In December of 1860 it seemed that South Carolina statesman and leading Fire-Eater Robert Barnwell Rhett was on top of the world. What he had worked so hard for more than three decades to accomplish (Southern independence) was finally being realised. He was celebrated and toasted throughout the Lowcountry, South Carolina and the South for his lifetime of dedication to the Southern cause. Only a few months later Rhett was quite bitter and discouraged. He believed that the independent South was being poorly led by men such as Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens who had opposed secession and did not share his vision for the future. He fought with Davis and the Confederate Congress on symbolic issues such as the design of the new flag and economic concerns such as trade policies. Through it all, on everything from the transfer of the capital from Montgomery to Richmond to foreign policy and war preparations, Rhett saw himself and his fellow Fire-Eaters (the Southern nationalists who had long advocated independence) marginalised while power was concentrated in the hands of the conservatives (whose commitment, vision and leadership he questioned). Historian and author William C Davis concludes a discussion about Rhett’s dissolution and defeat in the Confederate Congress on page 501 of his book Rhett: The Turbulent Life and Times of a Fire-Eater:
In the last days of the provisional congress Rhett could do little more than he had accomplished in the earliest sessions. Still clinging to the goal of free trade and economic independence, he hoped right to the end of the session to get through a downward revision of customs duties, supporting even a temporary bill allowing all imported goods to enter the Confederacy duty free. To prevent any goods from coming to the country via the United States, he introduced bills requiring all important to come directly from their countries of manufacture and a navigation act to establish direct trade requiring goods to be shipped either in Confederate vessels or those of the exporting nation. After peace and independence he did not want Yankee merchants profiting by controlling the carrying trade to the South as before. He still clung to King Cotton and the embargo, arguing that it was working, only slowly, and that soon five million Britons would realize that the Confederacy controlled their livelihood. Not one of his measures passed, and he even lost when he tried to settle the patterns for the great seal and emblems of the Confederacy before the adjournment. Rhett did not stay until the adjournment on February 17. In poor health, he left two days earlier immediately after casting his final vote, fittingly in a failed attempt to override Davis’s veto of a furlough bill. As he left Richmond he met [William Lowndes] Yancey, who was just arriving back from Europe and was now to sit in the new senate. Rhett later claimed that Yancey told him, “You were right, sir. I went on a fool’s errand.” It was a sadly appropriate way to end his service in the congress. He had failed to impose his vision of the shape of the Confederacy when they first met a year before, just as now he could not even influence the design of its flag. All he could do was strike out one last time at the man who was ruining all his hopes, while at least Yancey told him he had been right all along.