Letter to Franklin Pierce by Jefferson Davis


In this letter to the former President, Franklin Pierce, Davis is explaining Mississippi’s decision to secede from the United States and bemoaning the inevitability of civil war.


Washington D.C. Jany. 20. 1861

My dear friend,

I have often and sadly turned my thoughts to you during the troublous times through which we have been passing and now I come to the hard task of announcing to you that the hour is at hand which closes my connection with the United States, for the independence and Union of which my Father bled and in the service of which I have sought to emulate the example he set for my guidance. Mississippi not as a matter of choice but of necessity has resolved to enter on the trial of secession. [2] Those who have driven her to this alternative threaten to deprive her of the right to require that her government shall rest on the consent of the governed, to substitute foreign force for domestic support, to reduce a state to the condition from which the colony rose. In the attempt to avoid the issue which had been joined by the country, the present Administration has complicated and precipitated the question. Even now if the duty “to preserve the public property” was rationally regarded the probable collision at Charleston would be avoided. Security far better than any which the federal troops can give might be obtained in consideration of the little garrison of Fort Sumpter. If the disavowal of any purpose to coerce So. Ca. be sincere the possession of a work to command the harbor is worse than useless. [3]

When Lincoln comes in he will have but to continue in the path of his predecessor to inaugurate a civil war and, leave a soi disant [4] democratic administration responsible for the fact. Genl. Cushing was here last week and when we parted it seemed like taking a last leave of a Brother.  

I leave immediately for Missi. and know not what may devolve upon me after my return. Civil war has only horror for me, but whatever circumstances demand shall be met as a duty and I trust be so discharged that you will not be ashamed of our former connection or cease to be my friend.

I had hoped this summer to have had an opportunity to see you and Mrs. Pierce and to have shown to you our children. Mrs. Davis was sorely disappointed when we turned Southward without seeing you, I believe she wrote to Mrs. Pierce in explanation of the circumstances which prevented us from executing our cherished plan of a visit to you when we should leave West Point.

Mrs. Davis joins me in kindest remembrance to Mrs. Pierce and the expression of the hope that we may yet have you both at our country home. Do me the favor to write to me often, address Hurricane P.O. Warren County, Missi.

May God bless you is ever the prayer of your friend

Jeffn,, Davis




Papers of Jefferson Davis; Rice University Archives


[1] The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 7, pp. 17-18. Transcribed from the original in the Library of Congress, Franklin Pierce Papers, Series 3.

[2] Mississippi became the second state to secede from the United States on January 9, 1861.

[3] The Confederate forces would fire on the United States garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, nearly three months later on April 12, 1861 effectively beginning the Civil War. 

[4] “soi disant” translates to “so-called.” 


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