Jefferson Davis' Message to the Second Session of the Second Confederate Congress
Richmond, Va., November 7, 1864.
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the Confederate States of America.
It is with satisfaction that I welcome your presence at an earlier day than that usual for your session, and with confidence that I invoke the aid of your counsels at a time of such public exigency.
The campaign which was commenced almost simultaneously with your session early in May last, and which was still in progress at your adjournment in the middle of June, has not yet reached its close. It has been prosecuted on a scale and with an energy heretofore unequaled. When we revert to the condition of our country at the inception of the operations of the present year, to the magnitude of the preparations made by the enemy, the number of his forces, the accumulation of his warlike supplies, and the prodigality with which his vast resources have been lavished in the attempt to render success assured; when we contrast the numbers and means at our disposal for resistance, and when we contemplate the results of a struggle apparently so unequal, we cannot fail, while rendering the full meed of deserved praise to our generals and soldiers, to perceive that a power higher than man has willed our deliverance, and gratefully to recognize the protection of a kind Providence in enabling us successfully to withstand the utmost efforts of the enemy for our subjugation.
At the beginning of the year the State of Texas was partially in possession of the enemy, and large portions of Louisiana and Arkansas lay apparently defenseless. Of the Federal soldiers who invaded Texas, none are known to remain except as prisoners of war. In northwestern Louisiana a large and well-appointed army, aided by a powerful fleet, was repeatedly defeated, and deemed itself fortunate in finally escaping with a loss of one-third of its numbers, a large part of its military trains, and many transports and gunboats. The enemy's occupation of that State is reduced to the narrow district commanded by the guns of his fleet. Arkansas has been recovered with the exception of a few fortified posts, while our forces have penetrated into central Missouri, affording to our oppressed brethren in that State an opportunity, of which many have availed themselves, of striking for liberation from the tyranny to which they have been subjected.
On the east of the Mississippi, in spite of some reverses, we have much cause for gratulation. The enemy hoped to effect during the present year, by concentration of forces, the conquest which he had previously failed to accomplish by more extended operations. Compelled therefore to withdraw or seriously to weaken the strength of the armies of occupation at different points, he has afforded us the opportunity of recovering possession of extensive districts of our territory. Nearly the whole of northern and western Mississippi, of northern Alabama, and of western Tennessee are again in our possession, and all attempts to penetrate from the coast line into the interior of the Atlantic and Gulf States have been baffled. On the entire ocean and gulf coast of the Confederacy the whole success of the enemy, with the enormous naval resources at his command, has been limited to the capture of the outer defenses of Mobile Bay.
If we now turn to the results accomplished by the two great armies, so confidently relied on by the invaders as sufficient to secure the subversion of our Government and the subjugation of our people to foreign domination, we have still greater cause for devout gratitude to Divine Power. In southwestern Virginia successive armies, which threatened the capture of Lynchburg and Saltville, have been routed and driven out of the country, and a portion of eastern Tennessee reconquered by our troops. In northern Virginia extensive districts formerly occupied by the enemy are now free from their presence. In the lower Valley their general, rendered desperate by his inability to maintain a hostile occupation, has resorted to the infamous expedient of converting a fruitful land into a desert by burning its mills, granaries, and homesteads, and destroying the food, standing crops, live stock, and agricultural implements of peaceful noncombatants. The main army, after a series of defeats in which its losses have been enormous, after attempts by raiding parties to break up our railroad communications, which have resulted in the destruction of a large part of the cavalry engaged in the work, after constant repulse of repeated assaults on our defensive lines, is, with the aid of heavy reinforcements, but with, it is hoped, waning prospect of further progress in the design, still engaged in an effort commenced more than four months ago to capture the town of Petersburg.
The army of General Sherman, although succeeding at the end of the summer in obtaining possession of Atlanta, has been unable to secure any ultimate advantage from this success. The same general, who in February last marched a large army from Vicksburg to Meridian with no other result than being forced to march back again, was able, by the aid of greatly increased numbers and after much delay, to force a passage from Chattanooga to Atlanta, only to be for the second time compelled to withdraw on the line of his advance without obtaining control of a single mile of territory beyond the narrow track of his march, and without gaining aught beyond the precarious possession of a few fortified points in which he is compelled to maintain heavy garrisons and which are menaced with recapture.
The lessons afforded by the history of this war are fraught with instruction and encouragement. Repeatedly during the war have formidable expeditions been directed by the enemy against points ignorantly supposed to be of vital importance to the Confederacy. Some of these expeditions have, at immense cost, been successful, but in no instance have the promised fruits been reaped. Again, in the present campaign was the delusion fondly cherished that the capture of Atlanta and Richmond would, if effected, end the war by the overthrow of our Government and the submission of our people. We can now judge by experience how unimportant is the influence of the former event upon our capacity for defense, upon the courage and spirit of the people, and the stability of the Government. We may in like manner judge that if the campaign against Richmond had resulted in success instead of failure; if the valor of the army, under the leadership of its accomplished commander, had resisted in vain the overwhelming masses which were, on the contrary, decisively repulsed; if we had been compelled to evacuate Richmond as well as Atlanta — the Confederacy would have remained as erect and defiant as ever. Nothing could have been changed in the purpose of its Government, in the indomitable valor of its troops, or in the unquenchable spirit of its people. The baffled and disappointed foe would in vain have scanned the reports of your proceedings, at some new legislative seat, for any indication that progress had been made in his gigantic task of conquering a free people. The truth so patent to us must ere long be forced upon the reluctant Northern mind. There are no vital points on the preservation of which the continued existence of the Confederacy depends. There is no military success of the enemy which can accomplish its destruction. Not the fall of Richmond, nor Wilmington, nor Charleston, nor Savannah, nor Mobile, nor of all combined, can save the enemy from the constant and exhaustive drain of blood and treasure which must continue until he shall discover that no peace is attainable unless based on the recognition of our indefeasible rights.
Before leaving this subject it is gratifying to assure you that the military supplies essentially requisite for public defense will be found, as heretofore, adequate to our needs, and that abundant crops have rewarded the labor of the farmer and rendered abortive the inhuman attempt of the enemy to produce by devastation famine among the people.
It is not in my power to announce any change in the conduct of foreign powers. No such action has been taken by the Christian nations of Europe as might justly have been expected from their history, from the duties imposed by international law, and from the claims of humanity. It is charitable to attribute their conduct to no worse motive than indifference to the consequences of a struggle which shakes only the republican portion of the American continent, and not to ascribe to design a course calculated to insure the prolongation of hostilities.
No instance in history is remembered by me in which a nation pretending to exercise dominion over another asserting its independence has been the first to concede the existence of such independence. No case can be recalled to my mind in which neutral powers have failed to set the example of recognizing the independence of a nation when satisfied of the inability of its enemy to subvert its Government, and this, too, in cases where the previous relation between the contending parties had been confessedly that of mother country and dependent colony; not, as in our case, that of coequal States united by Federal compact. It has ever been considered the proper function and duty of neutral powers to perform the office of judging whether in point of fact the nation asserting dominion is able to make good its pretensions by force of arms, and if not, by recognition of the resisting party, to discountenance the further continuance of the contest. And the reason why this duty is incumbent on neutral powers is plainly apparent when we reflect that the pride and passion which blind the judgment of the parties to the conflict cause the continuance of active warfare and consequent useless slaughter long after the inevitable result has become apparent to all not engaged in the struggle. So long, therefore, as neutral nations fail, by recognition of our independence, to announce that in their judgment the United States are unable to reduce the Confederacy to submission, their conduct will be accepted by our enemies as a tacit encouragement to continue their efforts, and as an implied assurance that belief is entertained by neutral nations in the success of their designs. A direct stimulus, whether intentional or not, is thus applied to securing a continuance of the carnage and devastation which desolate this continent and which they profess deeply to deplore.
The disregard of this just, humane, and Christian public duty by the nations of Europe is the more remarkable from the fact that authentic expression has long since been given by the Governments of both France and England to the conviction that the United States are unable to conquer the Confederacy. It is now more than two years since the Government of France announced officially to the Cabinets of London and Saint Petersburg its own conclusion that the United States we're unable to achieve any decisive military success. In the answers sent by these powers no intimation of a contrary opinion was conveyed; and it is notorious that in speeches, both in and out of Parliament, the members of Her Britannic Majesty's Government have not hesitated to express this conviction in unqualified terms. The denial of our rights under these circumstances is so obviously unjust and discriminates so unfairly in favor of the United States that neutrals have sought to palliate the wrong of which they are conscious by professing to consider, in opposition to notorious truth and to the known belief of both belligerents, that the recognition of our independence would be valueless without their further intervention in the struggle, an intervention of which we disclaim the desire and mistrust the advantage. We seek no favor, we wish no intervention, we know ourselves fully competent to maintain our own rights and independence against the invaders of our country, and we feel justified in asserting that without the aid derived from recruiting their armies from foreign countries the invaders would ere this have been driven from our soil. When the recognition of the Confederacy was refused by Great Britain in the fall of 1862 the refusal was excused on the ground that any action by Her Majesty's Government would have the effect of inflaming the passions of the belligerents and of preventing the return of peace. It is assumed that this opinion was sincerely entertained; but the experience of two years of unequaled carnage shows that it was erroneous, and that the result was the reverse of what the British ministry humanely desired. A contrary policy, a policy just to us, a policy diverging from an unvarying course of concession to all the demands of our enemies, is still within the power of Her Majesty's Government, and would, it is fair to presume, be productive of consequences the opposite of those which have unfortunately followed its whole course of conduct from the commencement of the war until the present time. In a word, peace is impossible without independence, and it is not to be expected that the enemy will anticipate neutrals in the recognition of that independence.
When the history of the war shall be fully disclosed, the calm judgment of the impartial publicist will for these reasons be unable to absolve the neutral nations of Europe from a share in the moral responsibility for the myriads of human lives that have been unnecessarily sacrificed during its progress.The renewed instances in which foreign powers have given us just cause for complaint need not here be detailed. The extracts from the correspondence of the State Department which accompany this message will afford such further information as can be given without detriment to the public interest, and we must reserve for the future such action as may then be deemed advisable to secure redress.
Your especial attention is earnestly invited to the report of the Secretary of the Treasury, submitted in conformity with law. The facts therein disclosed are far from discouraging, and demonstrate that with judicious legislation we shall be enabled to meet all the exigencies of the war from our abundant resources and avoid at the same time such an accumulation of debt as would render at all doubtful our capacity to redeem it. The total receipts in the Treasury for the two quarters ending on the 30th of September, 1864, were $415,191,550, which sum, added to the balance of $308,282,722 that remained in the Treasury on the 1st of April last, forms a total of $723,474,272. Of this total, not far from half — that is to say, $342,560,327 — has been applied to the extinction of the public debt, while the total expenditures have been $272,378,505, leaving a balance in the Treasury on the 1st of October, 1864, of $108,535,440.
The total amount of the public debt, as exhibited on the books of the Register of the Treasury on the 1st of October, 1864, was $1,147,970,208, of which $539,340,090 was funded debt bearing interest, $283,880,150 was Treasury notes of the new issue, and the remainder consisted of the former issue of Treasury notes, which will be converted into other forms of debt, and will cease to exist as currency on the 31st of next month.
The report, however, explains that, in consequence of the absence of certain returns from distant officers, the true amount of the debt is less by about $21,500,000 than appears on the books of the Register, and that the total public debt on the 1st of last month may be fairly considered to have been $1,126,381,095.
The increase of the public debt during the six months from the 1st of April to the 1st of October was $97,650,780, being rather more than $16,000,000 per month, and it will be apparent, on a perusal of the report, that this augmentation would have been avoided and a positive reduction of the amount would have been effected but for certain defects in the legislation on the subject of finances, which are pointed out in the report and which seem to admit of easy remedy.
In the statements just made the foreign debt is omitted. It consists only of the unpaid balance of the loan known as the cotton loan. This balance is but £2,200,000 and is adequately provided for by about 250,000 bales of cotton owned by the Government, even if the cotton be rated as worth but 6 pence per pound.
There is one item of the public debt not included in the tables presented, to which your attention is required. The bounty bonds promised to our soldiers by the third section of the act of 17th of February, 1864, were deliverable on the 1st of October. The Secretary has been unable to issue them by reason of an omission in the law, no time being therein fixed for the payment of the bonds.
The aggregate appropriations called for by the different departments of the Government, according to the estimates submitted with the report, for the six months ending on the 30th of June, 1865, amount to $438,102,679, while the Secretary estimates that there will remain unexpended out of former appropriations, on the 1st of January, 1865, a balance of $467,416,504. It would therefore seem that former estimates have been largely in excess of actual expenditures, and that no additional appropriations are required for meeting the needs of the public service up to the 1st of July of next year. Indeed, if the estimates now presented should prove to be as much in excess of actual expenditures as has heretofore been the case, a considerable balance will still remain unexpended at the close of the first half of the ensuing year.
The chief difficulty to be apprehended in connection with our finances results from the depreciation of the Treasury notes, which seems justly to be attributed by the Secretary to two causes, redundancy in amount and want of confidence in ultimate redemption, for both of which remedies are suggested that will commend themselves to your consideration as being practical as well as efficient.
The main features of the plan presented are substantially these: First, that the faith of the Government be pledged that the notes shall ever remain exempt from taxation; second, that no issue shall be made beyond that which is already authorized by law; third, that a certain fixed portion of the annual receipts from taxation during the war shall be set apart especially for the gradual extinction of the outstanding amount until it shall have been reduced to $150,000,000: and fourth, the pledge and appropriation of such proportion of the tax in kind and for such number of years after the return of peace as shall be sufficient for the final redemption of the entire circulation.
The details of the plan, the calculations on which it is based, the efficiency of its operation, and the vast advantages which would result from its success are fully detailed in the report, and cannot be fairly presented in a form sufficiently condensed for this message. I doubt not it will receive from you that earnest and candid consideration which is merited by the importance of the subject.
The recommendations of the report for the repeal of certain provisions of the tax laws which produce inequality in the burden of taxation; for exempting all Government loans from taxation on capital, and from any adverse discrimination in taxation on income derived from them; for placing the taxation on banks on the same footing as the taxation of other corporate bodies; for securing the payment into the Treasury of that portion of the bank circulation which is liable to confiscation because held by alien enemies; for the conversion of the interest-bearing Treasury notes now outstanding into coupon bonds, and for the quarterly collection of taxation — all present practical questions for legislation, which, if wisely devised, will greatly improve the public credit and alleviate the burdens now imposed by the extreme and unnecessary depreciation in the value of the currency.
The returns of the Produce Loan Bureau are submitted with the report, and the information is conveyed that the Treasury agency in the Trans-Mississippi Department has been fully organized and is now in operation, with promise of efficiency and success.
The provision heretofore made to some extent for increasing the compensation of public officers, civil and military, is found to be in some places inadequate to their support, perhaps not more so anywhere than in Richmond, and inquiry with a view to appropriate remedy is suggested to your consideration. Your notice is also called to the condition of certain officers of the Treasury, who were omitted in the law heretofore passed for the relief of other public officers, as mentioned in the report of the Secretary of the Treasury.
DEPARTMENT OF WAR.
The condition of the various branches of the military service is stated in the accompanying report of the Secretary of War. Among the suggestions made for legislative action, with a view to add to the number and efficiency of the Army, all of which will receive your consideration, there are some prominent topics which merit special notice.
The exemption from military duty now accorded by law to all persons engaged in certain specified pursuits or professions is shown by experience to be unwise, nor is it believed to be defensible in theory. The defense of home, family, and country is universally recognized as the paramount political duty of every member of society, and in a form of government like ours, where each citizen enjoys an equality of rights and privileges, nothing can be more invidious than an unequal distribution of duties and obligations. No pursuit or position should relieve any one who is able to do active duty from enrollment in the Army, unless his functions or services are more useful to the defense of his country in another sphere. But it is manifest that this cannot be the case with entire classes. All telegraph operators, workmen in mines, professors, teachers, engineers, editors and employees of newspapers, journeymen printers, shoemakers, tanners, blacksmiths, millers, physicians, and the numerous other classes mentioned in the laws cannot in the nature of things be equally necessary in their several professions, nor distributed throughout the country in such proportions that only the exact numbers required are found in each locality; nor can it be everywhere impossible to replace those within the conscript age by men older and less capable of active field services. A discretion should be vested in the military authorities, so that a sufficient number of those essential to the public service might be detailed to continue the exercise of their pursuits or professions; but the exemption from service of the entire classes should be wholly abandoned. It affords great facility for abuses, offers the temptation as well as the ready means of escaping service by fraudulent devices, and is one of the principal obstructions to the efficient operation of the conscript laws.
A general militia law is needful in the interest of the public defense. The Constitution, by vesting the power in Congress, imposes on it the duty of providing "for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the Confederate States." The great diversity in the legislation of the several States on this subject, and the absence of any provision establishing an exact method for calling the militia into Confederate service, are sources of embarrassment which ought no longer to be suffered to impede defensive measures.
The legislation in relation to the cavalry demands change. The policy of requiring men to furnish their own horses has proven pernicious in many respects. It interferes with discipline, impairs efficiency, and is the cause of frequent and prolonged absence from appropriate duty. The subject is fully treated in the Secretary's report, with suggestions as to the proper measures for reforming that branch of the service.
The recommendation hitherto often made is again renewed, that some measure be adopted for the reorganization and consolidation of companies and regiments when so far reduced in numbers as seriously to impair their efficiency. It is the more necessary that this should be done, as the absence of legislation on the subject has forced generals in the field to resort to various expedients for approximating the desired end. It is surely an evil that a commanding officer should be placed in a position which forces upon him the choice of allowing the efficiency of his command to be seriously impaired or of attempting to supply by the exercise of doubtful authority the want of proper legal provision. The regard for the sensibility of officers who have heretofore served with credit, and which is believed to be the controlling motive that has hitherto obstructed legislation on this subject, however honorable and proper, may be carried to a point which seriously injures the public good; and if this be the case, it can scarcely be questioned which of the two considerations should be deemed paramount.
The Secretary's recommendations on the subject of facilitating the acquisition of the iron required for maintaining the efficiency of railroad communication on the important military lines are commended to your favor. The necessity for the operation in full vigor of such lines is too important to need comment.
The question in dispute between the two Governments relative to the exchange of prisoners of war has been frequently presented in former messages and reports, and is fully treated by the Secretary. The solicitude of the Government for the relief of our captive fellow-citizens has known no abatement, but has, on the contrary, been still more deeply evoked by the additional sufferings to which they have been wantonly subjected by deprivation of adequate food, clothing, and fuel, which they were not even permitted to purchase from the prison sutlers. Finding that the enemy attempted to excuse their barbarous treatment by the unfounded allegation that it was retaliatory for like conduct on our part, an offer was made by us with a view of ending all pretext for such recriminations or pretended retaliation.
The offer has been accepted, and each Government is hereafter to be allowed to provide necessary comforts to its own citizens held captive by the other. Active efforts are in progress for the immediate execution of this agreement, and it is hoped that but few days will elapse before we shall be relieved from the distressing thought that painful physical suffering is endured by so many of our fellow-citizens whose fortitude in captivity illustrates the national character as fully as did their valor in actual conflict.
EMPLOYMENT OF SLAVES.
The employment of slaves for service with the Army as teamsters or cooks, or in the way of work upon the fortifications, or in the Government workshops, or in hospitals and other similar duties, was authorized by the act of 17th of February last, and provision was made for their impressment to a number not exceeding 20,000, if it should be found impracticable to obtain them by contract with the owners. The law contemplated the hiring only of the labor of these slaves, and imposed on the Government the liability to pay for the value of such as might be lost to the owners from casualties resulting from their employment in the service.
This act has produced less result than was anticipated, and further provision is required to render it efficacious; but my present purpose is to invite your consideration to the propriety of a radical modification in the theory of the law.
Viewed merely as property, and therefore as the subject of impressment, the service or labor of the slave has been frequently claimed for short periods in the construction of defensive works. The slave, however, bears another relation to the State — that of a person. The law of last February contemplates only the relation of the slave to the master and limits the impressment to a certain term of service.
But for the purposes enumerated in the act, instruction in the manner of encamping, marching, and parking trains is needful; so that even in this limited employment length of service adds greatly to the value of the negro's labor. Hazard is also encountered in all the positions to which negroes can be assigned for service with the Army, and the duties required of them demand loyalty and zeal. In this respect the relation of person predominates so far as to render it doubtful whether the private right of property can consistently and beneficially be continued, and it would seem proper to acquire for the public service the entire property in the labor of the slave, and to pay therefor due compensation rather than to impress his labor for short terms; and this the more especially as the effect of the present law would vest this entire property in all cases where the slave might be recaptured after compensation for his loss had been paid to the private owner. Whenever the entire property in the service of a slave is thus acquired by the Government, the question is presented by what tenure he should be held. Should he be retained in servitude, or should his emancipation be held out to him as a reward for faithful service, or should it be granted at once on the promise of such service; and if emancipated, what action should be taken to secure for the freedman the permission of the State from which he was drawn to reside within its limits after the close of the public service? The permission would doubtless be more readily accorded as a reward for past faithful service, and a double motive for a zealous discharge of duty would thus be offered to those employed by the Government — their freedom and the gratification of the local attachment which is so marked a characteristic of the negro, and forms so powerful an incentive to his action. The policy of engaging to liberate the negro on his discharge after service faithfully rendered seems to me preferable to that of granting immediate manumission, or that of retaining him in servitude. If this policy should recommend itself to the judgment of Congress, it is suggested that, in addition to the duties heretofore performed by the slave, he might be advantageously employed as pioneer and engineer laborer, and in that event that the number should be augmented to 40,000.
Beyond these limits and these employments it does not seem to me desirable, under existing circumstances, to go. A broad moral distinction exists between the use of slaves as soldiers in defense of their homes and the incitement of the same persons to insurrection against their masters. The one is justifiable, if necessary, the other is iniquitous and unworthy of a civilized people; and such is the judgment of all writers on public law, as well as that expressed and insisted on by our enemies in all wars prior to that now waged against us. By none have the practices of which they are now guilty been denounced with greater severity than by themselves in the two wars with Great Britain, in the last and in the present century; and in the Declaration of Independence of 1776, when enumeration was made of the wrongs which justified the revolt from Great Britain, the climax of atrocity was deemed to be reached only when the English monarch was denounced as having "excited domestic insurrections amongst us."
The subject is to be viewed by us, therefore, solely in the light of policy and our social economy. When so regarded, I must dissent from those who advise a general levy and arming of the slaves for the duty of soldiers. Until our white population shall prove insufficient for the armies we require and can afford to keep in the field, to employ as a soldier the negro, who has merely been trained to labor, and as a laborer [under] the white man, accustomed from his youth to the use of firearms, would scarcely be deemed wise or advantageous by any; and this is the question now before us. But should the alternative ever be presented of subjugation or of the employment of the slave as a soldier, there seems no reason to doubt what should then be our decision. Whether our view embraces what would, in so extreme a case, be the sum of misery entailed by the dominion of the enemy, or be restricted solely to the effect upon the welfare and happiness of the negro population themselves, the result would be the same. The appalling demoralization, suffering, disease, and death which have been caused by partially substituting the invader's system of police for the kind relation previously subsisting between the master and slave have been a sufficient demonstration that external interference with our institution of domestic slavery is productive of evil only. If the subject involved no other consideration than the mere right of property, the sacrifices heretofore made by our people have been such as to permit no doubt of their readiness to surrender every possession in order to secure their independence. But the social and political question, which is exclusively under the control of the several States, has a far wider and more enduring importance than that of pecuniary interest. In its manifold phases it embraces the stability of our republican institutions, resting on the actual political equality of all its citizens, and includes the fulfillment of the task which has been so happily begun — that of Christianizing and improving the condition of the Africans who have, by the will of Providence, been placed in our charge. Comparing the results of our own experience with those of the experiments of others who have borne similar relation to the African race, the people of the several States of the Confederacy have abundant reason to be satisfied with the past, and will use the greatest circumspection in determining their course. These considerations, however, are rather applicable to the improbable contingency of our need of resorting to this element of resistance than to our present condition. If the recommendation above made, for the training of 40,000 negroes for the service indicated, shall meet your approval, it is certain that even this limited number, by their preparatory training in intermediate duties, would form a more valuable reserve force in case of urgency than threefold their number suddenly called from field labor, while a fresh levy could, to a certain extent, supply their places in the special service for which they are now employed.
The regular annual reports of the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Postmaster General are appended, and give ample information relative to the condition of the respective Departments. They contain suggestions for legislative provisions required to remedy such defects in the existing laws as have been disclosed by experience, but none of so general or important a character as to require that I should do more than recommend them to your favorable consideration.
NEGOTIATIONS FOR PEACE.