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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

In Texas the general feeling was on the whole Secessionist


But

there was not much evidence of the active operation of such "better angels" at the moment. Half the Southern States had not only seceded, but had already formed themselves into a hostile Confederacy. They framed a Constitution modelled in essentials on that of the United States, but with the important difference that "We the deputies of the Sovereign and Independent States" was substituted for "We the people of the United States," and with certain minor amendments, some of which were generally thought even in the North to be improvements.

They elected Jefferson Davis as President, and as Vice-President Alexander Stephens of Georgia, who had been a Unionist, but had accepted the contrary verdict of his State.

The choice was, perhaps, as good as could have been made. Davis was in some ways well fitted to represent the new Commonwealth before the world. He had a strong sense of what befitted his own dignity and that of his office. He had a keen eye for what would attract the respect and sympathy of foreign nations. It is notable, for instance, that in his inaugural address, in setting forth the grounds on which secession was to be justified, he made no allusion to the institution of Slavery. There he may be contrasted favourably with Stephens, whose unfortunate speech declaring Slavery to be the stone which the builders of the old Constitution rejected, and which was to become the corner-stone of the new Confederacy,

was naturally seized upon by Northern sympathizers at the time, and has been as continually brought forward since by historians and writers who wish to emphasize the connection between Slavery and the Southern cause. Davis had other qualifications which might seem to render him eminently fit to direct the policy of a Confederation which must necessarily begin its existence by fighting and winning a great and hazardous war. He had been a soldier and served with distinction. Later he had been, by common consent, one of the best War Secretaries that the United States had possessed. It was under his administration that both Lee and McClellan, later to be arrayed against each other, were sent to the Crimea to study modern war at first hand.

But Davis had faults of temper which often endangered and perhaps at last ruined the cause he served. They can be best appreciated by reading his own book. There is throughout a note of querulousness which weakens one's sympathy for the hero of a lost cause. He is always explaining how things ought to have happened, how the people of Kentucky ought to have been angry with Lincoln instead of siding with him, and so on. One understands at once how he was bested in democratic diplomacy by his rival's lucid realism and unfailing instinct for dealing with men as men. One understands also his continual quarrels with his generals, though in that department he was from the first much better served than was the Government at Washington. A sort of nervous irritability, perhaps a part of what is called "the artistic temperament," is everywhere perceptible. Nowhere does one find a touch of that spirit which made Lincoln say, after an almost insolent rebuff to his personal and official dignity from McClellan: "Well, I will hold his horse for him if he will give us a victory."

The prize for which both parties were contending in the period of diplomatic skirmishing which marks the opening months of Lincoln's administration was the adherence of those Slave States which had not yet seceded. So far disruptional doctrines had triumphed only in the Cotton States. In Virginia Secession had been rejected by a very decided majority, and the rejection had been confirmed by the result of the subsequent elections for the State legislature. The Secessionists had also seen their programme defeated in Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina, while Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland had as yet refused to make any motion towards it. In Texas the general feeling was on the whole Secessionist, but the Governor was a Unionist, and succeeded for a time in preventing definite action. To keep these States loyal, while keeping at the same time his pledge to "execute the laws," was Lincoln's principal problem in the first days of his Presidency.


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