President Jefferson Davis's Inaugural Speech

President Jefferson Davis

Montgomery Alabama

Feb 18, 1861


Called to the difficult and responsible station of Chief Executive of the Provisional 
Government which you have instituted, I approach the discharge of the duties assigned 
to me with an humble distrust of my abilities, but with a sustaining confidence in the 
wisdom of those who are to guide and to aid me in the administration of public affairs, 
and an abiding faith in the virtue and patriotism of the people. 

Looking forward to the speedy establishment of a permanent government to take the 
place of this, and which by its greater moral and physical power will be better able to 
combat with the many difficulties which arise from the conflicting interests of separate 
nations, I enter upon the duties of the office to which I have been chosen with the hope that 

the beginning of our career as a Confederacy may not be obstructed by hostile opposition 
to our enjoyment of the separate existence and independence which we have asserted, 
and, with the blessing of Providence, intend to maintain. Our present condition, achieved 
in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations, illustrates the American idea that 
governments rest upon the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people 
to alter or abolish governments whenever they become destructive of the ends for which 
they were established . The declared purpose of the compact of Union from which we 
have withdrawn was "to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the 
common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to 
ourselves and our posterity;" and when, in the judgment of the sovereign States now 
composing this Confederacy, it had been perverted from the purposes for which it was 
ordained, and had ceased to answer the ends for which it was established, a peaceful 
appeal to the ballot-box declared that so far as they were concerned, the government 
created by that compact should cease to exist. In this they merely asserted a right 
which the Declaration of Independence of 1776 had defined to be inalienable; of the 
time and occasion for its exercise, they, as sovereigns, were the final judges, each 
for itself. The impartial and enlightened verdict of mankind will vindicate the rectitude 
of our conduct, and He who knows the hearts of men will judge of the sincerity with 
which we labored to preserve the Government of our fathers in its spirit. The right 
solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the States, and which has been affirmed and 
reaffirmed in the bills of rights of States subsequently admitted into the Union of 1789, 
undeniably recognize in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the 
purposes of government. Thus the sovereign States here represented proceeded to 
form this Confederacy, and it is by abuse of language that their act has been 
denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its 
government has remained, the rights of person and property have not been disturbed. 
The agent through whom they communicated with foreign nations is changed, but this 
does not necessarily interrupt their international relations. 

Sustained by the consciousness that the transition from the former Union to the 
present Confederacy has not proceeded from a disregard on our part of just obligations, 
or any failure to perform every constitutional duty, moved b! no interest or passion to 
invade the rights of others, anxious to cultivate peace and commerce with all nations, 
if we may not hope to avoid war, we may at least expect that posterity will acquit us of 
having needlessly engaged in it. Doubly justified by the absence of wrong on our part, 
and by wanton aggression on the part of others, there can be no cause to doubt that 
the courage and patriotism of the people of the Confederate States will be found equal 
to any measures of defense which honor and security may require. 

An agricultural people, whose chief interest is the export of a commodity required in 
every manufacturing country, our true policy is peace, and the freest trade which our 
necessities will permit. It is alike our interest, and that of all those to whom we would 
sell and from whom we would buy, that there should be the fewest practicable restrictions 
upon the interchange of commodities. There can be but little rivalry between ours and any 
manufacturing or navigating community, such as the Northeastern States of the American 
Union. It must follow, therefore, that a mutual interest would invite good will and kind 
offices. If, however, passion or the lust of dominion should cloud the judgment or inflame 
the ambition of those States, we must prepare to meet the emergency and to maintain, 
by the final arbitrament of the sword, the position which we have assumed among the 
nations of the earth. We have entered upon the career of independence, and it must be 
inflexibly pursued. Through many years of controversy with our late associates, the 
Northern States, we have vainly endeavored to secure tranquility, and to obtain respect 
for the rights to which we were entitled. As a necessity, not a choice, we have resorted 
to the remedy of separation; and henceforth our energies must he directed to the 
conduct of our own affairs, and the perpetuity of the Confederacy which we have formed. 
If a just perception of mutual interest shall permit us peaceably to pursue our separate 
political career, my most earnest desire will have been fulfilled. But, if this be denied to 
us, and the integrity of our territory and jurisdiction be assailed, it will but remain for us, 
with firm resolve, to appeal to arms and invoke the blessings of Providence on a just cause. 

As a consequence of our new condition and with a view to meet anticipated wants, it will 
be necessary to provide for the speedy and efficient organization of branches of the 
executive department, having special charge of foreign intercourse, finance, military 
affairs, and the postal service. 

For purposes of defense, the Confederate States may, under ordinary circumstances, 
rely mainly upon their militia, but it is deemed advisable, in the present condition of 
affairs, that there should be a well-instructed and disciplined army, more numerous 
than would usually be required on a peace establishment. I also suggest that for the 
protection of our harbors and commerce on the high seas a navy adapted to those 
objects will be required. These necessities have doubtless engaged the attention of 

With a Constitution differing only from that of our fathers in so far as it is explanatory 
of their well-known intent, freed from the sectional conflicts which have interfered with 
the pursuit of the general welfare it is not unreasonable to expect that States from 
which we have recently parted may seek to unite their fortunes with ours under the 
government which we have instituted. For this your Constitution makes adequate 
provision; but beyond this, if I mistake not the judgment and will of the people, a 
reunion with the States from which we have separated is neither practicable nor 
desirable. To increase the power, develop the resources, and promote the happiness 
of a confederacy, it is requisite that there should be so much of homogeneity that the 
welfare of every portion shall be the aim of the whole. Where this does not exist, 
antagonisms are engendered which must and should result in separation. 

Actuated solely by the desire to preserve our own rights and promote our own 
welfare, the separation of the Confederate States has been marked by no aggression 
upon others and followed by no domestic convulsion. Our industrial pursuits have 
received no check. The cultivation of our fields has progressed as heretofore, and even 
should we be involved in war there would be no considerable diminution in the 
production of the staples which have constituted our exports and in which the 
commercial world has an interest scarcely less than our own. This common interest 
of the producer and consumer can only be interrupted by an exterior force which 
should obstruct its transmission to foreign markets-a course of conduct which would 
be as unjust toward us as it would be detrimental to manufacturing and commercial 
interests abroad. Should reason guide the action of the Government from which we 
have separated, a policy so detrimental to the civilized world, the Northern States 
included, could not be dictated by even the strongest desire to inflict injury upon us; 
but otherwise a terrible responsibility will rest upon it, and the suffering of millions 
will bear testimony to the folly and wickedness of our aggressors. In the meantime 
there will remain to us, besides the ordinary means before suggested, the well-known 
resources for retaliation upon the commerce of an enemy. 

Experience in public stations, of subordinate grade to this which your kindness has 
conferred, has taught me that care and toil and disappointment are the price of official 
elevation. You will see many errors to forgive, many deficiencies to tolerate, but you 
shall not find in me either a want of zeal or fidelity to the cause that is to me highest 
in hope and of most enduring affection. Your generosity has bestowed upon me an 
undeserved distinction, one which I neither sought nor desired. Upon the continuance 
of that sentiment and upon your wisdom and patriotism I rely to direct and support me 
in the performance of the duty required at my hands. 

We have changed the constituent parts, but not the system of our Government. The 
Constitution formed by our fathers is that of these Confederate States, in their 
exposition of it, and in the judicial construction it has received, we have a light which 
reveals its true meaning. 

Thus instructed as to the just interpretation of the instrument, and ever remembering 
that all offices are but trusts held for the people, and that delegated powers are to be 
strictly construed, I will hope, by due diligence in the performance of my duties, though 
I may disappoint your expectations, yet to retain, when retiring, something of the good 
will and confidence which welcome my entrance into office. 

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. 

President Jefferson Davis, Confederate States of America

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