Thursday, May 3, 2012

Jeff. Davis’ Inauguration – The Scene

When at the Restoration, Louis XVIII returned to Paris, as was received with demonstrations of welcome by the populace, the official Moniteur of the following day put in his mouth some pithy observations most apt for the occasion.  “But I never said anything of the kind,” said the King to one of his Court when he read it.  “Sire,” replied the official, “it is necessary that your Majesty should have said so.”

Somewhat so with Jeff. Davis’ inaugural, tho’ it was, no doubt, pronounced by him as printed.  In reading it we must bear in mind that he was under a necessity of saying what befitted the occasion, with little reference to facts, or exactness of statement.  His position required him to present the most hopeful and encouraging aspects of the struggle into which he may be said  himself to have plunged the people of the Confederate States.

He would have played his role very badly indeed in the drama that was being enacted, if he had ventured upon a candid and sincere exposition of the real state of affairs.  Necessity as manager, had written down his part for him, and he could not deviate without spoiling the play, and being, as the theatrical phrase has it, “damned” by boxes, pit and gallery.  The select audience would not permit even a star performer to lay aside the lion and announce himself as “Nick Bottom, the Weaver.”  He must roar in character.

The august ceremonial of inauguration, in the accounts given of it in the Richmond papers, serious as they are, seems more like a burlesque than the solemn inauguration of a “permanent government” by men in their right wits.  Yet we doubt not the crowd of adventurers, F. F. coxcombs, swaggerers, lavish of “the last drop of blood” but careful of the first, behaved with all the solemnity befitting such an occasion.

The ceremonies, it appears by the programme, took place upon a platform erected for the purpose, against the east front of the Washington monument.  To this Jeff. refers to his exordium: “On this, the birthday of the man most identified with the establishment of American Independence, and beneath the monument erected to commemorate his heroic virtues and those of his compatriots, we have assembled, &c.  The stage is described as “extending from the pedestal in front of the statue of Mason to that in front of Jefferson.”

That Monument in Capitol Square, Richmond, is one of the noblest works of art in America. – Those who have seen and studied it, united in pronouncing it alike worthy of the great subject and of the distinguished artist Crawford, who designed and partially executed the work.  The main figure is a colossal equestrian statue of Washington.  Around it, upon subordinate pedestals, are statures of life size, of Jefferson, Henry, Mason and others – Virginia’s sons in the period when she produced heroes and statesmen of honest renown in all time.

These figures are in bronze, cast at the royal foundry, Munich.  The monument itself is designed to commemorate to posterity genuine heroism and patriotic devotion.  The very shadow – even the very steps of that noble monumental structure, are chosen as the place of inaugurating a government founded upon the overthrow of  that which those great men organized, and having as it’s “corner stone,” that slavery which they one and all abhorred.  The utterance to-day by either of the four Virginians named, of the sentiments they promulgated, in their lifetimes, would cause him or them to be driven from “the sacred soil” of Virginia, as “Abolitionists” and traitors to the Davis Confederacy.  It was the presence of these magnificent effigies of these founders of the National Government that the arch conspirators chose for displaying before the world their formal organization for its overthrow.  With impious lips, the Chief pretended to invoke such an example in justification of his crime.  How applicable the following words of Washington to this scene enacted near his statue:

The Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all.  The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government, presupposes THE DUTY OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL TO OBEY THE ESTABLISHED GOVERNMENT.”


“However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which CUNNING, AMBITIOUS AND UNPRINCIPLED MEN will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and TO USURP FOR THEMSELVES THE REINS OF GOVERNMENT.”

The assemblages there that day, we may well suppose, was made up in no small part, of an empty and pretentious class of Virginians, foplings proud of ancestry whose virtues are grown obsolete.  But Virginia surely is not without some men in whom “the ancient spirit is not dead.  Let us imagine such as one present on that occasion.  As he regards first that magnificent monument, and the silent figures of Virginia’s heroic men, and then turns and listens to the specious harangue of the living trickster, demagogue and traitor, must he not be reminded of the degenerates of another age and country, who “built the tombs of the prophets and garnished the sepulchers of the righteous,” but were ready to stone him who should follow such just example?

Was it not Washington who said “it is my most ardent wish to see some plan of emancipation adopted in Virginia?”

Did not Jefferson say in reference to slavery: “I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just, and that justice cannot sleep forever.  The almighty has no attribute that could take sides with us in such a contest.”

And Mason – quite another from him of that name who figures now – declared in the most forcible language, the dangerous and corrupting tendencies of slavery in its effects upon the white race.

Patrick Henry (whom the sculptor has represented in the attitude of high wrought passion, in which he might be imagined when he exclaimed “Give me liberty or give me death!”) bore his testimony no less emphatic against that system by which Virginia makes men and women one of her two staple crops for the market.

Regarding that the whole scene together, and thinking of the desecration of that presence by such a pageant of treason, one might almost have expected the spirits of the mighty dead to utter audible rebuke through the bronze lips of the statues erected to their memory. – St. Louis Democrat.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, March 8, 1862, p. 2

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