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A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, Including the Diplomatic Correspondence, 1861-1865, Volume I/Prefatory Note

Prefatory Note.

The official papers of all the Presidents of the United States from Washington to McKinley were compiled by me a few years ago. That compilation is entitled "Messages and Papers of the Presidents," is in ten volumes, and was published by the authority of Congress. I have now, by permission of Congress, compiled and edited all the messages, proclamations, and inaugural addresses of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, together with the important and interesting diplomatic correspondence of the Confederacy. This compilation is a fitting companion piece to the former work. Biographical sketches of President Davis, Vice President Stephens, General Robert E. Lee, and the three Secretaries of State, Robert Toombs, Robert M. T. Hunter, and Judah P. Benjamin, have been prepared and are included. There will be two volumes of this work, the first containing the official papers of the President, the second comprising the diplomatic correspondence. The only omission of any message has been in the case where it contained simply a formal nomination without comment. Neither the State papers of Mr. Davis nor the diplomatic correspondence of the Confederacy have ever before been compiled.

The "Messages and Papers of the Presidents" contains their official papers without any political coloring by the editor and compiler, and so the papers herein published are given to the public entirely without any sectional or political bias. The object in view in making this publication is to place all the messages and papers of the Confederacy and the diplomatic correspondence before the public at large of all sections of our country in a convenient and enduring form. As stated, these are given without comment, and the reader is left to draw his own conclusions.

It will be conceded that no man more fully appreciated and understood the motives and principles which actuated the Southern States and their people in their conduct in withdrawing from the Union than the man they chose to be their President, and it is equally true that but few men ever lived in our land who were so happy in finding language to give adequate and forcible expression to these motives and principles.

These volumes contain the sentiments and opinions entertained by Mr. Davis as he gave utterance to them during that stormy and perilous period of war, and those who agreed and acted with him then, and who now think as he did, should find ample and complete satisfaction for themselves as they peruse the pages of this work; while those who did not then and who do not now so agree with him and his associates should not only be willing to have what he said in behalf of the Confederacy brought to light, but, on the other hand, should be desirous of having this done, so that from every standpoint publicity may be given to what they consider to have been his and their errors and mistakes.

There will be found in the Index of Volume I a number of encyclopedic articles which are intended to furnish the reader definitions of politico-historical words and phrases, some of which occur in the papers of the Chief Magistrate, or to develop more fully questions or subjects to which only indirect reference is made, or which are but briefly discussed by him. There will also be found brief accounts of more than a hundred battles in which the armies of the Confederate States were engaged. I have earnestly endeavored to make these articles historically correct, and to this end have carefully compared them with the best authorities. There has been no effort or inclination on my part to inject partisan or political opinions of any nature into these articles. On the other hand, I have sought only to furnish reliable historical data and well-authenticated definitions, and to avoid the expression of my own opinion.

The great wonder is that those who delight in hunting up and publishing interesting history, which was so thrilling when the events that made it were being enacted, have not heretofore dug up these papers from their hidden repositories in the archives of the Government at Washington, and given them to the public. This is true especially of the diplomatic correspondence. The addresses, messages, and proclamations of Mr. Davis were all read during the war with the keenest interest as they were published, although they have been buried out of sight since its close. They relate to the establishment of the provisional, and later to the permanent, Government of the Confederacy, its rise, progress, and fall, and contain a frequent statement of the fundamental grounds on which the rights of the Southern people to set up a Government for themselves rested, and tell vividly of the successes and defeats of the Confederate Army on many bloody fields. Much of the history and many events shown by them have been overlooked, or linger only in the minds of many persons in a half-forgotten way. But this is not true of the diplomatic correspondence, for it has never heretofore been published. It was all, or nearly all, profoundly secret and confidential at the time the communications were passed between the Confederate Commissioners and the State Department of the Confederacy. It will be remembered that the Commissioners to the leading nations of Europe were William L. Yancey, of Alabama, Pierre A. Rost, of Louisiana, and A. Dudley Mann, of Virginia. Later there were sent abroad James M. Mason, of Virginia, John Slidell, of Louisiana, and L. O. C. Lamar, of Mississippi. Messrs. Yancey and Mason spent much of their time at the Court of St. James, Mr. Slidell, at Paris, Mr. Rost, at Madrid, Mr. Lamar, at St. Petersburg, and Mr. Mann, at Brussels, although each made visits to other capitals. John T. Pickett was the Commissioner to Mexico. The foreign correspondence, therefore, was written and signed in the most part by these gentlemen, or some one of them. The letters to them emanated from the State Department, and were signed by the Secretary for the time being. The Secretaries of State were Robert Toombs, of Georgia, Robert M. T. Hunter, of Virginia, and Judah P. Benjamin, of Louisiana, in the order named, all scholarly men of the highest culture, and all of them prior to the war had been members of the United States Senate. Mr. Mason and Mr. Slidell had also been members of that body, and Mr. Yancey had been a member of the House of Representatives. All of them had also held other high positions in their respective States. Some of the papers are signed by William M. Browne, of Mississippi, who occasionally acted as Secretary of State.

When the war closed, the soldiers of both sides of the four years' desperate conflict returned to their peaceful pursuits, and were soon busy in their efforts to recover lost fortunes and to gain the mastery over new and complicated questions arising out of changed conditions. For these and other reasons, they did not bestow attention upon this correspondence, and it has never been unearthed and given to the public in either the Southern or Northern States. It will, therefore, be new in both sections, and the people of each must alike find enjoyment and pleasure in reading it. Interest in it will begin with the first notes given the Commissioners by the Government, and their departure for Europe. The story of their efforts to evade the blockade of the Southern ports, the successful passage of Mason and Slidell from their own shores to Cuba, and their embarkment for Europe on an English vessel, from which they were captured on the high seas, and brought to the United States as prisoners, the peremptory demand by Great Britain upon the United States for their restoration to her ships, the compliance with this demand, and their safe arrival and reception in Europe are all of thrilling interest, even at this remote day.

If the United States Government had persisted in holding these gentlemen, it would in all probability have become embroiled in war with Great Britain, the results of which no one could have foretold; nor is it possible to conceive what might have been the effect of such a war upon the fate and fortunes of the Confederacy.

When divested of the sad memories of that dark and gloomy period, this correspondence reads almost like romance.

From Mexico there will be found valuable and important correspondence. These communications are mainly to and from Mr. Pickett, and in them, among other things of interest, will be found something of the story of the installation by France of Maximilian, the unfortunate young Austrian archduke, upon the throne as Emperor of Mexico, which he subsequently lost, and which cost him his life.

The reader will find a carefully prepared Index in each volume, which will materially assist in the investigation of the subjects therein discussed. These Indices are largely the labor of my son, James D. Richardson, Jr., who has also aided me in the entire work.

James D. Richardson.

January 1, 1905.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).