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I ran across this while doing research for my NaNoWriMo project, Lee Goes North, which refuses to let me be:

I have seen it claimed various places that, as Southern Democrats went, Davis was a moderate. Considering how doctrinaire and inflexible he could be as Confederate President, I always doubted it.

Well, the link above is a smoking gun. The Committee of 13 was the Senate side of a last-ditch effort, as South Carolina was seceding, to find a compromise that both North and South could agree on. Davis was on the committee, and it was he who moved that the committee could make no recommendation unless a majority of both Republicans and Democrats on the committee approved it.

Only one of the five proposals in this link came from a Republican- Seward's. Seward's proposal was to order the northern states to repeal the "liberty laws" that interfered with enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act and to preserve, for all time, the right of property in slaves in the slave states. He asked in return only that people arrested as fugitive slaves be given a jury trial so that they could present evidence of freeborn status.

Stephen Douglas, the recently defeated nominee of the northern part of the Democratic Party, was willing to go even farther. He proposed to have it written into the Constitution that no black person would ever be allowed to vote, ever. He was willing to have the federal government reimburse slave owners who were prevented from retrieving runaway slaves. He was even willing to allow slave owners to transport their slaves across free states- what was at the time referred to as the rights of transit and sojourn- the laws of the free states notwithstanding. As odious as this seems today, it was a good faith effort to square the circle and end, once and for all, the conflict between free and slave states.

The other three proposals were all made by slave state senators, and Davis's was the most simple- and the most extreme- of the lot:

Resolved, That it shall be declared, by amendment of the Constitution, that property in slaves, recognized as such by the local law of any of the States of the Union, shall stand on the same footing in all constitutional and federal relations as any other species of property so recognized; and, like other property, shall not be subject to be divested or impaired by the local law of any other State, either in escape thereto or of transit or sojourn of the owner therein; and in no case whatever shall such property be subject to be divested or impaired by any legislative act of the United States, or of any of the Territories thereof.

In short, the free states would be forced to recognize slaves imported from a slave state as legal property for all purposes.

Put it another way: Jefferson Davis proposed, as a compromise, that all free states be forced to become slave states.

At about this same time he was one of seven Senators and over thirty Representatives who signed a manifesto calling on their home states to secede from the Union. If he truly wept tears when he resigned from the Senate on January 21,1861, they were crocodile tears. Davis had not only hoped for that moment for weeks if not months beforehand, but he had actively worked to bring it about- to the extent of even seeking to arm Mississippi militia to take federal facilities in the state before the state seceded.

Jefferson Davis was no moderate. He was a slaveowner, a secessionist, and a traitor. As such, he should be nobody's hero- even leaving aside the fact that he was a fairly incompetent president as well.


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