A Message of Jeff Davis in Secret Session


To the Editors of the ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

Jaalam, 10th March, 1862.

GENTLEMEN,— My leisure has been so entirely occupied with the hitherto fruitless endeavour to decypher the Runick inscription whose fortunate discovery I mentioned in my last communication, that I have not found time to discuss, as I had intended, the great problem of what we are to do with slavery, a topick on which the publick mind in this place is at present more than ever agitated. What my wishes and hopes are I need not say, but for safe conclusions I do not conceive that we are yet in possession of facts enough on winch to bottom them with certainty. Acknowledging the hand of Providence, as I do, in all events, I am sometimes inclined to think that they are wiser than we, and am willing to wait till we have made this continent once more a place where freemen can live in security and honour, before assuming any further responsibility. This is the view taken by my neighbour Habakkuk Sloansuve, Esq., the president of our bank, whose opinion in the practical affairs of life has great weight with me, as I have generally found it to be justified by the event, and whose counsel, had I followed it, would have saved me from an unfortunate investment of a considerable part of the painful economies of half a century in the Northwest-Passage Tunnel. After a somewhat animated discussion with this gentleman, a few days since, I expanded, on the nudi alteram partem principle, something which he happened to say by way of illustration, into the following fable.


ONCE on a time there was a pool
Tringed all about with flag-leaves cool
And spotted with cow-lilies garish,
Of frogs and pouts the ancient parish.
Alders the creaking redwings sink on,
Tussocks that house blithe Bob o' Lincoln
Hedged round the unassailed seclusion,
Where muskrats piled their cells Carthusian;
And many a moss-embroidered log,
The watering-place of summer frog,
Slept and decayed with patient skill,
As watering-places sometimes will.
Now in this Abbey of Theleme,
Which realized the fairest dream
That ever dozing bull-frog had,
Sunned on a half-sunk lily-pad,
There rose a party with a mission
To mend the polliwogs’ condition,
Who notified the sélectmen
To call a meeting there and then.
“ Some kind of steps,” they said, “are needed;
They don’t come on so fast as we did:
Let’s dock their tails; if that don’t make ’em
Frogs by brevet, the Old One take ’em!
That boy, that came the other day
To dig some flag-root down this way,
His jack-knife left, and’t is a sign
That Heaven approves of our design:
’T were wicked not to urge the step on,
When Providence has sent the weapon.”
Old croakers, deacons of the mire,
That led the deep batraehian choir,
Uk ! Uk ! Caronk ! with bass that might
Have left Lablache’s out of sight,
Shook knobby beads, and said, “No go!
You ’d better let ’em try to grow:
Old Doctor Time is slow, but still
He does know bow to make a pill.”
But vain was all their hoarsest bass,
Their old experience out of place,
And, spite of croaking and entreating,
The vote was carried in marsh-meeting.
“ Lord knows,” protest the polliwogs,
“We ’re anxious to be grown-up frogs;
But do not undertake the work
Of Nature till she prove a shirk;
’T is not by jumps that she advances,
But wins her way by circumstances:
Pray, wait awhile, until you know
We ’re so contrived as not to grow;
Let Nature take her own direction,
And she ’ll absorb our imperfection;
You might n’t like ’em to appear with,
But we must have the things to steer with.”
“ No,” piped the party of reform,
“All great results are ta’en by storm;
Fate holds her best gifts till we show
We ’ve strength to make her let them go:
No more reject the Age’s chrism,
Your cues are an anachronism;
No more the Future’s promise mock,
But lay your tails upon the block,
Thankful that we the means have voted
To have you thus to frogs promoted.”
The thing was done, the tails were cropped,
And home each philotadpole hopped,
In faith rewarded to exult,
And wait the beautiful result.
Too soon it came; our pool, so long
The theme of patriot bull-frogs’ song,
Next day was reeking, fit to smother,
With heads and tails that missed each other,—
Here snoutless tails, there tailless snouts:
The only gainers were the pouts.


From lower to the higher next,
Not to the top. is Nature’s text;
And embryo Good, to reach full stature,
Absorbs the Evil in its nature.

I think that nothing will ever give permanent peace and security to this continent but the extirpation of Slavery therefrom, and that the occasion is nigh; but I would do nothing hastily or vindictively, nor presume to jog the elbow of Providence. No desperate measures for me till we are sure that all Others are hopeless,—flectere si nequeo RUREKOS, Acheronta movebo. To make Emancipation a reform instead of a revolution is worth a little patience that we may have the Border States first, and then the non-slaveholders of the Cotton States with us in principle, — a consummation that seems to me nearer than many imagine. Fiat justitia, ruat calum, JS not to be taken in a literal sense by statesmen, whose problem is to get justice done with as little jar as possible to existing order, which has at least so much of heaven in it that it is not chaos I rejoice in the President’s late Message, which at last proclaims the Government on the side of freedom, justice, and sound policy.

As I write comes the news of our disaster at Hampton Roads. I do not understand the supine ness which, after fair warning, leaves wood to an unequal conflict with iron. It is not enough merely to have the right on our side, if we stick to the old flint-lock of tradition. I have observed in my parochial experience (hand ignarus matt) that the Devil is prompt to adopt the latest inventions of destructive warfare, and may thus take even such a three-decker as Bishop Butler at an advantage. It is curious, that, as gunpowder made armour useless on shore so armour is having its revenge by baffling its old enemy at sea, — and that, while gunpowder robbed land-warfare of nearly all its picturesqueness to give even greater stateliness and subImuty to a sea-fight, armour bids fair to degrade the latter into a squabble between two ironshelled turtles.

Yours, with esteem and respect,


P. S. I had wellnigh forgotten to say that the object of this letter is to inclose a communication from the gifted pen of Mr. Biglow.

I SENT you a messige, my friens, t’ other day,
To tell you I ’d nothin’ pertickler to say:
’T wuz the day our new nation gut kin' o’ stillborn,
So’t wuz my pleasant dooty t’ acknowledge the corn,
An’ I see clearly then, ef I did n t before,
Thet the augur in inauguration means bore.
I need n’t tell you thet my messige wuz written
To diffuse correc’ notions in France an’ Gret Britten,
An’ agin to impress on the poppylar mind
The comfort an’ wisdom o’ goin’ it blind,
To say thet I did n’t abate not a hooter
O’ my faith in a happy an’ glorious futur’,
Ez rich in each soshle an’ p’litickle blessin
Ez them thet we now bed the joy o’ possessin’,
With a people united, an’ longin’ to die
For wut we call their country, without askin’ why,
An’ all the gret things we concluded to slope for
Ez much within reach now ez ever —to hope for.
We’ve all o’ the ellermunts, this very hour,
Thet make up a fus’-class, self-governin power .
We’ve a war, an’ a debt, an’ a flag; an’ ef this
Ain’t to be inderpendunt, why, wut on airth is ?
An’ nothin’ now benders our takin’ our station
Ez the freest, enlightenedest, civerlized nation,
Built up on our bran’-new politickle thesis
Thet a Guv’ment’s fust right is to tumble to pieces,—
I say nothin’ benders our takin’ our place
Ez the very fus’-best o’ the whole human race,
A-spittin’ tobacker ez proud ez you please
On Victory’s bes’ carpets, or loafin’ at ease
In the Tool’ries front-parlor, discussin’ affairs
With our heels on the backs o’ Napoleon’s new chairs,
An' princes a-mixin’ our cocktails an slings, —
Excep’, wal, excep’ jest a very few things,
Sech ez navies an’ armies an’ wherewith to pay,
An’ gittin’ our sogers to run t' other way,
An' not be too over-pertickler in tryin’
To hunt up the very las’ ditches to die in.
Ther’ are critters so base thet they want it explained
Jes’ wut is the totle amount thet we’ve gained,
Ez ef we could maysure stupenjious events
By the low Yankee stan’ard o’ dollars an’ cents :
They seem to forgit, thet, sence last year revolved,
We’ve succeeded in gittin’ seceshed an’ dissolved,
An’ thet no one can’t hope to git thru dissolution
’Thout some kin’ o’ strain on the best Constitootion.
Who asks for a prospec’ more flettrin’ an’ bright,
When from here clean to Texas it ’s all one free fight ?
Hain’t we rescued from Seward the gret leadin featurs
Thet makes it wuth while to be reasonin creaturs ?
Hain’t, we saved Habus Coppers, improved it in fact,
By suspendin’ the Unionists ’stid o’ the Act ?
Ain’t the laws free to all ? Where on airth else d’ ye see
Every freeman improvin’ his own rope an’ tree ?
It’s ne’ssary to take a good confident tone
With the public; but here, jest amongst us, I own
Things looks blacker ’n thunder. Ther’ ’s no use denyin’
We 're clean out o’ money, an’ ’most out o’ lyin’, —
Two things a young nation can’t mennage without,
Ef she wants to look wal at her fust comin’ out;
For the fust supplies physickle strength, while the second
Gives a morril edvantage thet’s hard to be reckoned:
For this latter I’m willin’ to du wut I can ;
For the former you ’ll hev to consult on a plan, —
Though our fust want (an’ this pint I want your best views on)
Is plausible paper to print I. O. U.s on.
Some gennlemen think it would cure all our cankers
In the way o’ finance, ef we jes’ hanged the bankers ;
An’ I own the proposle ’ud square with my views,
Ef their lives wuz n’t all thet we ’d left ’em to lose.
Some say thet more confidence might be inspired,
Ef we voted our cities an’ towns to be fired,—
A plan thet ’ud suttenly tax our endurance,
Coz’t would be our own bills we should git for th’ insurance ;
But cinders, no metter how sacred we think ’em,
Might n’t strike furrin minds ez good sources of income,
Nor the people, perhaps, would n’t like the eclaw
O’ bein’ all turned into paytriots by law.
Some want we should buy all the cotton an’ burn it,
On a pledge, when we’ve gut thru the war, to return it, —
Then to take the proceeds an’ hold them ez security
For an issue o’ bonds to be met at maturity
With an issue o’ notes to be paid in hard cash
On the fus’ Monday fullerin’ the ’tarnal Allsmash:
This hez a safe air, an’, once hold o’ the gold,
’Ud leave our vile plunderers out in the cold,
An’ might temp’ John Bull, ef it warn’t for the dip he
Once gut From the banks o’ my own Massissippi.
Some think we could make, by arrangin’ the figgers,
A hendy home-currency out of our niggers;
But it wun’t du to lean much on ary seeh staff,
For they ’re gittin’ tu current a’ready, by half.
One gennleman says, ef we lef’ our loan out
Where Floyd could git hold on’t, he’d take it, no doubt;
But’t ain’t jes’ the takin’, though’t hez a good look,
We mus’ git sunthin’ out on it arter it’s took,
An’ we need now more ’n ever, with sorrer I own,
Thet some one another should let us a loan,
Sence a soger wun’t fight, on’y jes’ while he draws his
Pay down on the nail, for the best of all causes,
’Thout askin’ to know wut the quarrel ’s about, —
An’ once come to thet, why, our game is played out.
It’s ez true ez though I should n’t never hev said it
Thet a hitch hez took place in our system o’ credit;
I swear it ’s all right in my speeches an’ messiges,
But ther' ’s idees afloat, ez ther’ is about sessiges:
Folks wun’t take a bond ez a basis to trade on,
Without nosin’ round to And out wut it’s made on,
An’ the thought more an’ more thru the public min’ crosses
Thet our Treshry hez gut ’mos’ too many dead hosses
Wut’s called credit, you see, is some like a balloon,
Thet looks while it’s up ’most ez harnsome ’z a moon,
But once git a leak in’t an’ wut looked so grand
Caves righ’ down in a jifly ez flat ez your hand.
Now the world is a drellle mean place, for our sins,
Where ther’ ollus is critters about with long pins
A-prickin’ the globes we ’ve blowed up with sech care,
An’ provin’ ther’ ’s nothin’ inside but bad air :
They ’re all Stuart Millses, poor-white trash, an’ sneaks,
Without no more chivverlry 'n Choctaws or Creeks,
Who think a real gennleman’s promise to pay
Is meant to be took in trade’s ornery way:
Them fellers an’ I could n’ never agree ;
They ’re the nateral foes o’ the Southun Idee;
I’d gladly take all of our other resks on me
To be red o’ this low-lived politikle ’con’my !
Now a dastardly notion is gittin’ about
Thet our bladder is bust an’ the gas oozin’ out,
An’ onless we can mennage in some way to stop it,
Why, the thing’s a gone coon, an’ we might ez wal drop it.
Brag works wal at fust, but it ain’t jes’ the thing
For a stiddy inves’ment the shiners to bring,
An’ votin’ we ’re prosp’rous a hundred times over
Wun’t change bein’ starved into livin’ on clover.
Manassas done sunthin’ tow’rds drawin’ the wool
O’er the green, anti-slavery eyes o’ John Bull :
Oh, warn't it a godsend, jes’ when sech tight fixes
Wuz crowdin’ us mourners, to throw double-sixes!
I wuz tempted to think, an’ it wuz n’t no wonder,
Ther’ wuz reelly a Providence, — over or under,—
When, all packed for Nashville, I fust ascertained
From the papers up North wut a victory we’d gained.
’T wuz the time for diffusin’ correc’ views abroad
Of our union an’ strength an’ relyin’ on God;
An’, fact, when I’d gut thru my fust big surprise,
I much ez half b’lieved in my own tallest lies,
An’ conveyed the idee thet the whole Southun popperlace
Wuz Spartans all on the keen jump for Thermopperlies,
Thet set on the Lincolnites’ bombs till they bust,
An’ fight for the priv’lege o’ dyin' the fust;
But Roanoke, Bufort, Millspring, an' the rest
Of our recent starn-foremost successes out West,
Hain’t left us a foot for our swellin’ to stand on, — We ’ve showed too much o’ wut Buregard calls abandon,
For all our Thermopperlics (an' it’s a marcy
We hain’t hed no more) hev ben clean vicy-varsy,
An’ wut Spartans wuz lef’ when the battle wuz done
Wuz them thet wuz too unambitious to run.
Oh, ef we hed on’y jes’ gut Reecognition,
Things now would ha’ ben in a different position !
You 'd ha’ hed all you wanted: the paper blockade
Smashed up into toothpicks, — unlimited trade
In the one thing thet’s needlle, till niggers, I swow,
Hed ben thicker ’n provisional shinplasters now, —
Quinine by the ton 'ginst the shakes when they seize ye, —
Nice paper to coin into C. S. A. specie;
The voice of the driver 'd be heerd in our land,
An’ the univarse scringe, ef we lifted our hand:
Would n’t thet be some like a fulfillin’ the prophecies,
With all the fus’ fem’lies in all the best offices ?
’T wuz a beautiful dream, an’ all sorrer is idle,—
But ef Lincoln would ha’ hanged Mason an’ Slidell !
They ain’t o’ no good in European pellices,
But think wut a help they’d ha’ ben on their gallowses !
They ’d ha’ felt they wuz truly fulfillin’ their mission,
An’, oh, how dog-cheap we’d ha’ gut Reecognition !
But somehow another, wutever we’ve tried,
Though the the’ry ’s fust-rate, the facs wun't coincide :
Facs are contrary ’z mules, an’ ez hard in the mouth,
An’ they allus hev showed a mean spite to the South.
Sech bein’ the case, we hed best look about
For some kin’ o’ way to slip our necks out:
Le’ ’s vote our las’ dollar, ef one can be found,
(An’, at any rate, votin’ it hez a good sound,) —
Le’ ’s swear thet to arms all our people is flyin’,
(The critters can’t read, an’ wun’t know how we ’re lyin’,) —
Thet Toombs is advancin’ to sack Cincinnater,
With a rovin’ commission to pillage an’ slarter,—
Thet we ’ve throwed to the winds all regard for wut’s lawfle,
An’ gone in for sun thin’ promiscu’sly awfle.
Ye see, hitherto, it’s our own knaves an’ fools
Thet we’ve used, — those for whetstones, an’t’ others ez tools,—
An’ now our las’ chance is in puttin’ to test
The same kin’ o’ cattle up North an’ out West.
I — But, Gennletnen, here’s a despatch jes’ come in
Which shows thet the tide’s begun turnin’ agin, —
Gret Cornfedrit success ! C’lumbus eevacooated !
I mus’ run down an’ hev the thing properly stated,
An’ show wut a triumph it is, an’ how lucky
To fin'lly git red o’ thet cussed Kentucky,—
An how, sence Fort Donelson, winnin’ the day
Consists in triumphantly gittin’ away.