Davis, Henry Winter

Life Span
    Full name
    Henry Winter Davis
    Place of Birth
    Burial Place
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Slave State
    University of Virginia
    Other Education
    St. John’s College, MD; Hampden-Sydney College, VA; Kenyon College, OH
    Attorney or Judge
    Political Parties
    American Party (Know Nothings or Nativists)
    Union (Unconditional Union, National Union)
    Other Affiliations
    Nativists (Know Nothings)
    US House of Representatives

    Henry Winter Davis (American National Biography)

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

    Henry Winter Davis, Civil War and Reconstruction (American National Biography)

    Davis supported emancipation by Congress but not by the executive, the recruitment of black soldiers, and a new constitution for Maryland that would free the state's slaves. Always a believer in the balance of powers among the judiciary, legislative, and executive branches, Davis emerged as a critic of Lincoln's wartime suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. He challenged emancipation by the president, which he considered a state matter.

    His understanding of the importance of Congress led Davis, who was chairman of the Select Committee on the Rebellious States, to introduce a legislative plan for Reconstruction. Known as the Wade-Davis Bill, it was less lenient than Lincoln's plan in dealing with those who had aided the rebellion. In its final form, the Wade-Davis Bill required a majority, not one-tenth, of those enrolled after military resistance in a state ended to take an oath to support the U.S. Constitution before a convention could be called to reestablish a state government there.

    The differences between Davis's bill and Lincoln's vaguer plans for reconstructing the Union suggested a growing conflict between Congress and the executive, which would continue in Andrew Johnson's administration. Davis's bill repudiated the Confederate war debt, disfranchised Confederates, and in general pointed the way for congressional programs in the late 1860s, such as the Fourteenth Amendment. Pocket-vetoed by the president, the Wade-Davis Bill became the Maryland congressman's legacy to those who opposed executive control of Reconstruction.
    Jean Harvey Baker, "Davis, Henry Winter," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00299.html.

    Henry Winter Davis (Congressional Biographical Directory)

    DAVIS, Henry Winter,  (cousin of David Davis), a Representative from Maryland; born in Annapolis, Md., August 16, 1817; was tutored privately; lived in Alexandria, Va. and Wilmington; returned to Maryland in 1827 with his father, who settled in Anne Arundel County; attended Wilmington College in 1826 and 1827; St. John’s College, Annapolis, Md., and Hampden-Sydney College, Virginia; was graduated from Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, in 1837; studied law at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.; was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Alexandria, Va.; in 1850 moved to Baltimore, Md., where he continued the practice of law and also engaged in literary pursuits; elected as the candidate of the American Party to the Thirty-fourth through Thirty-sixth Congresses (March 4, 1855-March 3, 1861); unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1860 to the Thirty-seventh Congress; elected as an Unconditional Unionist to the Thirty-eighth Congress (March 4, 1863-March 3, 1865); chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs (Thirty-eighth Congress); co-sponsor of the Wade-Davis bill of 1864; was not a candidate for renomination in 1864; died in Baltimore, Md., on December 30, 1865; interment in Greenmount Cemetery.
    “Davis, Henry Winter,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=D000104.
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Belz, Herman. "Henry Winter Davis and the Origins of Congressional Reconstruction." Maryland Historical Magazine 67, no. 2 (1973): 129-143. view record
    Henig, Gerald S. Henry Winter Davis: Antebellum and Civil War Congressman From Maryland. New York: Twayne, 1973. view record
    Tyson, Raymond W. "A Southerner Who Spoke For the Union." Southern Speech Journal 30, no. 2 (1964): 117-132. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Davis, Henry Winter," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/5544.