Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

Senator Jefferson Davis’ response to William Seward’s State of the Country Speech was effectively a political speech- it was not meant to fully articulate the Southern cause of State’s Rights, nor was it a long-winded justification of that “peculiar institution,” slavery.  Rather, Davis’ goal was to respond to Seward’s earlier speech, which condemned slavery.  Within Davis’ speech, though, we find an idea more dangerous and pernicious than slavery as a positive good or that a State has rights; Davis rejected the central principle of the American Founding and Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Read more

The Senate of 1860 looked little like the Senate of 1790, its proceedings having degenerated into unbridled partisanship. Several years before this debate, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks savagely beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner following anti-slavery remarks on the Senate floor. The South had few defenders more tenacious than Mississippi’s Senator Jefferson Davis. He had opposed the Compromise of 1850 and hoped for the annexation of much of northern Mexico, which he believed a natural place to expand Southern interests. Here, in response to New York Senator William Seward, Davis makes clear that, like John C. Calhoun, he rejects the equality principle of the Declaration. Read more