Monday, February 18, 2008

February 18

On this date in 1861, the newly-formed Confederate States of America inaugurated its first and only president, Jefferson Finis Davis, in Montgomery, Alabama. The inaugural ceremonies took place exactly two weeks after the representatives from the first six states to depart the Union -- South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana -- met to form a nation based on the inalienable right of white people to own black people.

On the morning of February 18, a slave-driven, six-horse coach lined with silk and saffron delivered Davis, his vice president Alexander Stephens, and Rev. Basil Manly -- who would deliver the ceremony’s benediction -- to the capitol building in Montgomery. There, Davis delivered one of the few speeches in his public life that did not mention the institution of slavery. Instead, he elaborated on the southern case for secession and announced that the southern states had not actually left the Union; he declared rather that the Confederacy embodied the “true meaning” of the original US constitution which the Northern states had since abandoned.

He concluded with one of the more unintentionally ironic moments of optimism in American history.
It is joyous, in the midst of perilous times, to look around upon a people united in heart, where one purpose of high resolve animates and actuates the whole-where the sacrifices to be made are not weighed in the balance against honor and right and liberty and equality. Obstacles may retard, they cannot long prevent the progress of a movement sanctified by its justice, and sustained by a virtuous people. Reverently let us invoke the God of our fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which, by his blessing, they were able to vindicate, establish and transmit to their posterity, and with a continuance of His favor, ever gratefully acknowledged, we may hopefully look forward to success, to peace, and to prosperity.
More than 630,000 corpses later, Davis would, we assume, have offered a slightly modified understanding of the favors dispensed by his God.