CAPT. JOHN T. LESLEY'S ADDRESS TO THE PEOPLE OF TAMPA
Introduction by Kyle S. VanLandingham
Captain John T. Lesley's "Sunny South Guards" were feted at a celebration in Tampa at the Fort Brooke Officers' Quarters in September 1861, prior to their transfer to the war front. The unit became Company K, 4th Florida Infantry. At the celebration, a group of 11 young ladies of Tampa, each representing one of the Confederate States, read a poem which was followed by the singing of the Bonnie Blue Flag and the band's rendition of Dixie. A Confederate flag, the First National, also known as the "Stars and Bars," was presented to the company. Capt. Lesley responded with an extremely interesting address to the crowd. The second paragraph is very revealing. There Lesley condemns the Republicans for defying the U.S. Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision which had upheld slavery and its expansion into the U.S. territories. When Lesley used the term "personal property," he was speaking of slaves. Capt. Lesley's clear and unequivocal comments add further confirmation that the seven Southern states (including Florida) that seceded before April 12, 1861, did so primarily over the issue of slavery. While the Civil War was not fought by the Union to end slavery, it is obvious that without slavery there would have been no secession and without secession there would have been no war. Here is Capt. Lesley's speech:
"Ladies---and my fellow countrymen: It is with humble words, yet in a prideful spirit, that I accept in behalf of my fellow soldiers of the Guard, this beautiful banner of our youthful Confederate Republic, born destined to witness before God and the world defense of freeman's inalienable rights as defined by constitutional law.
"That constitution which our forefathers forged from blood and suffering for six warring years, has by the darkened hands of Abolitionists and Republicans been broken asunder--and the High Tribunal of the land defied in its decree defining rights of personal property, its transfer and protection by legal constituted means.
"What was once a glorious nation prospering under the Divine Eye and Hand now lies crumbled at the feet of bigotry, fanaticism and intolerance.
"This monster of three heads has been watered and nurtured by the Abolitionists and Black Republican parties until today, following the election and inauguration of President Lincoln, it has entirely devoured the last vestige of personal guarantees of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness defined by the Constitution of our fathers--that bulwark protecting the life they knew and lived in ' 87 and which they decreed was to be perpetuated, unchanged to their descendants ad infinitum, to the infinite degree of endlessness.
"Yonder in Tampa's burial ground lies the loved and sacred dust of this speaker's mother, a Livingston before her marriage to the Lesley sire.
"It was her lot to have her cradle rocked by the venerable hand of an honored father, a soldier of the American Revolution.
"He with his fellow compatriots, your fathers and grandfathers, won that liberty from the English crown which now once more we are called out to champion and defend.
"Here again, if fate decrees but God forbid, Anglo-Saxon brother will be warred with brother for right and country. If it so be, we of the South, vow anew that we stand united in a glorious cause; and we its defenders beseech of a Divine Providence guidance for a triumphal victory under this beautiful banner the hands of Tampa's finest have bestowed on us this day.
"Accept our solemn pledge, fair ladies, naught will defile it. For if it proves to be our lot that under these Stars and Bars we be not destined to hear our Army's victory song, then may its silken threads rest lightly o'er us in quiet requiem to what may be a brave and gallant band of warring soldiers faithful even unto death."