Davis, Henry Winter

Davis, Henry Winter, 1817–65, American political leader, b. Annapolis, Md. He was elected (1854) to the House of Representatives on the Know-Nothing ticket and was twice reelected (1856, 1858) with the aid of the Republican party. He tried to remain neutral on the slavery issue, but in 1860 cast the deciding vote for a Republican as speaker, which enabled the Republicans to organize the House. His action was censured by the Maryland legislature, and he was not reelected. Davis became the leader of the Unionist forces in Maryland in opposition to Gov. Hicks, whose sympathies were Southern. Again (1863–65) in Congress, he bitterly attacked Lincoln's gradual assumption of extraconstitutional powers and opposed his Reconstruction program. Davis and Benjamin F. Wade substituted for Lincoln's measures a much more thorough and radical plan of their own and succeeded in forcing it through both House and Senate, only to see it killed by Lincoln's pocket veto (1864). They replied with the Wade-Davis Manifesto, an angry attack on the President's plan and actions. When Davis was defeated, Thaddeus Stevens took up the fight on the Reconstruction issue. Davis was a magnetic speaker, and at his death was, as a private citizen, virtually dictating the actions of the radical Republicans in Congress.

See study by G. S. Henig (1973).

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