Why Jefferson Davis Never Stood Trial

Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late… It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision… It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties. ~ Maj. General Patrick R. Cleburne, CSA, January 1864

Sometime early in the morning on April 2, 1865, near Irwinville, Georgia, a detachment of the 4th Michigan Cavalry, under the command of General James Wilson, captured and arrested the former Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis was taken to Savannah, were he was put on a steamship and then later transferred to the warship Tuscarora, upon which he was transported to Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

Davis was then imprisoned in a casemate, (a fortified gun emplacement), where shackles were riveted to his ankles under orders of General Nelson Miles, who was in charge of the Fort. Davis was allowed no visitors or books, other than a Bible, and his health quickly deteriorated to the point an attending physician warned that his life was in danger.

Sometime in late Autumn Davis was transferred to officer’s quarters, and after Miles was transferred out of Fort Monroe his treatment continued to improve and his wife and family were allowed to join him.

The charges which led to the arrest of Davis were rebellion and treason; which ultimately led to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Davis languished in prison for two years awaiting a trial, and a chance to explain the Confederacy’s cause before a jury. His chance never came, as after his release on $100,000 bail President Andrew Johnson issued a declaration of amnesty for, “…every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion…” and on February 15, 1869 a federal circuit court dropped all charges against Mr. Davis after one of the attorneys representing the government informed them that they would no longer seek prosecution.

Jefferson Davis was once again a free man, but at what cost? His Confederacy lay in ruins, the North, having won the war would, not only exact a harsh revenge upon the South, but also write the history of that conflict , and the question of whether or not a State had the right to voluntarily leave the Union would never be decided by jurors in a court of law. Instead, that question was settled by the Supreme Court in 1869 when they declared that the Acts of Secession by the Confederate States were null and void, and that the Confederate States had never legally left the Union. (Source: Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700)

There is so much that we are not taught about the Civil War that it would be, perhaps better, if we were taught nothing at all about it. What we are taught is that it was about slavery, (a lie), and that Abraham Lincoln was a great president who freed the slaves and saved the Union. Had Jefferson Davis had his day in court there is a good chance that history books would tell an altogether different story about the war, about Lincoln, and about the cause of the Confederacy.

I may be alone in thinking this, but I believe there were three pivotal points, or events, in American History; the American Revolution where our Founders sought to free themselves from a tyrant; the Ratification of our Constitution where they sought to implement a system of government to secure the blessings of liberty for all Americans; and the Civil War which saw us placed under the tyranny of a government of our own creation.

The end result of the Civil War was the fulfillment of Byles Mather’s quote, “Which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?” You may have heard the character Benjamin Martin, played by Mel Gibson, say that in the movie The Patriot, but it was Byles Mather, a Loyalist Boston Clergyman who said it originally.

As the opening credits of the TV show The X-Files say, “The truth is out there“, such is the case regarding this conflict which forever altered the relationship between the States and the federal government. To find that truth, and understand it, you must first open your minds to the fact that all you have been taught about that period of American History is a lie.

The first crucial point you have got to understand is that the war was not fought to either abolish slavery, or permit the continuation of the practice of holding other men in servitude as slave labor. In his first Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln himself said, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

Although at first glance that may sound innocent enough, there is a veiled truth there that one may miss if they simply read over those words without giving them another moment’s consideration. Lincoln said he had no intention, “… to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.” What he did not say, and said by implication, was that he, as well as his other Republican cohorts in Congress, seek to prevent newly admitted States from instituting the practice of slavery.

As terrible as slavery was, you have to accept the fact that during this period of American History slavery was legal; the Constitution did not ban it, nor were there any constitutional amendments prohibiting a State from allowing that institution within its borders. Therefore, any attempt by the government to prohibit the people within newly admitted States from owning slaves was, therefore, unconstitutional.

Sure, there were abolitionists, both in the North and in Congress, but the primary reason they sought to prohibit the expansion of slavery into newly admitted States was not due to their opposition to holding men in servitude, but because slave States tended to be Democrats, and by not allowing new States to practice slavery, the Republicans could weaken Democratic control in Congress. It was more about control of Congress than it was the opposition to the practice of slavery itself.

Lincoln himself implied that in a letter to Horace Greely, dated August 22, 1862, “If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy Slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

You may find it interesting to know that the same Horace Greely to whom Abraham Lincoln said this to was among those who contributed the money towards the $100,000 bail for Jefferson Davis.

Lincoln is held in high esteem as the Great Emancipator; the president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet how many Americans know that the Emancipation Proclamation did not free every slave in America? Had people read it they would know that it says, “… all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…” Those held in bondage in the Border States, or those areas already under control of the Union Army would still be considered, and treated as slaves.

The interference in the practice, and expansion of slavery was one of the reasons which led some of the Southern States to secede from the Union, but it was not the cause of the war itself; that came about when the government led by Abraham Lincoln denied the States the right to voluntarily leave the Union, contradicting what he himself had said nearly a decade and a half earlier in a speech regarding the War with Mexico to the House of Representatives, “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, most sacred right – a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to excercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize and make their own, of so much territory as the inhabit.”

Had Jefferson Davis stood trial the subject of a State’s right to secede from a voluntary union of States was sure to have come up. Had that subject come up in a court of law, there is a good chance that the jurors would have rendered a verdict which supported a State’s right to leave the Union. Had that happened, instead of Jefferson Davis being charged with treason and rebellion, the tables would have been turned and Abraham Lincoln, and his commanding generals, would have been found guilty of invading a sovereign nation, and all the atrocities committed during that invasion would have been considered war crimes.

There are those who say that Abraham Lincoln was between a rock and a hard place; with allowing the South to secede in peace, and the controlling influences of the bankers and industrial interests of the North. But Lincoln took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and the Constitution, as an act of the people can be undone by the people, and there’s not a damned thing the government can legally do to prevent it.

Lincoln could not let the South leave, if he did the North, and his government would have suffered a devastating loss of revenue. In an article published in the Union Democrat, Manchester New Hampshire, dated February 19, 1861, we read, “The Southern Confederacy will not employ our ships or buy our goods. What is our shipping without it? Literally nothing…it is very clear that the South gains by this process and we lose. No…we must not let the South go.”

It has been said that when a delegation from Virginia met with Abraham Lincoln in 1861 to discuss a compromise they asked Lincoln why not let the South go in peace? Lincoln’s supposed response was, “I can’t let them go. Who would pay for the government? And, what then will become of my tariff?”

The Civil War was not fought over slavery, it was fought over the economic security of the Northern business interests, to whom the Republicans owed their allegiance, and the economic security of the government itself; for it was the tariffs imposed upon the South which funded much of the government’s operation.

To put it in simple terms, the South did not need the government, but the government needed the South. No, Lincoln could not let the South leave; not if he wanted anything left to govern that is.

I’m sure you all know, or at least I would hope you know, that the Confederacy consisted of 11 States. However, are you aware that it almost consisted of 12? Maryland was split pretty equally in regards to those who wished to remain in the Union and those who wished to secede. There was enough pressure put upon Governor Thomas Hicks, a Union supporter, to hold a convention to discuss the subject of secession. However, instead of holding these talks in the State Capital, Annapolis, they were held in Fredrick, a strong pro-Union town. The vote was 53-13 against secession.

Yet the following month, 1,000 Union troops, led by General Benjamin Butler entered Baltimore in the stealth of night and took possession of Federal Hill. His reasons for doing so were to prevent further discussion of secession and secure Maryland as a Union State. Maryland was of critical importance to the Union due to its proximity to Washington D.C. Had it gone over to the Confederacy the North’s capital would face the Confederate States of Virginia to its South and Maryland to the North; it simply could not allow that to happen; so they took Maryland, instituting martial law and suspending the writ of habeas corpus; one of Lincolns many war crimes.

Yet, had Jefferson Davis stood trial, and his cause justified, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus would have paled in comparison to the atrocities committed against the South by his commanding generals; Philip Sheridan and William Tecumseh Sherman.

Under the concept of total war, of which both Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant were both aware of, and supported, civilians were targeted as combatants. There homes were destroyed, their women raped, and their goods pillaged to destroy their morale and weaken their resolve. Things were this way from the very onset of hostilities, leading Union General George McClellan to write President Lincoln, imploring him to see that the war was conducted to “…the highest principles known to Christian civilization.” Not only did Lincoln ignore his letter, he replaced McClellan with General Ambrose Burnside as Commander of the Army of the Potomac.

Union General Philip Sheridan was responsible for the total destruction of the entire Shenandoah Valley. In recounting the barns, mills and other buildings his men burnt to the ground, Sheridan said, “A crow flying over the Valley must take rations with him.”

General Sherman was even worse; developing his ‘collective responsibility’ policy which held civilians responsible for the actions of those actively fighting Union forces. Sherman burnt the entire town of Randolph, Tennessee to the ground as well as Jackson and Meridian, Mississippi, although there were no Confederate forces there.

Sherman not only hated those who actively took up arms to defend those States which seceded, he hated those who supported the idea of secession, stating, “…to the petulant and persistent secessionists, why, death is mercy.” In 1862 Sherman would write to his wife that his entire purpose of the war was the “…extermination, not of soldiers alone, that is the least of the trouble, but the people...” His wife was of an equal vile nature, responding that her wish was for “a war of extermination and that all [Southerners] would be driven like swine into the sea. May we carry fire and sword into their states till not one habitation is left standing.”

Yet for two years Jefferson Davis languished in prison for supporting the very principle enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, that ” when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

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Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, felt that the government established by the Constitution was superior to the will of the States and the people, and that any who questioned the national authority were guilty of treason. The problem is, he could not allow that belief to be tested by a jury; which more likely than not would have found Davis innocent. Had Davis been found innocent of treason, then Lincoln’s aggression against the South would have found itself on trial, and instead of being the great president everyone believes he was, history would have recorded him truthfully, as a war criminal who illegally invaded a sovereign nation and, whose commanding officers were guilty of committing horrendous atrocities against the people of the South who only wanted to live in peace.

You don’t have to take my word for it, take the word of a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon Chase, who said, “If you bring these [Confederate] leaders to trial it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution secession is not rebellion.”

You can say that the Civil War was a just war fought to free those held in slavery until you are blue in the face; it won’t change the facts that prove otherwise. Dr. James Thornwell, in his book Our Danger and Our Duty, tells what the real consequences of the Civil War are, “If they (the North) prevail, the whole character of the Government will be changed, and instead of a federal republic, the common agent of sovereign and independent States, we shall have a central despotism, with the notion of States forever abolished, deriving its powers from the will, and shaping its policy according to the wishes, of a numerical majority of the people; we shall have, in other words, a supreme, irresponsible democracy. The Government does not now recognize itself as an ordinance of God, and when all the checks and balances of the Constitution are gone, we may easily figure to ourselves the career and the destiny of this godless monster of democratic absolutism. The progress of regulated liberty on this continent will be arrested, anarchy will soon succeed, and the end will be a military despotism, which preserves order by the sacrifice of the last vestige of liberty.”

But most likely you are not going to believe me, you’re going to go on admiring Abraham Lincoln as a great president, and the Civil War a just war against the evil of slavery. That’s okay, believe what you want to believe. But before I go I’d like to leave you with a final quote from the man himself, make of this what you will:

The principle for which we contend is bound to reassert itself, though it may be at another time and in another form. ~ Jefferson Davis

~ The Author ~
Neal Ross, Student of history, politics, patriot and staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment. Send all comments to: bonsai@syix.com.

If you liked Neal’s latest column, maybe you’ll like his latest booklet: The Civil War: (The Truth You Have Not Been Told) AND don’t forget to pick up your copy of ROSS: Unmasked – An Angry American Speaks Out – and stay tuned – Neal has a new, greatly expanded book coming soon dealing with the harsh truths about the so-called American Civil War of 1861-1865. Life continues to expand for this prolific writer and guardian of TRUE American history.

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  1. Pingback: The Civil War: The Last Dying Gasp of Federalism in America | MetropolisCafé.US

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