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Jefferson Davis' Farewell to the Senate

Image of Senator Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis (D-MS)

On January 21, 1861, a fearful capital city awaited the farewell addresses of five southern senators. One observer sensed "blood in the air" as the chaplain delivered his prayer at high noon. When the senators from Florida and Alabama had completed their farewell speeches, all eyes turned to Mississippi's Jefferson Davis—the acknowledged leader of the South in Congress. Tall, slender, and gaunt at the age of 52, Davis had been confined to his bed for more than a week, suffering the nearly incapacitating pain of facial neuralgia. He began his valedictory in a low voice. As he proceeded, his voice gained volume and force. "I rise, Mr. President, for the purpose of announcing to the Senate that . . . the state of Mississippi . . . has declared her separation from the United States." Later, describing the "unutterable grief" of that occasion, Davis said that his words had been "not my utterances but rather leaves torn from the book of fate."


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