Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 06.djvu/179

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Address of Honorable Jefferson Davis.

I understand your promise to extend. It does not require you to accept a fraud in the title to office, nor, because a man calls himself a "statesman," to admit his right to legitimize bribery and perjury.

Wars of conquest, like the convulsive heaving of an earthquake, displace the proper order of constituent elements, and bringing the dregs of society to the surface check both material and moral progress. But this evil in a country where the people rule, must have an inherent remedy. Bad laws, badly administered, impair the prosperity and happiness of the masses, and their interest must teach them that corruption and fraud may enrich the few, but does so by impoverishing the many.

Ignorance and unbridled passion in legislation may not enrich the few, but must make the many poor indeed. To which of these causes is to be referred the extraordinary legislation of the Congresses which followed the war, it is left to others to decide. The tax-payers know that an increased burden was imposed on them by the changes made in the contracts with the bondholders. The merchants and ship-owners know that we have lost the carrying trade; and to what will they assign a policy which prevents the reregistration of an American ship that had changed her flag during the war, which imposes such duties on the raw material as to interfere with ship-building, and prohibits the registration of a foreign built ship, though it be, by purchase, the property of a citizen of the United States?

Will the people, if worthy the source of all power, allow a long continuance of such palpable wrongs to the masses—such ruin to interests which have been equally our pride and means of prosperity?

A form of government must correspond to the character of the people for which it is appropriate. It is therefore that republics have failed whenever corruption entered the body politic and rendered the people unworthy to rule. Then they become the fit subjects of despotism, and a despot is always at hand to respond to the call. A Cæsar could not subjugate a people who were fit to be free; nor could a Brutus save them, if they were fit for subjugation.

The fortitude with which our people have borne the oppression imposed on them since the war was closed; the resolute will with which they have struggled against poverty and official pillage, is their highest glory and gives the best assurance of final triumph.

Well may we rejoice in the regained possession of local self-government, in the power of the people to choose their representatives and to legislate uncontrolled by bayonets. This is the great victory, and promises another as the sequence to it, a total non-interference by the Federal Government with the domestic affairs of the States. The revival of the time-honored doctrine of State sovereignty and the supremacy of the law will secure permanent peace, freedom and prosperity. The constitution of the United States, interpreted as it was by those who made it, is the prophet's rod to sweeten the bitter water from which flowed the strife, the carnage,