restricted access 3. Amplification in Davis’s Defense of Conscription
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3 Amplification in ­ Davis’s Defense of Conscription “You have been involved in a war waged for the gratification of the lust of power and of aggrandizement, for your conquest and your subjugation, with a malignant ferocity and with a disregard and a contempt of the usages of civilization, entirely unequalled in history.” —Jefferson ­Davis, The Papers of Jefferson ­ Davis In Jefferson ­ Davis’s inaugural address on February 18, 1861, he called for peaceful relations and free trade between the Confederacy and the Union. Less than two months later, at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, the prospects for peace vanished when forty-­ three Confederate guns opened fire on Fort Sumter. Although optimists on both sides argued that the war would be short lived, by Christmas of 1862 the battlefield horrors suggested the war would be a sustained conflict with immense losses and few decisive victories . Often on the defensive and almost always outnumbered, the Confederates fought the first two years of the Civil War against increasingly difficult odds. To counter the growing resource disparity, the Confederate government handed down a series of wartime policies designed to improve the chances for winning independence. Although the policies had mixed results on the battlefield, the aggressive actions eroded the po­ liti­ cal doctrines that had provided the pub­ lic justification for secession—particularly state sovereignty.As the pragmatic demands of war increased and Confederate armies suffered greater losses,­ Davis found his policies under attack from a wide range of audiences.The military objected to his choice of officers, the pub­ lic objected to a military strategy that appeared too defensive, and several pub­ lic officials objected to the increasing centralization of power in the Confederate government. Throughout this pub­ lic criticism, and with the exception of private correspondence with officials who objected to his plans, ­ Davis remained silent . As the battlefield losses and criticism grew, the unity that had propelled the Confederacy into secession was incrementally replaced with a factionalization that threatened Confederate resolve. Although ­ Davis did not say much in public, he remained sensitive to his role as commander in chief and the power of the institution of the presidency . At the end of 1862, ­ Davis agreed to tour portions of the west­ ern Davis’s Defense of Conscription / 45 army after John Pettus, governor of ­ Davis’s home state of Mississippi, implored him to: “You have visited the army of Virginia. . . . At this criti­ cal juncture could you not visit the army of the west? . . . Something must be done to inspire confidence. . . . A week spent in Mississippi would greatly improve our situation.”1­ Davis began his trip on De­ cem­ ber 9, 1862, and visited Tennessee, Ala­ bama, and Mississippi. On De­ cem­ ber 20, 1862, he received an invitation to speak at the Mississippi State House of Representatives . ­ Davis’s feeling was “that he had come to work, not to speak; but that he would do in Mississippi what he would not anywhere else.”2 The result was a ninety-­ minute speech delivered on De­ cem­ ber 26, 1862. It was ­ Davis’s first major speech since the passage of his defining war policies .3 According to newspaper accounts, “At noon, the hour appointed for the speech of the President, the Representative Hall was crowded to overflowing—not a space large enough to stand upon was left unfilled. The ladies occupied nearly all the seats, leaving the men all standing. The gallery, too, was literally thronged, and many hundreds, perhaps, had to turn back disappointed, so great was the eagerness of our people to hear the President.”4 With the overflowing crowd anxiously hanging on every word, ­ Davis used the occasion to defend a wide range of controversial decisions , in­ clud­ ing the defensive nature of the Confederate military strategy and the steady erosion of the states’ rights doctrine. Of these difficult topics , perhaps the most contentious was the Conscription Act. The Conscription Act was the first draft in Ameri­ can history. It passed at ­ Davis’s request and signaled a fundamental change in Confederate identity . ­ Davis’s earlier articulation of the Confederate nation as a peaceful agricultural people with a healthy respect for state sovereignty required considerable revision given wartime policies that demanded a strong centralization of power in the Confederate government and an expanded vision of militarism. ­ Davis’s controversial policies required a rearticulation of Confederate values in the face of the increasing demands of war, and— to accomplish this rearticulation—­ Davis turned to the...