The War Speeches

Neither Lincoln's or Davis's speeches at the start of the war are much remembered. For the most part, they are forgettable. Still, there is an immediate shift in Lincoln's emphasis. While Lincoln campaigned with slavery as the issue, the word "slave" appeared only once in his war speech, and only to designate the "slave states". There was no real reference to the particular institution. However, states should not secede from the union without accepting a just share of the national debt. States should not seize federal property. States should not fire on federal troops. Thus, the idea that the Civil War was not fought over slavery could be said to initiate with Abraham Lincoln, and started immediately after Ft. Sumter. Simply, Lincoln could make a case for having authority to suppress rebellion by force, but had no authority to suppress slavery by force.

And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question whether a constitutional republic or democracy -- a Government of the people, by the same people -- can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration, according to organic law, in any case, can always, upon the pretenses made in this case, or on any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up their Government and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask: "Is there, in all republics, this inherent and fatal weakness?" "Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?"

The Davis response to Lincoln's war speech occurred as the southern Constitution was being ratified. The southern speech does contain a brief history of slavery, and does associate slavery with the new republic. Davis also mentions an offer to allow Ft. Sumter to replenish supplies, if the fort pledged not to fire unless fired upon. This is an interesting offer, though the military commander would not have had authority to accept. Davis closes…

We feel that our cause is just and holy; we protest solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honor and independence; we seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the States with which we were lately confederated; all we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms. This we will, this we must, resist to the direst extremity. The moment that this pretension is abandoned the sword will drop from our grasp, and we shall be ready to enter into treaties of amity and commerce that cannot but be mutually beneficial. So long as this pretension is maintained, with a firm reliance on that Divine Power which covers with its protection the just cause, we will continue to struggle for our inherent right to freedom, independence, and self-government.