Digital History>eXplorations>John Brown: Hero or Terrorist?>The Public Response>Senator Jefferson Davis

Senator Reuben Davis, Democrat of Mississippi, December 8, 1859

Source: Congressional Globe, 69

. . . I will show before I am done that Seward, by his own declaration, knew of the Harper's Ferry affair. If I succeed in showing that, then he, like John Brown, deserves, I think, the gallows, for his participation in it. (Applause.)

Says Mr. Seward: "There is a meaning in all these facts, which it becomes us to study well. The nation has advanced another stage; it has reached the point where intervention by the Government, for slavery and slave States, will no longer be tolerated."

What is that stage to which the Union has advanced? The slave States had a majority in both branches of Congress once, whereas now the free States are seventeen, and the slave States only fifteen in this Union. There has been a transfer of the majorities in Congress from the slave to the free States. The Government, Senator Seward tells us, has advanced another stage. The Government is no longer to intervene in favor of protection for our slaves. We may be robbed of our property, and the General Government will not intervene for our protection. When the Government gets into the hands of the Republican party, the arm of the General Government, we are told, will not be raised for the protection of our slave property. Then intervention in favor of slavery and slave States will no longer be tolerated. We may be invaded, and the Black Republican Government will stand and permit our soil to be violated and our people assailed and raise no arm in our defense. The sovereignty of the State is no longer to be a bar to encroachments upon our rights when the Government gets into Black Republican hands. Then John Brown, and a thousand John Browns, can invade us, and the Government will not protect us. There will be no army, no navy, sent out to resist such an invasion; but we will be left to the tender mercies of our enemies. Has the South then no right to complain? Has the South then no right to entertain apprehensions when we are told that we are not to be protected in our property when the Republican party shall get possession of the Government? You even declare you will not defend the sovereignty of the States. Have we then no right to announce upon this floor that if we are not to be protected in our property and sovereignty, we are therefore released from our allegiance, and will protect ourselves out of the Union, if we cannot protect them in the Union? Have we no right to allege that to secure our rights and protect our honor we will dissever the ties that bind us together, even if it rushes us into a sea of blood . . . .

Again, that Senator said: "Free labor has at last apprehended its rights, its interests, its powers, and its destiny and is organizing itself to assume the Government of the Republic. It will henceforth meet you boldly and resolutely here," That is on the floor of the Senate "in the Territories or out of them, wherever you may go to extend slavery. It has driven you back in California and Kansas; it will invade you soon in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Missouri, and Texas."

Ah! "it will invade you soon in Delaware and Virginia." Has it not already been done? Has it not invaded us with pike, with spear, with rifles yes, with Sharpe's rifles? Have not your murderers already come within the limits of our borders, as announced by the traitor, Seward, that it would be done in a short time. At the time of the speech Forties was in Washington, and he says he communicated to Seward the fact that an invasion would be made. We have been invaded; and that invasion, and the facts connected with it, show Mr. Seward to be a traitor, and deserving of the gallows. (Applause in the galleries.) Brown had organized his constitution when that speech was made; Forties was in the city of Washington then, and had a conversation with Seward in reference to the invasion. Seward denies that Forties told him anything about it; but he admits that he had a conversation with Forties, and that Forties wanted money. Well, what was that money wanted for? The Senator confesses he had a conversation with Brown about that time. Forties says it was about the Virginia invasion, and Seward announces in the Senate that Maryland and Virginia would be invaded.

Are these facts not startling? And ought they not to awaken an apprehension in the minds of southern men? Is it not time that we were armed? But, more than that, gentlemen, he goes on to say: "That invasion will be not merely harmless, but beneficent, if you yield seasonably to its just and moderated demands."

That is exactly what John Brown said. He said if we would allow him to take our niggers off without making any fuss about it, he would not kill anybody. (Laughter.) Brown said he did not mean to kill anybody; Seward says, it is harmless and beneficent to us if we yield to their just demands. But if we do not yield, what then? Why, Brown said he would kill our people, butcher our women and children. What does Seward say? "Whether that consummation shall be allowed to take effect and with needful and wise precautions against sudden change and disaster, or be hurried on by violence, is all that remains for you (the people of the South) to decide."

That is the very language of John Brown. Whether we will allow them to do it quietly or not, is the only question for the South to decide. Virginia has decided it, and has hung the traitor Brown; and may, if she can get a chance, hang the traitor Seward. (Laughter.) We have repeatedly refused to yield, and you have sought to force us to yield by violence, and Virginia has met it with violence, and has hung the man; and Virginia has had twenty five hundred men under arms, and has defied all your efforts to rescue him.

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