Jefferson Davis Defends States Rights as the Constitutional Position

"The bonds of community independence, the supremacy of law, and adherence to the Constitution as it was interpreted by those who made it"

After the Civil War, Davis remained a wholehearted supporter of those symbols of the Southern cause that Union military might had discredited - states' rights and secession. He maintained, "Every evil which has befallen our institutions is directly traceable to the perversion of the compact of union and the usurpation by the Federal Government of undelegated powers...My faith in that right as an inherent attribute of State sovereignty, was adopted early in life, was confirmed by study and observation of later years, and has passed, unchanged and unshaken, through the severe ordeal to which it has been subjected."

As for himself, he asserted, "I shall die, as I have lived, firm in the State rights faith." He told an appreciative audience of Southerners in 1882: "Our cause was so just, so sacred, that had I known all that has come to pass, had I known all that was to be inflicted upon me, all that my country was to suffer, all that our posterity was to endure, I would do it all over again."

That same year, Davis echoed his political philosophy in this Autograph Letter Signed on his personal letterhead, Beauvoir, Mississippi, February 1, 1882, to Charles P. Davis, founder and publisher of what would become the widely distributed children's newsletter, Weekly Reader. "I...take the occasion to express my gratification at the expression of your political creed. No where would one who has studied the early history of our country more naturally look for state rights men than in Massachusetts. That there should be few now is to be regretted but serves to enhance the merit of those who breast the popular tide in the effort to maintain the old time doctrine of the Bay State. By the bonds of community independence, the supremacy of law, and adherence to the Constitution as it was interpreted by those who made it, I am gratefully yours."

Davis here unambiguously defends his life-long position of states' rights as the correct, Constitutional one. His recollection of Massachusetts men being states' rights advocates must have been from the misty past, as few states took a more active Union stance in the years before and during the war than Massachusetts. In fact, it is little short of astonishing to see a Massachusetts man write so sympathetically to Davis as to elicit this response.