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The retirement of the young officer to the shades of private life seemed to his friends at the time the throwing away of a splendid opportunity, if not the cutting short of a brilliant career. But it was really the entering of the best school in which to make careful preparation for the grand life before him, and his quiet years of study and of thought at Briarfield were the necessary prelude to those after years of active participation in the most stirring debates of Congress, and the most stupendous events ever enacted on this continent.
The facile pen and accurate statement of the writer above quoted may best give the story of his retirement, and of the circumstances under which he afterwards entered public life:
“ Briarfield, the estate to which Mr. Davis retired on his marriage and resignation from the army, is situated in Warren county, Mississippi, on the Mississippi river, some twenty miles or more below Vicksburg. It was generally understood to be a gift from his elder brother, Joseph Emory Davis, from whose larger estate, ‘Hurricane,' it had been cut off for the purpose. It was in a remote and isolated neighborhood, but the young ex-soldier and planter applied himself with assiduity to its cultivation and improvement.
“Mr. Davis's wife died a few months after marriage. After this misfortune he lived for some years in great seclusion and retirement. His brother was his only habitual associate. This brother was many years his senior, being the oldest, as Jefferson was the youngest, of the ten children of their parents.
A warm attachment existed between them. Jefferson Davis, in the unpublished memoranda already referred to, speaks of him as having stood in loco parentis with regard to himself after the death of their father, which occurred in the boyhood of the younger son, and adds, perhaps with something of fraternal partiality: 'He was a profound lawyer, a wise man, a bold thinker, a zealous advocate of the principles of the constitution, as understood by its founders, with a wide-spreading humanity, which manifested itself especially in a patriarchal care of the many negrocs dependent upon him, not merely for the supply of their physical wants, but also for their moral and mental elevation, with regard to which he had more hope than most men of his large experience. To him, materially, as well as intellectually, I am more indebted than to all other men.'
“ Theso years of retireinent afforded also large opportunities for reading, in the course of which the practical details of his. West Point education and earlier military pursuits were supplemented by a wider and more liberal range of studies, and by the acquisition of a store of general information, which were an admirable outfit for his subsequent career as a statesman."
HIS ENTRANCE INTO POLITICS.
“It was in 1843, when 35 years of age, and eight years after his resignation from the army, that Mr. Davis was somewhat suddenly and unexpectedly called from his retirement to take an active part in politics, in the service of the democratic (or State rights) party, as a candidate for the representation of his county (Warren) in the legislature of Mississippi. His own account of the circumstances is, for several reasons, of special interest. We give it in his own words:
"The canvass had advanced to a period within one week of the election, when the democrats became dissatisfied with their candidate and resolved to withdraw him, and I was requested to take his place. The whigs had a decided majority in the county, and there were two whig candidates against the one democrat. When I was announced, one of the whig candidates withdrew, which seemed to render my defeat certain; so, at least, I regarded it. Our opponents must have thought otherwise, for they put 'into the field for the canvass—though himself not a candidate—the greatest popular orator of the State—it is not too much to say the greatest of his day-Sargent S. Prentiss; and my first public speech was made in opposition to him. This led to an incident perhaps worthy of inention.
“An arrangement was made by our respective parties for a debate between Mr. Prentiss and myself on the day of election, each party to be allowed fifteen minutes alternately. Before the day appointed I met Mr. Prentiss to agree upon the ques
tions to be discussed, eliminating all those with regard to which there was no difference between us, although they might be involved in the canvass. Among these was one which had already been decided by the legislature of Mississippi, and had thus become in some measure an historical question, but which was still the subject of political discussion, viz. : that of 'repudiation. On this question there was a slight difference between us. He held that the Union bank bonds' constituted a debt of the State. I believed that they were issued unconstitutionally, but that, as the fundamental law of the State authorized it to be issued, the question of debt or no debt was one to be determined by the courts; and if the bonds should be adjudged to be a debt of the State, I was in favor of paying them. As, therefore, we were agreed with regard to the principle that the State might create a debt, and that in such case the people are bound to pay it, there was no such difference between us as to require a discussion of the so-called question of 'repudiation,' which turned upon the assumption that a State could not create a debt, or, in the phraseology of the period, that one generation could not impose such obligations upon another.
“There was another set of obligations known as the 'Planters' bank bonds,' the legality of which I never doubted, and for which I thought the legislature was bound to make timely provision.
"To return to the incident spoken of. Mr. Prentiss and I met at the court-house on the day of the election, improvised a stand at the foot of the stairs, up which the voters passed to the polling room, and there spent the day in discussion. There was but one variation from the terms originally agreed upon. Mr. Prentiss having said that he could not always condense his argument so as fully to state it within fifteen minutes, I consented that the time should be extended, provided he would strictly confine himself to the point at issue. He adhered tenaciously to the limitation thus imposed, argued closely and