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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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Henry Winter Davis

DAVIS, Henry Winter, statesman, born in Annapolis, Maryland, 16 August 1817" died in Baltimore, 30 December 1865. His father, Rev. HenryLyon Davis, of the Protestant Episcopal Church, was the president of St. John's college, at Annapolis, and rector of St. Ann's parish. He lost both offices on account of his Federal politics, and removed to Wilmington, Del., leaving his son with Elizabeth Brown Winter, an aunt, who possessed a noble character, and was rigid in her system of training children. '['he boy afterward went to Wilmington, and was instructed under his father's supervision. In 1827 the family returned to Maryland and settled in Anne Arundel County. Here Henry Winter became much attached to field sports, and gave little promise of scholarly attainments. He roamed about the country, always attended by one of his father's slaves, with an old fowling piece upon his shoulder, burning much powder and returning with a small amount of game. The insight into slavery that he thus gained affected him strongly. He said, in after years: " My familiar association with the slaves, while a boy, gave me great insight into their feelings and views. They spoke with freedom before a boy what they would have repressed before a man. They were" far from indifferent to their condition; they felt wronged, and sighed for freedom. They were attached to my father, and loved me, yet they habitually spoke of the day when God would deliver them."

He was educated in Alexandria, and at Kenyon College, where he was graduated in 1837. His father died in that year, leaving a few slaves to be divided between himself and his sister, but he would not allow them to be sold, although he might have pursued his studies with. ease and comfort. Rather than do this he obtained a tutorship, and, notwithstanding these arduous tasks, read the course of law in the University of Virginia, which he entered in 1839. The expenses of his legal studies were defrayed with the proceeds of some land that his aunt had sold for the purpose. He began practice in Alexandria, Virginia, but first attained celebrity in the Episcopal convention of Maryland by his defense of Dr. H. V. D. Johns against the accusation of Bishop Whittingham for having violated the canon of the Episcopal Church in consenting to officiate in the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1850 he removed to Baltimore, where he held a high social and professional position. He was a prominent Whig, and known as the brilliant orator and controversialist of the Scott canvass in 1852. He was elected a member of congress for the 3d district of Maryland (part of Baltimore) in 1854, and reelected in 1856, serving on the committee of ways and means. After the dissolution of the Whig party he joined the American or Know-nothing party.

He was reelected to congress in 1858, and in 1859 voted for Mr. Pennington, the republican candidate for speaker, thus drawing upon himself much abuse and reproach. The legislature of Maryland "decorated him with its censure," as he expressed it on the floor of the house; but he declared to his constituents that, if they would not allow their representative to exercise his private judgment as to what were the best interests of the state, " You may send a slave to congress, but you can not send me." After the attack on the 6th Massachusetts regiment in Baltimore in 1861, Mr. Davis published a card announcing himself as an "unconditional union" candidate for congress, and conducted his canvass almost alone. amid a storm of reproach and abuse, being defeated, but receiving about 6,000 votes. When Mr. Lincoln was nominated in 1860, Mr. Davis was offered the nomination for vice president, but declined it; and when the question of his appointment to the cabinet was agitated, he urged the selection of John A. Gilmer in his stead.

He was again in congress in 1863'5, and served as chairman of the committee on foreign affairs. Although representing a slave state, Mr. Davis was conspicuous for unswerving fidelity to the Union and advocacy of emancipation. He heartily supported the administration, but deprecated the assumption of extraordinary powers by the executive, and denounced congress as cowardly for not authorizing by statute what it expected that department to do. He early favored the enlistment of Negroes in the army, and said, "The best deed of emancipation is a musket on the shoulder." In the summer of 1865 he made a speech in Chicago in favor of Negro suffrage. Mr. Davis was denounced by politicians as impractical. He used to say that he who compromised a moral principle was a scoundrel, but that he who would not compromise a political measure was a fool. Mr. Davis possessed an unusually fine library, and was gifted with a good memory and a brilliant mind, which was united with many personal advantages. Inheriting force and scholarship from his father, he had received also a share of his mother's milder qualities, which won many friends, although, to the public, he seemed stern and dictatorial. At his death congress set apart a day for the commemoration of his public services, an honor never before paid to an ex-member of congress. He published a book entitled the " War of Ormuzd and Ahriman in the Nineteenth Century" (Baltimore, 1853). His collected speeches, together with a eulogy by his colleague, John A. J. Cresswell, were published in New York in 1867.

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