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It hasn’t been easy getting people excited about celebrating the 200th birthday of that tall, gaunt, bearded, Kentucky-bred president who was born in a log cabin and went on to lead his people through a bloody civil war.
It’s that other tall, log cabin-born Kentuckian, Jefferson Davis, whose 200th has turned out to be something of a lost cause.
“The response to date has been timid,” acknowledges Bertram Hayes-Davis, head of the Davis Family Association and great-great grandson of the only president of the short-lived Confederate States of America. “Nobody has said no. Many haven’t said yes.”
Because Davis was a former secretary of war, Hayes-Davis wrote to the Department of Defense to see if it was interested in participating in some activity “to educate the public about the real Jefferson Davis.” The agency didn’t even reply.
Even Mississippi, the state where Davis made his plantation fortune and to which he retired after the war, gave the idea of commemorating Davis a lukewarm reception. A bill to establish a commission “for the purpose of organizing and planning a celebration in recognition of Jefferson Davis’ 200th birthday” easily passed the House, only to die in the Senate appropriations committee.
Crowning of ‘Miss Confederacy’
Oh, there will be a “Miss Confederacy” crowned during the June 7-8 festival at the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site in Fairview, Ky., where a 351-foot concrete obelisk stands near the site of Davis’ cabin birthplace. But that’s an annual event.
The Davis Family Association is holding its reunion May 31 through June 1 at the Rosemont Plantation, Davis’ childhood home in Woodville, Miss.
And on June 3, Davis’ actual birthdate, the family will gather in Biloxi for the rededication of Beauvoir House, the hip-roofed, Gulf-front mansion where Davis spent the last 12 years of his life and which was nearly swept away by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Taking his place on a six-pointed brass star marker alongside the great-great grandson of Howell Cobb, president of the Provisional Confederate Congress, Hayes-Davis placed his right hand on the Alabama State Bible used in the original swearing-in 147 years earlier. Hayes-Davis did not recite the oath, but simply kissed the Bible as his ancestor did, turned to the crowd and said: “So help me God.”
But Davis events are well, a bit anemic — especially compared to the hoopla surrounding the 16th president.
That’s to be expected, says William J. Cooper, a professor of history at Louisiana State University and author of “Jefferson Davis, American.”
Lincoln “saved the Union. He emancipated the slaves. I mean, he won the war,” Cooper says. “Fighting against Lincoln is, you know, fighting against motherhood.”
One man’s legacy, a family’s struggle
For the most part, if Davis is mentioned at all this year outside the classroom or a Southern museum exhibit, it will be in the context of symposia like “The Contested Legacy of Jefferson Davis,” a scholarly discussion being hosted this June by the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort, at which Cooper is scheduled to be the keynote speaker.
The Davis family thinks it’s a shame that all most people know about him was that he fought to preserve slavery.
“It’s as if he created the entire institution and was solely responsible for it,” says Hayes-Davis, a 59-year-old banker from Colorado Springs, Colo. “And we struggle with that.”
Most people don’t know that Davis was a West Point graduate who fought in the Mexican War under Zachary Taylor and married the future president’s daughter, Hayes-Davis says. As a U.S. senator from Mississippi, he had a hand in building the Smithsonian Institution. He bolstered the nation’s defenses as secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce.
“The history books, which are basically written in New York and Boston and whatever, have one sentence: ‘Jefferson Davis elected president of the Confederacy,’” his descendant complains.
Historian James M. McPherson concedes that Davis’ antebellum career was “very illustrious.” But he says his achievements as a soldier, senator and secretary of war were “largely eclipsed” by his role in setting the stage for and then waging the bloodiest war in this nation’s history.
Davis, who disparagingly referred to his fellow Kentuckian as “His Majesty Abraham the First,” was what McPherson calls a “bitter-ender.” When Lincoln allowed a journalist and a minister through Union lines in July 1864 under a flag of truce to offer peace and amnesty to Davis, the Confederate president was outraged.
“Amnesty, Sir, applies to criminals,” he told the envoys. “We have committed no crime. At your door lies all the misery and crime of this war. . . . We are fighting for Independence — and that, or extermination, we will have. . . . You may emancipate every Negro in the Confederacy, but we will be free. We will govern ourselves . . . if we have to see every Southern plantation sacked, and every Southern city in flames.”
Davis comes across, McPherson says, as an “unreconstructed rebel who never really accepted with anything like good grace the defeat of the Confederacy and continued for the rest of his life to write and speak in a way that basically said, ‘We were right. We lost this war, not because we were wrong, but because the enemy was more powerful and more ruthless.’”
“In asserting the right of secession,” 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.”
Translation: “May it persevere.”
(Posted on February 25, 2008)
I believe that political forces will eventually cause all the remaining Civil War battlefields to be paved over and forgotten.
Posted by at 7:21 PM on February 25
Bumper sticker spotted in St. Louis a few years back — “Don’t Blame Me. I Voted for Jefferson Davis.” Had a battle flag on one end, and JD’s visage on the other. The car had Iowa plates.
Posted by St. Louis CofCC Blogmeister at 7:48 PM on February 25
It’s US history. People fought and died under Davis.
Posted by at 8:23 PM on February 25
Compare the history of Jefferson Davis, champion of states rights and liberty:
With King Lincoln, a disgraceful tyrant who caused the deaths of over 800,000 Americans, all because they refused to collect the TARIFF taxes:
You decide, I know that I already have!!
Posted by at 8:56 PM on February 25
Here’s an interesting fact: with the issuance of the first Confederate postage stamp on October 16, 1861, Jefferson Davis became the first living American to be portrayed on a postage stamp.
Posted by at 8:58 PM on February 25
The Confederate South produced some truly great men. They were the real heirs to the legacy of the founding fathers, and no more or less guilty for the crime of slavery than their northern brothers.
One day soon their real story will be known and the politically correct marxist heroes who have been put in their place will suffer the same fate as all those statues of Lenin and Stalin in the USSR. Could you imagine a world where kids wear tee shirts emblazoned with images of Robert E. Lee instead of Che Guevara?
Posted by Flamethrower at 9:56 PM on February 25
Many of us will live to see the break-up of the U.S. It will go pretty much along the lines of the Soviet break-up and will probably start somewhere around 2030 - 2040. As always, the impetus will be economic.
Posted by Xenophon at 11:28 PM on February 25
I expect to see — should I live this long — the secession of the states Arizona, New Mexico and California from the Union of 50 States. This will be done by the Mexicans currently living therein. This will occur once the Federal Government stops sending out welfare checks etc. due to its insolvancy.
No response will be forthcoming from Washington, D.C. They will be allowed to go off on their own. The Federales will have neither the will to fight nor the money to do so. The lack of response will be charged off to the idea that with these States gone, there will be a lessened demand on the US Treasury. It will be sold as an economy measure.
But you watch…when the State of Montana withdraws due to their Constitution stating gun rights vs a Federal Government outlawing guns, there will be hell to pay and troops — federal or foreign — will be sent in. Montana will be crushed.
The difference? Only non-whites are allowed to leave this lie that is America. White folks are the only indentured servants/slaves allowed anymore. And they/we will never be allowed to go our own way.
Posted by at 2:50 AM on February 26
The breakup has already started.
By 2030 there will be nothing left.
The pace of our destruction is increasing exponentially.
The economy is already mortally wounded and cannot recover.
The enemies within have won.
Posted by SeeTheFuture at 4:18 AM on February 26
If alive today, would Davis declare himself the candidate of “Change Thermidorian”? I hear that more and more Yankees are getting “unreconstructed” every day.
Posted by Robert Binion at 6:29 AM on February 26
“Bumper sticker spotted in St. Louis a few years back — “Don’t Blame Me. I Voted for Jefferson Davis.”
A take-off of the “Don’t blame me. I voted for Bush” bumper sticker? That was the best bumper sticker of all time, from a decade or so ago. There was another really good one that came out a year or two after that one, but I can’t remember what it said…
Posted by the brainwashing wore off me too at 7:59 AM on February 26
God bless the South! I am so proud that mississippi, georgia, alabama, and florida still fly versions of the confederate flag. May she live forever.
Posted by Diamed at 8:18 AM on February 26
Remember Jefferson Davis? You’re darn right I do. In his honor, I named my first son Jefferson Davis H. born Nov. 5, 2007 in (Nathan Bedford) FORREST CITY, Arkansas.
I can guarantee you, you’ll never see Jefferson wearing a ‘Che’ t-shirt.
Posted by Douglas H. at 10:00 AM on February 26
Jeff Davis is part of our history, and needs to be preserved.
Political correctness will be the death of this nation.
Posted by at 10:54 AM on February 26
They have been taking down Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway signs for years from sea to shining sea. Face it folks, liberal policies somehow manage to routinely trump common sense and rewrite our history on a daily basis. In 200 years from now Jeff Davis will have been the whole cause of the civil war and Lincoln will still be the great freer of slaves. I wonder then if it will be known that at the height of slavery only 5% of Americans owned any. It’s largely unknown today since in America it is assumed that ALL white people are responsible for slavery and must PAY for it. Even with our lives.
So who let this history become so distorted?
Posted by grob hahn at 12:57 PM on February 26
Bertram Hayes-Davis is right when he says that his ancestor is being judged by the politically correct standards of the 21st Century. The P.C. crowd says: Jefferson Davis led the Confederacy, he was in favor of slavery, so he should have humbly admitted he was wrong, and abjectly apologized for being the sole cause of all the war and suffering. Because he refused to do that; because he said, in effect, “Just because you defeated us in battle doesn’t mean you were morally right, and I’ll never concede that you were. We were defeated by superior might; but we were RIGHT.”
You’ll notice that the story was written by the Associated Press. As I’ve said in previous posts, the AP can’t be trusted in stories having to do with race, the Confederacy, and a number of other related issues. They are not only biased, but they will slant the stories to fit their biases.
Posted by Wayne Engle at 2:41 PM on February 26
The Confederacy did Whites no favor. Frankly, I should have liked to see Lincoln act on his first impulse and ship all the african slaves back to their home continent. That the South, whatever other merits it may have possessed, invested in the importation of millions and millions of africans, who then took root in our society and in our lives, forever damns the Confederacy. No slaves = no blacks = no White guilt = we would still be living in the White paradise of what is only our dreams today.
Posted by Deporter at 2:45 PM on February 26
The South is no longer a place.
the south is only a direction.
Posted by sam at 8:34 PM on February 26
My paternal g-grand aunt was named Jefferson Davis B. and was nicknamed “Jesse”. Her brother was named Beauregard. They were from Maryland and were strong confederates to the bone! I follow in their footsteps :)
Posted by Violet at 9:09 PM on February 26
Deporter there is one glaring flaw in your logic, in the early 1960s this nation was still over 80% white . What is occurring now did not have to be, Confederacy or not and it was not the South who invested in the importation of millions of blacks, it was the whole nation . No, it was the whole western world . Much of Britain’s and much of New England’s wealth was built on the slave trade . I started school in ‘58 in south Georgia, we started each day singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Dixie . Our differences North and South had been successfully put behind us . It was non-white political action groups who have brought those differences back to the forefront . Divide and conquer .
Posted by at 2:59 AM on February 29
“….invested in the importation of millions and millions of africans, who then took root in our society and in our lives, forever damns the Confederacy. No slaves = no blacks = no White guilt = we would still be living in the White paradise of what is only our dreams today. “
Posted by Deporter at 2:45 PM on February 26
Actually the total number of blacks brought to the U.S. (purchased from black African slave traders) numbered only around 200,000. By the time of the Civil War, simply from reproduction, that population had exploded to 4 million blacks. (Which reveals that the conditions black slaves lived under were generally pretty good for that population to have thrived and multiplied like that.)
You are right though, the slave owners (only 5% of the wealthiest white Southerners) for their own short term imagined benefit, are responsible for the black presence in the U.S. today. Pro-South whites should think about that.
Posted by at 11:04 PM on March 3
I’m a proud Texan, and conservative, but I never really got into the whole South Shall Rise Again stuff. Don’t get me wrong; I’d rather be a Canadian than a Yankee.
But it just goes to show “To the victor goes the spoils.” The North won, the South lost, and that’s how we celebrate things. If the Confederacy had survived to this day, it would be different, but it just didn’t work out that way. The North wrote history and in THEIR version.
Had the British won in 1792, George Washington would have a minor mention in history as a traitor to the crown.
I’m sure had Germany won WW2, the SS would have been portayed as really swell guys. Not comparing, just saying.
And so on…
Posted by at 7:17 AM on March 8