On this day in 1861, his native Mississippi having seceded, Jefferson Davis bid farewell to the United States Senate. The text of his speech amounts to an apology for states’ rights and secession and includes the declaration that, hey, if Massachusetts had wanted to do it, “I will say to her, Godspeed.” Why would the Bay State have wanted to secede, you ask. Davis was clearly referring to the case of Anthony Burns, a slave who in 1854 had escaped from Virginia to Boston, where he eventually was captured and—amidst great publicity and even some violence—was eventually returned to Virginia according to the dictates of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850).
So Davis is saying that if Massachusetts didn’t like this federal law requiring it to return Virginia’s escaped slaves, then they should have just left. Would have been fine with him. And now that Davis and his fellow Mississippians worried about the Republicans’ intentions to use the power of the federal government against the institution of slavery—or, as Davis says, “to stir up insurrection among our slaves”—then he’s outta there.
Davis admits that “secession belongs to a different class of remedies”—but remedies for what? In both cases for the problem of slavery, of course.
IMAGE: From The Boston Slave Riot and the Trials of Anthony Burns; written by Dan Mazur, art by Doug De Rocher