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Jefferson Davis

on the
Constitution

An Extract From

The
Rise and Fall
of the
Confederate
Government
by

Jefferson Davis

Constituting pages 75-168


of the complete work,
with the authors original
Preface and Introduction

New Foreword by

Daniel V. Bowden, J.D.

Foreword

fter the close of the War for Southern Independence, a number of


Confederate generals and politicians turned to writing their
memoirs, determined that the history of the conflict would not be
entirely written by the victorious North. None was more determined than
Jefferson Davis. Davis was not one to accept defeat easily. After the fall of
Richmond he was forced to flee south with the records and papers of the
Confederate government loaded in train cars and wagons. Making his way
through South Carolina and Georgia, his entourage dwindled as the collapse
of the Confederate military became apparent. Even after Lees surrender in
Virginia, Davis hoped to travel west to Texas and continue the fight with
Gen. Kirby Smiths forces. After being informed by Gen. Joseph Johnston
that his forces could no longer stand against Shermans army, Davis ordered
Johnston to take his men into the hills and fight a guerilla warJohnston
ignored the order and surrendered instead. Davis managed to elude the
Federal forces searching for him for some time, but his progress westward
was hampered by his family, which was travelling with him. He was
captured unharmed in south-central Georgia by Federal troops, but would
have resisted had his wife not restrained him, fearing for his safety. The
Confederate President spent two long years in Fort Monroe in Virginia as a
federal prisoner, awaiting trial for treason.
After the war ended, and with the civil courts in full operation, the
Republicans could no longer make a case for the use of military tribunals.
Some of the best lawyers of the day volunteered to represent Davis. Faced
with the prospect of having to try Davis before a jury of Virginians, the
government dropped all charges and released him rather than risk an
acquittal. A not-guilty verdict by a jury is unreviewable by any court, and
such an acquittal would have been viewedand rightly soas a vindication
of the South and an acknowledgment of the constitutionality of secession.
The government had much to lose and little to gain by allowing such a trial,
for which Davis was eager.
Davis retired to Beauvoir, his post-bellum home in Biloxi, Mississippi,
and turned out his two-volume Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,
published in 1881. Buried within Volume I of this 1200+ page work is a
short section entitled simply The Constitution. It is Daviss explanation
and exposition of the compact theory of the Constitution, the view which
was almost universally-held by Southern statesmen, and, as Davis shows, by
the founders themselves. Daviss short work is one of the best written on the
subject. He painstakingly and with great detail examines and refutes every
argument that the United States as a nation-state preceded or was superior

to the individual states, that the states gave up their sovereignty upon
forming the Union, and that secession was illegal or unconstitutional. It is
Daviss brief for the defence, the one he never got a chance to present at trial.
Daviss work is not an easy read, but it will repay the diligent student
with a wealth of knowledge. It is my hope that by extracting the section on
the Constitution from the larger work and making it available for the first
time in electronic format, it will be accessible to a wider range of readers.
Few indeed would have the fortitude to delve into Rise and Fall in its
entirety. With a copy of the Constitution and this work in hand, any reader
will be well-prepared to answer the critics of secession, who are as
numerous today as ever. Secession as a political topic may not be as dead
as was once supposed. Secession movements around the world continue to
show that the desire for freedom and self-government cannot be
extinguished by even the most brutal governments. In the U.S., some
political liberals, distressed by the results of the 2004 presidential election,
have discussed the idea of the Northern/Democratic blue states seceding
from the Southern/Republican red states. From the Hartford Convention
of 1812, to the Confederacy, to the present day, the discussion of secession
has almost come full circle.
I think Davis would be pleased to know that more than 120 years
after he wrote it, his work is educating a new generation on the true
meaning of the Constitution and vindicating our Southern ancestors from the
charges of treason. Deo Vindice.
Daniel V. Bowden, J.D.
Tuscaloosa, Ala.
7 February, A.D. 2005