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Henry Winter Davis (American National Biography)

Scholarship

Jean Harvey Baker, "Davis, Henry Winter," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00299.html.

In Congress Davis earned a reputation as a compelling orator and a brilliant debater intent on opposing what he called "the agitation of slavery" and avoiding the divisive matters sweeping through Congress, such as the attempt to organize Kansas under the proslavery Lecompton constitution. Instead Davis focused on the agenda of his party, which sought to restrict the rapid influx of Catholic Irish and German immigrants. In his pamphlet The Origin, Principles and Purposes of the American Party (1852), he argued, "American Republicans alone are entitled to rule the American Republic."

Reelected to the Thirty-sixth Congress as a Know Nothing despite that party's waning power, Davis cast a crucial vote in the long struggle over the election of the Speaker of the House in the winter of 1859-1860. Yet his vote for the conservative Republican William Pennington was condemned by the Maryland legislature, one of whose members encouraged the appropriation of $500 to send Davis to Liberia. Undeterred in his effort to find a middle way between the North and South even as he despised the Democratic party as an organization of traitors, Davis supported the Unionist John Bell in the election of 1860. When southern states began seceding, Davis became a powerful voice in the antisecessionist movement in Maryland, and he tried to create an anti-Democratic coalition. "Smite fearlessly the Democratic party. The union will survive its fragments," said Davis as he argued that the election of Abraham Lincoln was not the threat that southerners described.

How to Cite This Page: "Henry Winter Davis (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/18488.