Jefferson Davis Resigns from U.S. Senate after Mississippi Secedes
On Jan. 21, 1861, Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi officially resigned from the U.S. Senate because his state had seceded from the Union. Davis had argued against secession on numerous occasions, but as a strong supporter of states’ rights he acknowledged the legality of secession. On January 9 Mississippi became the second state (after South Carolina) to secede from the Union, and when Davis received official notification he submitted his resignation. In his farewell speech he commented: “I am sure I feel no hostility toward you, Senators of the North. I am sure there is not one of you, whatever sharp discussion there may have been between us, to whom I cannot say in the presence of my God, I wish you well…it only remains for me to bid you a final adieu.”
A West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican-American War, Davis had been secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce as well as both a representative and senator from Mississippi. Well liked and respected, he was almost the Democratic candidate for the 1860 presidential election. When his state left the Union, however, Davis went with it.
He had served his nation well, but when he left the U.S. Senate Jefferson Davis went on to serve a new nation, the Confederate States of America. On Feb. 9, 1861, a convention at Montgomery, Alabama, appointed him president of the Confederacy; his inauguration took place on February 18 and he served for the duration of the Civil War.
Davis’s Senate resignation occurred during a tumultuous time. In the following article reporting his departure from the Senate, other congressional resignations are noted, as well as questions about postal service, free navigation on the Mississippi River, and the ominous situation with Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. This article was published by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on Jan. 22, 1861:
The Latest News.
The Latest from the Federal Capital.
Farewell of Senators and Representatives.
The Post Office at Pensacola Discontinued.
Speeches of Corwin and Millson.
The Latest from the Seceding States.
Special Dispatch to the Inquirer.
Washington, Jan. 22—[Speeches] of Senators Davis, Yulee, Fitzpatrick, Clay and Mallory were listened to, this morning, by a large audience, and produced a deep effect, especially the eloquent farewell of Senator Mallory, who was himself in tears during its delivery. When, on concluding, he stepped from the Senate Chamber and shook hands with the venerable Crittenden, even the ultra Republicans seemed touched.
The Alabama delegation also retired from the House, and the Republicans begin to feel that upon them rests the responsibility of preserving the Union. Will they do it?
Plain Talk from Mr. Corwin
After the expiration of the morning hour, the “Wagon Boy of the West” took his position in the centre of the House, and went on to show the causes which, for years past, have led to the present condition of affairs. Rising above partisan harness, and lashing the obstinate and opinionated of both sections, he produced a powerful impression.
The Virginia Proposition
Two Virginia politicians have arrived here, to aid in settling the secession controversy on the basis proposed by that State.
It appears that the ordinance framed by the Convention of the people of Mississippi, when they drafted its constitution, and by virtue of which they became a State, declared that “the river Mississippi shall be a common highway, and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of this State as to other citizens of the United States.” A similar compact is made, in almost the same words, by the ordinance of the Convention which framed the Constitution of Alabama in 1819, in reference to “all navigable waters” within that State.
Postmaster General Holt has virtually stopped the postal arrangements of Florida, by discontinuing the office at Pensacola, where they have been opening letters addressed to the officers at Fort Pickens.
Mr. Bigler’s Speech
Mr. Bigler’s speech today is highly praised. At the close it was complimented by General Cameron, whose avowal of a determination to unite with his colleagues in measures to save the Union, was generally commended.
The Georgia delegation will retire on Tuesday.
The Southern Confederacy
It is now thought that Jefferson Davis will be elected President of the Southern Confederacy, by the Montgomery Convention, on the fourth of next month.
Colonel Totten has received a dispatch from Governor Pickens, refusing permission to officers to visit Fort Sumter on regular inspection duty.
The following reporter was hopeful that war could be averted, and seemed to feel no sadness at the departure of Jefferson Davis and other secessionists. His comments were published by the Boston Daily Advertiser (Boston, Massachusetts) on Jan. 24, 1861:
Letter from Washington
(From our own correspondent.)
Washington, Jan. 21, 1861.
The tide is certainly turning. The excitement is wearing itself out. It is not so very easy to show how or where, but one feels in the atmosphere that the disunionists are checked and wavering, and it would not take much to turn the scale against them. People have not the air of war that one would expect. They do not believe in war at the bottom of their hearts, and even Jefferson Davis is thought to be no enemy of conciliation.
…Mr. Jefferson Davis made another last speech; this time positively the last; and so, like Catiline and his friends, these men are vanishing from the Capitol to find their own ruin, I hope, without the need of an army or civil war, in some obscure village in the South.
This article was published by the St. Albans Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont) on Jan. 31, 1861:
The senators from the seceding states—except Jefferson Davis—have called at the White House to take leave of the president. An affecting scene took place between the president and Mr. Fitzpatrick of Alabama. The former said: “Governor, the current of events warns me that we shall never meet again on this side [of] the grave. I have tried to do my duty to both sections, and have displeased both. I feel isolated in the world.”
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