Monday, February 25, 2008

Should Jefferson Davis Be Honored?

200 years ago this year, a child was born on the frontier in Kentucky. He grew to become a tall, bearded man who became president of his country. Committed to principles he held dear, he led his nation into the Civil War, causing hundreds of thousands of his countrymen's deaths. He's a major figure in American history, so by all means, our nation should honor him, should it not?

For once, I'm not writing about Abraham Lincoln, but that other Kentuckian who rose to lead his nation, none other than Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States of America. This year marks the bicentennial of his birth, just as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. But should we as a nation celebrate officially the memory of Jefferson Davis?

There can be no doubt that Davis was an impressive and accomplished man. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and West Point, served honorably in the Army in the Mexican War, was a U.S. Senator and also served as a U.S. Secretary of War. Unfortunately, of course, he also chose to lead a rebellion against the very government which educated him at it's expense and sent troops into the field against the very army in which he served.

Today's Arizona Republic newspaper carries an interesting article detailing how descendants of Davis are trying to push for official recognition of his birth anniversary. The family has contacted the Defense Department (the successor to the War Department which he led) to see if it would at least commemorate Davis. No response has been forthcoming. The article also quotes the esteemed historian James McPherson who gives various reasons why that no official celebrations should occur.

Even after the Civil War and hundreds of thousands of deaths, Jefferson Davis was basically an unreconstructed rebel and remained so until his death. In his own words, Davis stated that he believed in State's Rights to very end. From his 2-volume "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Davis wrote:

"...it has not been my wish to incite to its exercise: I recognize the fact that the war showed it to be impracticable, but this did not prove it to be wrong; and, now that it may not be again attempted, and that the Union may promote the general welfare, it is needful that the truth, the whole truth, should be known, so that crimination and recrimination may for ever cease, and then, on the basis of fraternity and faithful regard for the rights of the States, there may be written on the arch of the Union, Esto perpetua." The meaning of the last two words? "May It Persevere". In other words, may the struggle continue.

Therefore, no matter the desire on the behalf of his descendants to honor their famous (or infamous) ancestor, I believe that no official government recognition of the bicentennial of the birth of Jefferson Davis should occur, lest it become a celebration for neo-Confederates and revisionist historians. Why should the Federal Government honor a man who sought to destroy it?

4 comments:

klkatz said...

sure, he's treasoness, and was responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands... but why not. He's a part of our history, and though I'm a yankee through and through, I appreciate american history and therefore am sympathetic towards Lee and the lot he was given when asked to lead the confederate army. wasn't he just doing his job, and supporting the state he loved? His real country...virginia.

They'll celebrate it in Richmond, i'm sure.

lev said...

General Lee said that Davis was the only man who could have led the csa. Let me preface this by saying that i and from Boston ma., that my great grand father was a moh winner at the battle of Malvern Hill. I think that Abraham Lincoln was the man who destroyed the constitution. if you look at the incredible loss of freedom that people are talking about these days, they do not hold a candle to what Lincoln did. I think that Jeff Davis was the man who did more toward preserving Jeffersonian Government in this nation. Why should he have ever "reconstructed?" he was held for years without the hope of a trial, and he watched his own history being rewritten as he languished in Ft. Monroe. No one remembers that he was the last great orator in congress, or that he carried out an almost successful war while being true to his principles, unlike his Washington D.C. counterpart who jailed anyone who disagreed with him, and rigged elections. So i think that Davis should clearly be honored as the last constitutional president that we had

Seeker said...

First of all, before you honor anyone, learn what the hell they did.

Learn what Davis himself said -- that the SPREAD of slavery, by violence if needed, was the goal of the Confederacy. Lincoln's resistance to the spread of slavery was the "intolerable grievance".

Davis was President of CSA when they issued the Southern ULtimatums -- five demands, called "The true issue" by Richmond newspapers, bragging about it.

All five demands were about one thing -- the spread of slavery. Kansas had voted 98% to 2% agains slavery, and Davis reaction was to demand that Kansas "accept and respect" slavery, under the promise of war -- a war that took place two weeks later.

Too complicated? Davis enslaved, had slaves whipped, sold children. Yes he did. While the South has put forth nonsense about Davis for 150 years (and Lee) the truth is much much uglier.


Davis reaction to Lincoln's EP was stunning -- he promised to invade the North, and make slaves of all blacks there, and ordered all slaves ever freed "returned to the slave status" forever.

SOme of Davis speeches are so extreme, that you read them and think someone made this up to make him look bad. Nope. The speeches were carried at the time in Southern papers, and people in Richmond were so upset at some of the things he said (because he was so candid) they spoke openly about impeaching him for that speech.


If you want a snap shot of the real Davis, and how it differs with the myth, read his wife's letter about his capture. This gives a bird's eye view of not just Davis, but the distortions around Davis, and the lengths Southern "historians" will go to pump up this cowardly, cruel man.

Seeker said...

You hear all these stories -- Davis the kind man, Lee offered Command of Union Army.

Utter nonsense. The stories about Lee and Davis have been repeated so often, the myth has become "fact".

Lee was kind to slaves? Actually his slave ledgers show he was especially cruel, giving far far higher bounties for capture and whipping of girls. Yes, Lee regularly had slaves whipped.

Lee also sold children away from the mother, or visa versa. Lee hated his slaves, and they hated him, according to his slave ledgers and letters.

You probably heard all kinds of stuff that Douglass Southall Freeman wrote in his Lee biography. Turns out, Freeman made stuff up. Lee did not free his slaves, as Freeman said, in fact he got more, and has his own slaves plus his wife. The Virginia Courts ordered Lee to free his wife's slaves three different times, and Lee refused, three different times, eventually "freeing" the ones he could not sell or rent out, and by then, slaves were worthless anyway.

 
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