Civil War Riot

Civil War Riot

War Ship Brooklyn

Warship Brooklyn


The Virginian

Ohio Soldiers

Ohio Soldiers

Wilson's fighting Brigade

Wilson's Fighting Brigade

Rebel Soldiers

Confederate Soldiers

Ft. Pickens

Reinforcement of Fort Pickens

Cotton on a Riverboat

The Long Bridge Over the Potomac

Treasury Grounds




[MAY 18, 1861.



I KNOW the sun shines, and the lilacs are blowing, And Summer sends kisses by beautiful May

Oh ! to see all the treasures the Spring is bestowing, And think—my boy Willie enlisted to-day!

It seems but a day since at twilight, low humming, I rocked him to sleep with his cheek upon mine, While Robby, the four-year old, watched for the coming Of father, adown the street's indistinct line.

It is many a year since my Harry departed,

To come back no more in the twilight or dawn; And Robby grew weary of watching, and started Alone, on the journey his father had gone.

It is many a year—and this afternoon, sitting

At Robby's old window, I heard the band play, And suddenly ceased dreaming over my knitting To recollect Willie is twenty to-day;

And that, standing beside him this soft May-day morning, The sun making gold of his wreathed cigar-smoke, I saw in his sweet eyes and lips a faint warning, And choked down the tears when he eagerly spoke :

"Dear mother, you know how those traitors are crowing, They trample the folds of our flag in the dust; The boys are all fire; and they wish I were going—" He stopped, but his eyes said, "Oh say if I must!"

I smiled on the boy though my heart it seemed breaking : My eyes filled with tears, so I turned them away, And answered him, " Willie, 'tis well you are waking—. Go, act as your father would bid you, to-day!"

I sit in the window and see the flags flying, And dreamily list to the roll of the drum,

And smother the pain in my heart that is lying, And bid all the fears in my bosom be dumb.

I shall sit in the window when Summer is lying Out over the fields, and the honey-bees' hum

Lulls the rose at the porch from her tremulous sighing, And watch for the face of my darling to come.

And if he should fall....his young life he has given For Freedom's sweet sake.. ..and for me, I will pray Once more with my Harry and Robby in heaven To meet the dear boy that enlisted to-day.



SATURDAY, MAY 18, 1861.


MR. JEFFERSON DAVIS, Ex-Senator from Mississippi, has transmitted to the select council of rebels at Montgomery a document which he calls " a Message." It is a most ingenious and plausible statement of their case. Mr. Jefferson Davis is renowned for having made the most specious argument on record in justification of Mississippi repudiation. He has not forgotten his cunning. His "Message" would almost persuade us—if we could forget facts and law—that rebellion is right, and the maintenance of government and the enforcement of law a barefaced usurpation. Unhappily for him, our common-school system, at the North, impresses so indelibly upon our minds the cardinal facts and the fundamental principles upon which our government rests that each reader will refute his fallacies as they meet his eye.

The idea which constitutes the basis of his theory is that of independent State sovereignty. He holds that no State parted with its sovereign rights on the formation of the Union ; that the Union was essentially a confederacy of States; and that each State which entered into the partnership is as free to leave as it was to join it. In support of this view Mr. Davis adduces a number of plausible arguments and some specious statements of fact.

Mr. Davis overlooks several facts and arguments which are rather more important than those which he alleges in support of his peculiar views. It is undoubtedly true that an influential political party has for many years upheld the doctrine of State sovereignty. But their views amount to nothing when opposed to the naked fact that the Constitution is a compact, not between States, but among " people." " We, the people of the United States, for the purpose of forming a more perfect union," etc., are the words of the Constitution. If Mr. Davis and his confederates are right in their understanding of the Constitution of the United States, why did they alter it when they adopted a Constitution at Montgomery, and insert the clause "each State acting in its separate sovereign capacity?" Is not this amendment an admission that the old Constitution was not a league among States, but among people ? Why, again, does not Mr. Davis make some explanation of the case of Alabama, which State, by special act of its Legislature, declared that it could not secede from the Union without the consent of the United States? Why does he say nothing of Florida and Louisiana, which were bought, or of Texas, which was only secured by force of arms—none of which States can therefore have displayed much sovereignty in becoming members of the Union? These were questions with which it would have been well for Mr. Davis to grapple, when he undertook the justification of disunion on abstract legal grounds.

For our part, we don't think the legal points involved in this disunion business worth discussing. Conceding all that Mr. Davis claims in his argument, statesmen will recognize reasons superior to any that he sets forth for maintaining the Union inviolate at all hazards.

When this Union was established, eighty years ago, it consisted of 3,000,000 of people, scattered along the Atlantic coast from the Penobscot to the coast of Florida. It is preposterous to suppose that these 3,000,000 of dwellers by the sea-coast foresaw the nation they were going to beget in eighty years : and it is absurd to pretend that the principles by which they shaped their petty destiny must necessarily control that of a nation of over 30,000,000 people, inhabiting the whole continent between the oceans, and stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Our growth has created necessities—political and military—which were not dreamed of by the founders of the Republic. It has compelled us to purchase Louisiana and Florida--purchases which would have seemed wholly unnecessary to the framers of the Constitution, because, in their day, the necessity for them did not exist. It has led to the establishment of the Monroe doctrine, which the limited sphere of the original thirteen States would have never suggested to their imagination. And now, it compels us to put down secession by force of arms, notwithstanding that one or two of the original thirteen States did, eighty years ago, in the different circumstances of that day, contemplate such a resort.

Events modify the policy of nations. Eighty years ago, the experiment of a great independent nation on American soil was undetermined. Many sound minds believed that it would not answer. Under those circumstances, it is easy to understand why a prosperous State like New York, with a fine harbor and a promising commercial future, should have reserved the right of withdrawing from the experimental Confederacy, if it proved a failure. But the reservation became null and void after the experiment was proved to be a success by eighty years' successful working, and by the consolidation of the original three millions of maritime people into a great and wealthy nation of thirty millions. All the reservations, express or implied, which accompanied the Acts of the original ,thirteen State Legislatures ratifying the Constitution, were predicated upon the apprehension that the Union experiment might prove a failure. Its success did away with them all.

From the moment the people of the United States constituted a great nation, a political and military necessity for union came into existence. This necessity was vital and paramount. It was the only possible guarantee they could obtain for peace, growth, and prosperity. Without union, incessant intestine wars were inevitable. Without union, they could never have assumed a commanding rank among nations ; never have been secure from the ambitious designs of foreign invaders ; never have efficiently protected their commerce or their citizens abroad ; never have developed their free political institutions at home.

For these vital considerations—involving not only the progress and prosperity but the liberties and existence of the nation—good men hold that, even if every original State had expressly reserved the right of secession in ratifying the Constitution, it would still be our duty to fight to the last to resist secession now, under the altered circumstances in which we are placed.

But the hour for argument has passed. Mr. Davis has called 100,000 men into the field, and commits the destiny of his rebellion to the arbitrament of arms. The United States accept the challenge. Heaven knows they have been long-suffering enough. They have submitted to see their forts seized, their revenue-cutters stolen, their arsenals plundered, their citizens outraged, their flag fired upon, their officers exiled, their authority defied and insulted in every possible way. At last they have arisen in their might, and as we write the war has begun. It is a sad, a cruel emergency to all of us. But the die is now cast ; and we can only say, in buckling on our armor — GOD DEFEND THE RIGHT !



THE readers of the early numbers of Harper's Weekly will remember the pleasant gossip of town life published in these very columns under the title of " The Bohemian." They were written by Edward G. P. Wilkins, whose name became subsequently well known as the author of several successful plays, the latest of which was "Henriette." Mr. Wilkins was the dramatic critic of the Herald, and wrote airy and sparkling feuilletons for the Saturday Press. His peculiar gifts promised a conspicuous career ; but a brief illness ended his life on the 4th of May.

Personally, " The Bohemian" was unknown to the Lounger ; but he was well known to him, as to others, through the warm words of admiring friends. And now that the pen of the kindly critic and genial author is laid aside forever, there is a melancholy fitness in naming him here, scattering rosemary upon his early grave.


"ALL that we want," says Mr. Jeff Davis, " is to be let alone." All that the rebels in Charleston wanted, when they were for five months building batteries to fire upon the United States flag and take a United States fortress, was to be let alone.

All that the rebels of New Orleans wanted, when they stole the Mint, was to be let alone. All that General Braxton Bragg wanted, as he concentrated troops and reared batteries against Fort Pickens, was to be let alone. All that the rebels who took the navy-yard and hospitals at Pensacola wanted was to be let alone. All that Floyd wanted, as he robbed the treasury of the United States and put the arms of the people of the country within reach of the rebellion, was to be let alone. All that Toucey wanted, as he sent the ships away and put the navy-yards into the hands of weak men, was to be let alone. All that Cobb wanted, as he strained himself to create a disastrous financial panic in the country, was to be let alone. All that the Virginia traitors who went to seize the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, and were going to possess the navy-yard at Gosport, wanted was to be let alone. All that the Baltimore Plug Uglies want at this moment is to be let alone. And Jeff Davis, at the head of a rebellion which struggles to destroy the government of the United States, and would snatch Washington if it could, merely wants to be let alone. Yes, and Guy Fawkes going to touch the slow-match which should explode the powder in the cellar of the Parliament House only wanted to be let alone. Hicks, who murdered the sloop's crew last year, only wanted to be let alone. The forger writing your name, the incendiary kindling your store, the thief picking your pocket, the burglar breaking into your house, only want to be let alone.

My friend, if you cry out so lustily, when you see the sheriff's officer coming, that you want to be let alone, I shall do my best to detain you until the officer comes up.

During all the years in which the mind of a section of the country has been carefully prepared for this rebellion, the leaders of the movement and their friends have said, politely, " All that we wish is to be let alone. We think that we understand ourselves better than you understand us—so, if you please, only let us alone." There was an inexpressible sarcasm in this request. They certainly did understand themselves better than we understood them. They were " let alone"—and this is the consequence.

They have led us by the nose, and kicked us, and laughed at us, and scorned us in their very souls as cravens and tuppenny tinkers. They have swelled, and swaggered, and sworn, and lorded it in Washington and at the North, as if they were peculiarly gentlemen, because they lived by the labor of wretched men and women whom they did not pay—whom they sold to pay their debts, and whipped and maimed savagely at their pleasure. They have snorted superciliously about their rights, while they deprived four millions of human beings of all rights whatsoever, and have sought to gain such control of the General Government that they might override altogether the state laws which protect the equal rights of men. They have aimed to destroy the beneficent popular system which peacefully and patiently and lawfully was working out the great problem of civilization; and while they have been digging about the foundations of the temple to make sure of its downfall, they have loftily replied to our inquiries, " We only want to be let alone."

The treachery, the meanness, of the whole rebellion now stand exposed to the world. There is nothing heroic in it, nothing just, nothing fair: nothing that appeals to any emotion in the breast of honest men but detestation and contempt. The only two things that have lately flourished in the region which has bred this rebellion are cotton and treason. And the conspirators, who have now made this clear enough to the dullest mind, will discover that the Government of their country will "let them alone" only when they have paid the penalty of the most monstrous social crime by flight or the halter, and when the seeds of the treason they have sown are utterly destroyed.


THERE are times when neutrality is impossible, because neutrality implies inaction, and inaction necessarily favors one party more than the other. If a man sees another running toward him followed by the cry of stop thief, and stands aside upon the plea that he wishes to be neutral, he helps the thief and does all he can at the moment to encourage robbery. Or when a riot breaks out and the military are called upon to quell it, every soldier who refuses to march because he does not care whether the rioters are suppressed or victorious, is responsible in his degree for the consequences of the riot.

When the Government of the United States summons all loyal citizens to help resist a rebellion, if any citizen says that the troops shall not march over his land to reach the rebels, he is one of the rebels whom the troops are to put down. His inaction is simply a barrier between the criminal and the officer. So when Kentucky or Maryland or Missouri talk about neutrality in this contest they assert the very principle of the superiority of the State to the National power, which is the life-blood of the whole treason.

There is no necessary conflict between the State and National authorities. The Constitution of the United States declares that all laws which shall be made in pursuance of the Constitution "shall be the supreme law of the land, any thing in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." The President swears to support those laws, and he is made commander of the whole force of the country for that purpose. If any body is dissatisfied with the operation of those laws he has a two-fold remedy : he may endeavor to change the policy of Congress that laws objectionable to him may be repealed, and if they were objectionable to the greater number of citizens, they will be repealed. In the second place, he may bring his action in the Supreme Court of the United States.

When, therefore, the President calls upon the country to sustain the laws and the Government by force of arms, whoever cries hands off is a rebel. If, for instance, the people of Kentucky wish that

the Government of the United States should be maintained, and to maintain it, it should be necessary to march loyal citizens through the State of Kentucky, what do they mean when they say that those citizens shall not come? They mean that they don't care whether that Government is maintained or not.

Of course there are plenty of loyal men in Kentucky. But they are not enough to put the State upon a loyal footing. There are so many disloyal men that the friends of the Government agree to compromise upon this vague ground of neutrality. They can not stand there. Either the loyal men will openly fight under the flag of the country, or the disloyal men will run up the rattlesnake. Because the Government, maintaining its authority over all the domain of the United States, will move wherever it is necessary to move. Whoever impedes its movement is a traitor, and must be so considered.


THE pleasantest and aptest reading in these days is our Revolutionary history and literature. It is good to see what the men who made this Government thought and said, for it is an inspiration to those who are now maintaining and defending it. "The cause of the United States," said the Continental Congress as it resigned its functions, "is the cause of human nature." In the introduction to " Common Sense"—the pamphlet which crystallized the revolution of the colonies for independence—Thomas Paine had written: "The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind." When William Moultrie, with his pipe in his mouth, held the fort, which bears his name, against Sir Peter Parker, the flag under which he fought was a white flag with a crescent and the motto " Liberty." The Virginia Declaration of Rights was the germ of the Declaration of Independence. It was drawn by George Mason, in a convention of which Edmund Pendleton was President, and Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Archibald Cary, and Richard Blond were members. This paper, which is still the Bill of Rights of Virginia, struck a higher key in the morals and philosophy of human society than had ever been sounded. It declared that " All men are by nature equally free, and have inherent rights of which when they enter into a state of society, they can not, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity : namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

Then came the Declaration of Independence, which every inhabitant of the country should read certainly once a year, that he may clearly understand the American theory of the rightful origin of government, and that the revolutionary principle, as it is called, is not anarchy, but the assertion of the right of the last desperate resource when life and liberty and property are no longer protected by the government.

This knowledge is the more necessary because the Davis rebellion, in the last emergency, undertakes to justify itself upon the plea of the right of revolution. Before that can be sustained, however, it is for the rebels to show that in any particular, or at any time, the Government of the United States has injured their lives, liberties, or property. They do not dare to say it. They assert simply that certain men and women are property, and then assume that the Government of the United States may at some time, and in some way, interfere with that property, and therefore, to avoid the chance, they will try to break up that Government. This is the substance of Davis's message and of Stephens's recent speech.

The American Revolution was fought upon the principle that all men have an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that therefore Government must be founded on common consent ; and the Jeff Davis rebels are trying to destroy the Government lest in some way it should prevent their depriving certain people of those rights at their pleasure. That a body of men should attempt the destruction of a Government which secures these fundamental rights to the great majority is bad enough ; but that they should attempt it because it may, by its lawful and peaceful operation, ultimately secure them to all, is devilish.

Let it, then, be distinctly understood that this Jeff Davis rebellion is an effort to override the normal operation of our Government by the merest Mexican anarchy ; and it is pushed with this desperation because the late election shows that, under the peaceful operation of our political system—the most just and benign known in history—the barbarism which has clogged and disgraced us as a nation will be surely and safely eliminated from our society. It is an insurrection against the common sense and common conscience of mankind, and against the inevitable course of Christian civilization.


THE letter of Secretary Seward to Mr. Dayton, Minister to France, ought to convince the most skeptical that there is no man who more clearly comprehends this crisis than the Secretary of State. Certainly no honest statesman was ever more suspected and abused than he has been ; and yet he has been calmly consistent from the beginning.

Believing that it was necessary to exhaust every chance of pacific settlement, not from timidity or ignorance of the nationality of our Government, but in order to consolidate public opinion at home and destroy all pretense of premature severity which might be urged by the rebellion to foreign courts, Mr. Seward's policy, both as Senator and Secretary, has been to put the rebels utterly in the wrong, that their moral defeat might precede their discomfiture in battle. No other policy than this could have saved the Government, for no other could have so indissolubly joined the hearts and hands of loyal men. Mr. Seward has been called (Next Page)



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