Jefferson Davis

Daily Chicago Times, June 13, 1861

A great many people at the North take it for granted that Jefferson Davis is a man of peculiar fitness for revolutionary leadership. Why this opinion is entertained cannot readily be determined. So far, at least, he has committed a series of blunders which are marvelous. The head of a rebellion should know everything, and do everything, which is necessary to success. He has the two-fold task of retaining the confidence of his followers and of forcing a recognition from the legitimate government. The measures which most certainly accomplish these purposes ought to be his measures, and he can adopt no expedients which will take their place. Of course, his first fatal mistake was the rebellion itself. As it was without cause,—a crime of wicked ambition,—it necessarily contains the elements of defeat. The time will come when the people will think, and will ask themselves, "Why this war,—why these sacrifices—this depreciation of property—destruction of trade, and spilling of blood?" Numerous indications from the South evince that these questions are already asked. It was his part to prevent reflection by bold, decisive movements; to avail himself of the first enthusiasm and passion of his followers to gain positive advantages over the government. But he has now waited too long for this—fussed and fidgeted over the Montgomery piece of paper—spent too much time in erecting a toy-house government. While he was doing this, he could, if he had been properly informed of northern and southern sentiment, have taken Washington, and founded his institutions at his leisure. But he did not understand the state of feeling at the North. He expected that a large party here would fly to arms, and make the civil war general,—perhaps reduce the whole country to his rule. How a man of great genius could entertain this delusion, it is impossible to determine. The memory of Charleston and Baltimore ought to have been fresh in his mind. He ought there to have learned that northern conservatism had taken its ultimate position, and that the men who had betrayed and deserted Stephen A. Douglas could not expect to command the confidence of his devoted followers. The meagre support which John C. Breckinridge received in the northern States was another of the many indicia which should have guided him to an appreciation of the popular sentiment. He might have known—as a revolutionary leader it was imperative upon him to know—that the deep current of national feeling flowed steadily towards the Constitution and Union.

It is true that, to the common mind, the North seemed apathetic—undemonstrative—inclined to compromise the sectional difficulties—if possible, to preserve the peace. But these are indications of devotion to the government—of a spirit which, when aroused, is self-sacrificing, resolute, irresistible. Mr. Davis and his fellow-conspirators should have understood this. Great men, great leaders, always understand these things, and, to a certain extent, he seemed to comprehend them. It is too obvious that the time for preparation is while the enemy are unsuspicious, unaroused. He seized the opportunity for preparation, but not for decisive action. Instead of carrying Washington, as subsequent events have proved he might have done, by a bold and sudden movement, he allowed Mr. Lincoln—an Illinois lawyer, not a military chieftain—to entrap him into an attack upon Fort Sumpter; really to shape his policy, and make him do that which, above all things, he ought not to have done—strike the first blow at an insignificant point.

Up to this time northern sentiment was divided—not in devotion to the national institutions, but as to the purposes of the secession movements and the method of adjusting the sectional difficulties. Hundreds of thousands of conservatives doubted that human folly and wickedness would go so far as to attempt to dismember the government and to overthrow the constitution. The attack on Sumpter dispelled this delusion. It did what Mr. Lincoln hoped it would do—what Mr. Davis ought to have endeavored to prevent,—it gave to the loyal States a rallying point—produced that majestic outburst of patriotism which astonished the world, and has placed the security of the Union beyond a doubt. By this one rash act he lost the advantages of the situation. The dream of sacking northern cities and devastating northern fields was dispelled forever. The vision of northern men in arms, marching with southern armies to the destruction of the government, vanished in an instant. The months of preparation which, through the treachery of Floyd and other great political and military criminals, the revolted States had enjoyed, were lost—wasted. They could no longer choose their own battle fields—no longer hope to extend their limits or dictate terms. Their leader had been outwitted—had been driven into an attack upon an unimportant fortress, containing a handful of men, the reduction of which was at his entire discretion. He found the Union sentiment comfortably asleep—unsuspicious of the real enormity of his designs, and he ordered General Beauregard to wake it up, so that it might gather in united power to hem him in and.crush out his rebellion.

The results are before the country, and the genius of men must be measured by the results they attain. Washington is safe; Maryland, which was trembling in the balance, has been retained; Kentucky and Missouri are saved; Virginia has entered the conspiracy with a precipitation which has set her people to cutting each others' throats. The southern ports are blockaded—the southern soil is made the unchangeable scene of the war,—in short, the advantages have passed from Mr. Davis to General Scott and the government. Nor is this all. The eyes of Europe have been opened. There is no longer opportunity for foreign nations to doubt the power of the United States and the unison of the northern people. Mr. Russell's description in the London Times has ceased to be a fact. Mr. Davis, by one act of rash precipitation, has dispelled the apathy—has made every man a devoted patriot, to become, if necessary, a self-sacrificing soldier.

So far, then, the rebellion has lent no laurels to Mr. Davis' brow. The wild vision of conquest has been sobered into the hope that he will be "let alone." The cohorts who were eager to rush upon the North are now compelled to the desperate defence of their own hearthstones. This is not the situation of a people led by a great genius. Yet this is the situation to which the rashness of Jefferson Davis has reduced the rebels.