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 Posted: Mon Feb 11th, 2013 12:53 pm
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Texas Defender
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  Far fewer historians have studied the life of Jefferson Davis than have studied that of Abraham Lincoln. Unlike Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Davis was never President of the United States, and was on the losing side of the Civil War.

  Mr. Davis' descendant says that the first 51 years of Jefferson Davis' life have been : "Lost" and that he is known today only for being the CSA President.

Few know much about Jefferson Davis before presidency - USATODAY.com

  Many writers of history (Including some on this forum) have viewed Mr. Davis as being inept in his position as President (A job that he never wanted). However, few have ever suggested who would have been a better choice for that job, or how a different man in that position would have had any effect on the outcome of the war.

  Mr. Davis' descendant lists his ancestor's service to the United States, starting as a West Point cadet (He served for several years as an Army officer), a war hero (Mexican War), a US Congressman and Senator, and a Cabinet member (Secretary of War). By comparison, Abraham Lincoln was a country lawyer and one term Congressman.

  It is because of his government service that Mr. Davis was selected by the Provisional CSA Congress as the most acceptable candidate for the presidency. He would have much preferred a military commission, but could not refuse a call to serve as President.

  One part of Mr. Davis' life that is seldom told is the great love that he had for his first wife, Sarah Knox Taylor (Daughter of General (And future President) Zachary Taylor).  Sarah's father, General Taylor, initially opposed their marriage, but was eventually won over. Tragically, Sarah died a few months after the marriage in a malaria epidemic, which almost took the life of Mr. Davis as well. More than a decade later, Mr. Davis served under his former father-in-law in Mexico, where he fought heroically and again almost lost his life.

  I agree with Mr. Davis' descendant that his ancestor is remembered only as being the leader of the CSA (And considered to be a great villain by many). But, like Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Davis was a complex man. Unlike Mr. Lincoln, few people know much about him nowadays. Like many a Shakespearean protagonist, Jefferson Davis found himself in an impossible situation. He struggled in a job than he did not want, and he fought a war that he could not win.



 Posted: Mon Feb 11th, 2013 01:04 pm
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Wasn't there something about nearly getting expelled from West Point over a local tavern or something. I gotta find that book again, that was one of the reasons I recall picking it up. Had Davis been anyone else he might have gotten expelled but there was something that prevented it from happening. But I due seem to recall he ended up with a broken arm in the incident.



 Posted: Mon Feb 11th, 2013 01:15 pm
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Hellcat-

  Jefferson Davis was a participant in the Eggnog Riot, which is explained in detail below:

Eggnog Riot - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  I've never heard anything about a broken arm. From what I've read elsewhere, Mr. Davis recognized the danger in the situation and retired to bed, thus escaping any disciplinary action in the end. He was placed under house arrest for a time during the investigation.

Last edited on Mon Feb 11th, 2013 01:31 pm by Texas Defender



 Posted: Mon Feb 11th, 2013 01:52 pm
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TD, have you read William Cooper's biography of Davis? Its a great read by a very intelligent man. Its a massive book, and really demonstrates just what the article was saying--that Jeff Davis was much more than just the Confederate president. I've had the opportunity to work with Dr. Cooper over the last couple years and think he is one of the best historians of our time.

Mark



 Posted: Mon Feb 11th, 2013 02:03 pm
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Mark-

  I haven't read Dr. Cooper's book, but I will if I happen to run across it. It is apparently first rate.

  For others who might be interested, here it is:

Jefferson Davis, American: Jr. William J. Cooper: 9780375725425: Amazon.com: B

Editing:

  Those who might be interested in the life of Varina Banks Howell Davis could read this biography:

Amazon.com: First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War (978067403

  I have now read both books and would recommend them, though I get the impression that the author of the Varina Davis bio, Joan E. Cashin, holds 19th Century men in general in low regard, and that includes Mr. Davis.
  The author commends Mrs. Davis for being radical and forward thinking in some ways compared to most women of her times. But then she laments the fact as she sees it that Mrs. Davis wasn't radical enough on issues such as slavery and womens suffrage. In the end, she admits that it would have caused Mrs. Davis nothing but trouble if she had espoused more radical views. It seems to me that historians should be more sympathetic to the fact that people have to function in the times and the societies that they are born into.

Last edited on Wed Feb 20th, 2013 04:44 pm by Texas Defender



 Posted: Mon Feb 11th, 2013 02:21 pm
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Found the book, TD. Scandals of the Civil War by Douglas Lee Gibboney. Was wrong about the broken arm, it was a couple different incident's I was thinking about, one that apparently that nearly killed him and following the Eggnog Riot and even his leaving West Point and one that took four months to recover from prior to the Eggnog Riot. From page 9:

In the winter of 1838, yet another booze-tinged adventure nearly killed Davis. He was then in Washington, making contacts to possibly restart his military career after becoming bored with life on his Mississippi plantation. One evening he attended a reception given by the secretary of war which was followed by a post-midnight chapagne supper. Afterward Ohio Senator William Allen led Davis back to his boarding house, walking through the dark streets of the capital. Allen however had drunk too freely of the chapagne and stumbled off a bridge into Tiber Creek. Jefferson Davis followed right behind him, a plunge that nearly proved fatal when Davis' head struck a rock. Allen, drunkenly reciting a campaign speech, pulled Davis to safety and managed to get him back to his quarters. The next morning, Davis was unconcious, and it took several hours for the doctors to revive him.

On the Eggnog Riot the book mentions it was Davis who had secured whatever the alcohol for the eggnog was. reading it it sounds like Davis was actually the lookout at the time the merrymakers got caught. Captain Ethan Allan Hitchcock was the one to discover the cadets drinking the eggnog and Davis wasn't in the room at the time. In an earlier drinking incident Davis had narrowly escaped expulsion and Gibboney puts forth the idea that this was because Hitchcock had not seen him drinking and because he knew Davis' older brother that he may have spoken on his behalf. At anyrate on the night of the Eggnog Riot just after Hitchcock discovered what the cadets were up to Davis burst into the room and told his fellow cadets to

"put away the grog" for hitcock was coming

At this point Hitchcock appearently ordered Davis back to his quarters and Davis followed orders. Gibboney claims that his following orders may have saved him in this instance from expulsion again. That and again Hitcock didn't catch him drinking, merely warning his fellow cadets.

The other instance of injury which is probably what made me think he'd broken his arm (no actual mention as to what his injuries were but Gibboney doesn't specify a broken arm here) was just months before the Eggnog Riot.

One might imagine that would hae ended Cadet Davis's sub rosa revelries at Benny Havens---but one would be wrong. The following year, Davis and another student were back at the barroom when word came that a West Point professor was on his way in. The two students raced out a back trail toward the academy but Davis tripped and tumbled down a sixty-foot embakment. He suffered serious injuries and spent most of the next four months recovering at the post hospital. Somehow though, he managed to again avoid prosecution for being at Benny's.

Personally it's a little amazing with what happened in his younger years that he lived long enough to even become a Senator.



 Posted: Mon Feb 11th, 2013 11:28 pm
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Jeff Davis was aiming at the White House from the moment he entered politics. He was a typical politician, no more, no less. The idea that he didn't want to Preseident... ignores his entire political history as well as his role in the 1860 Democratic Convention... he pulled his name from the hat, I believe, knowing he would be offered the Presidency of the CS.

Davis was a self absorbed, self aggrandizing man w/ a penchant for cronyism. I see little to admire in him.



 Posted: Mon Feb 11th, 2013 11:37 pm
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Johan Steele-

  I disagree completely with your assessment of Mr. Davis and his history, with the exception of the part about being too trusting of personal favorites ("Cronyism" if you will). Perhaps you should read the biography of Mr. Davis linked to in my posting above.

  Dr. Cooper's book, which I have just procured, does not support your contentions about Mr. Davis. He entered politics in 1840, when he attended a Democratic meeting in Vicksburg. As late as 1838, he had been exploring the possibility of reviving his career as an Army officer.(He was on active duty from 1828 to 1835). He hardly envisioned himself as President of the US, nor did he even imagine a future CSA. He did not favor disunion.

  In 1860, Mr. Davis was concerned that Mr. Douglas would destroy the Democratic party. He attempted to persuade ex-President Franklin Pierce to seek the nomination in order to save the party. In the end, the Democrats did split their party and hand the presidency to Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Davis resigned from the US Senate on 21 January 1861, a date that he later described as: "The saddest day of my life."

  Mr. Davis did expect the Provisional CSA Congress to offer him an appointment, military or civilian. But there is no indication that he KNEW that he would be chosen to be CSA President (It is true that he did not take steps to remove his name from consideration).

  On 09 February 1861 in Montgomery, AL, Jefferson Davis was the choice of the delegates to be CSA President. A telegraph message was sent to Mississippi. Reading from Page 352 of Dr. Cooper's book:

  "From Vicksburg a messenger was immediately dispatched to Davis Bend, arriving late in the afternoon of February 9. He found Davis in the garden at Brierfield assisting Varina with rose cuttings. Upon reading the telegram, Davis: "Looked so grieved" that, his wife later remembered, she feared some family calamity. She recorded that,"After a few minutes' painful silence," her husband shared the news "as a man might speak of a sentence of death." According to Varina, he neither wanted nor expected the presidency. Years afterward Davis repeated that he never desired the position; later he even claimed he thought he had helped arrangements in favor of Howell Cobb."

  You can believe Mr. and Mrs. Davis or not, as you wish. But I have never seen any evidence that Mr. Davis wanted to be CSA President, or knew that he would be selected. Feel free to submit any evidence you might have to substantiate your statements.

  Mr. Davis had his share of human flaws, just as Mr. Lincoln did. You can have your opinions and villify him if you wish to. No politician will ever be universally loved. As discussed on another thread in this forum, he qualifies as a : "Polarizing figure," just as Mr. Lincoln does.

.

Last edited on Tue Feb 12th, 2013 12:53 am by Texas Defender



 Posted: Tue Feb 12th, 2013 11:15 pm
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I'm sorry TD but when I look at his actions as a politician and in his post war writing I see nothing more than a politician, a good one yes, but a typical back room dealing politician who knew how to use connections to his advantage. I firmly believe he was angling for more political clout & power from the start of his political career.

When I read of his actions in the Mexican War I see a competent officer who used politics to get himself appointed Col. He was already adept at playing politics and did so. He did his job competently and IMO made himself a war hero... when he did nothing more than his job.

The one period in his career where I believe he did an honestly good job was as Sect of War. In fact I might go so far as to say he may have been the best this Nation has had.

I've read Cooper's work and I didn't generally care for it. What I did like was his showing Davis as human & that he didn't micromanage the CS to death. It was IMO well written but IMO failed to dig deep enough into Davis & his political manuevering pre war and IMO failed to highlight how his postwar bitterness changed him. IMO Cooper started out adoring Davis and made certain his biography only made him a more adoring fan.



 Posted: Wed Feb 13th, 2013 12:24 am
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Johan Steele-

  We are still some distance apart in how we view Jefferson Davis and his times. It is true that he was a politician and did what politicians do, then and now. For a time, he was uncertain whether he wanted to follow a military or political course. He chose the political, and even turned down a commission as BG in the US Army that was given to him by President Polk when Davis returned from Mexico.

  As for his postwar writings, I view them as an attempt to explain and justify the decisions that he made. He was convinced that he was right about secession and the superiority of the white race. His views on the latter were more typical than radical among 19th Century white males.

  As for his becoming colonel of the Mississippi regiment in the Mexican War, that happened because the first person offered the post turned it down. (A similar situation to that of Thomas J. Jackson who only got into West Point because a cadet appointed ahead of him quit). In the election for the colonelcy of the regiment, there were five candidates, including Mr. Davis. On the first ballot, the candidate who got the most votes was one Alexander B. Bradford. He could have taken the position but declined because he didn't get a majority of the votes. After Bradford withdrew, Mr. Davis won on the second ballot.

  I don't know what your definition of a : "War hero" is, but to me it is someone who performs well while under fire. Mr. Davis met this standard more than once. He also received a painful wound at Buena Vista, and had to be carried from the field by future CSA officer, Robert Hall Chilton.

  As Secretary of War, Mr. Davis again performed well. He saw the need for an expanded and improved military due to the demands required by the westward expansion. He also saw the need for a transcontinental railroad.

  As for Dr. Cooper, he made points with me in the preface of his biography of Mr. Davis. He wrote: "But my goal is to understand Jefferson Davis as a man of his time, and not condemn him for not being a man of my time." Too many people nowadays still want to judge 19th Century men by 21st Century standards.

  As for Mr. Davis being bitter after the war, I suspect that I would have been more so had I been in his place. He was completely dedicated to the cause of the CSA (No matter what people might think of it nowadays). He was disappointed when others were less dedicated. He was served badly by many in his government, both military and civilian.

  While he remained convinced that he had been right in what he did, after the war, he preached reconciliation of the sections and took pride in the material progress of the U.S. that was taking place near the end of his life. At the end of his book, Dr. Cooper writes a quote where Mr. Davis hopes: "that crimination and recrimination should forever 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."" (Let it be perpetual).

Last edited on Wed Feb 13th, 2013 12:42 am by Texas Defender



 Posted: Sat Feb 16th, 2013 02:11 pm
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Interesting note. I

During the summer of 1858 Jefferson Davis visited Maine for health reasons and was conferred an Honorary Degree at Bowdoin College. It was common for the most prestigious college in Maine to give such degrees to visiting dignitaries. By many accounts, most Mainers were impressed with Davis. He gave impromptu speeches at the Maine Democratic Convention and at the annual Maine Militia Muster. I have read his speeches, which emphasized the constitutional protection of slavery. Republican newspapers, of course were not so sanguine about his visit, his speeches and his political positions.

Bowdoin was also the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Joshua Chamberlain. To balance those opposed to giving Davis a degree, Maine’s radical republican congressman and abolitionist, William Pitt Fessenden, also received a degree that day. When the confederacy was established there was a public outcry to rescind Davis’s honorary degree. Trustees at Bowdoin, despite their political leanings, refused and took much criticism for this. They argued that the degree was conferred for actions up to the day it was conferred, and once conferred, it could not be rescinded. After the war Davis wrote the college to thank them for their position. Davis’s name is included on a tablet in Memorial Hall with 18 other Bowdoin graduates who fought for the confederacy. Some 25% of graduates fought in the war, obviously mostly for the Union. Although US Grant was conferred a degree on August 1, 1865, he is not listed in Memorial Hall because technically, he was not a Bowdoin graduate until after the war.



 Posted: Fri Feb 22nd, 2013 03:01 pm
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  Jefferson Davis' reputation as a military leader was made during the Mexican War at the Battle of Buena Vista. The battle began on this date in 1847, with the main action taking place on the following day. Colonel Davis' regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, ably supported by the Third Indiana, repulsed a large scale Mexican assault and saved the day for General Taylor.

  Here is an account of the battle:

Mexican-American War: Battle of Buena Vista

  And here is General Taylor's official report, in which he highly praises his former son-in-law:

Official Report of the Battle of Buena Vista

  In the battle, Mr. Davis suffered a wound at the base of an ankle that kept him on crutches for a considerable time, and caused him pain from time to time throughout his life.

  As an aside, the son of the: "Great Compromiser," Henry Clay was killed in the battle. His father had been opposed to the war.

  Here is a memorial to LTC Henry Clay, Jr. :

Henry Clay, Jr (1811 - 1847) - Find A Grave Memorial

Last edited on Fri Feb 22nd, 2013 03:37 pm by Texas Defender



 Posted: Sun Feb 24th, 2013 11:32 pm
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The USA Today article was odd. Of course Jeff Davis was an accomplished citizen before he was President of the Confederacy, his achievements were what made him a logical choice for the position.

And what about the statement of ancestors, "(Slavery) was the standard of the day — it's the way the world was."

Actually, slavery was on the road to extinction before Jefferson Davis was even born.

According to Wikipedia, “Revolutionary France abolished slavery in 1794, but it was restored by Napoleon ... Haiti achieved independence from France in 1804 and brought an end to slavery in its territory, establishing the second republic in the western hemisphere. Britain banned the importation of African slaves in its colonies in 1807, and the United States followed in 1808. Britain abolished slavery throughout the British Empire with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, the French colonies abolished it 15 years later.

I can agree that most US Citizens were racist by today’s standard, and I can agree that slavery was an inseparable part of southern culture. But I can’t agree that "(Slavery) was the standard of the day — it's the way the world was." Unless, one thinks that the world was the southern states of the US.



 Posted: Mon Feb 25th, 2013 12:29 am
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Mildman-

  Many have speculated that the institution of slavery would have died out in the U.S. on its own if there had been no Civil War. Perhaps it would have before the turn of the 20th Century, but we'll never know.

  I do not believe that the institution of slavery was on the road to extinction before Jefferson Davis was born. Mr. Davis was born in 1808. The chart on the link below shows that the number of slaves in the U.S. increased from 1.1 million to 3.95 million in the years from 1810 to 1860.

Slavery in the United States | Economic History Services
  For those interested in learning more about the institution of slavery in the U.S., this source will reward study.


  Slavery continued because the plantation system made money for the owners. Money has always been the driving force in our society. I assign no higher moral standing to those in the north at that time. I believe that if the large plantation system had been viable in the northern states, that slavery would have continued on a large scale there.

  As far as slavery being: "The way the world was" goes, it certainly was the reality in the southern states in 1860. It was still the reality in much of the rest of the world after it was abolished in the U.S. in December of 1865, as the timeline on abolition of slavery on the link below shows:

Abolition of slavery timeline - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  This source chronicles when slavery was abolished in different places in the world from ancient times until 2007. At the end, it says: "While now OFFICIALLY illegal in all nations, slavery or practices akin to it continue today in many countries throughout the world."

Last edited on Mon Feb 25th, 2013 08:59 pm by Texas Defender



 Posted: Tue Feb 26th, 2013 12:16 am
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Thank you Texas Defender! for points well made.

Yes, Your facts show that slavery was increasing in the US. My comment was based on the word “world” in Davis’s ancestor’s statement "(Slavery) was the standard of the day — it's the way the world was." The world leaders, England and France had both outlawed slavery by the time of the Civil War in acts that began at the time of the French revolution. Davis grew up in a society based on slavery, but that society was standing apart from the most civilized of the nations. Davis would have known that.

I agree that slavery existed because it made money for slave holders. Its always about the money isn’t it? Yes, treatment of workers in Northern factories was appalling with women and children working horrendous hours in dangerous conditions. I have seen what some of those factories were like. However, those that worked in factories were still free and paid wages for their work. Working in terrible conditions in a factory was different than slavery. In factories, workers could leave. In slavery, slaves could not. As is evidenced by those who attempted escape, freedom was very important to those enslaved.

While your facts are valid, I stand-by the essence of my point. Saying that slavery was “the way the world was” is a rationalization of Davis’s beliefs.



 Posted: Tue Feb 26th, 2013 01:12 am
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MildMan-

  First of all, Jefferson Davis was the ancestor in the USA TODAY article. The fellow making all of the statements was the descendant.

  I will make no defense of the institution of slavery (I even consider jury duty to be involuntary servitude). I have said many times on this forum that slavery was not a benign institution. I would certainly agree that being owned by another human being was even worse than being a new immigrant working in an early factory in the northern states. But life was not easy in either case.

  As you said, England and France abolished slavery decades before the U.S. did. But as I pointed out previously, slavery continued for a large percentage of the population of the human race long after it ended in the U.S. For example, in 1900, the world population approached 1.7 billion. Of this number, about 1/4 was then in China (415 million), where slavery was still legal. It also continued in many other places, as the timeline presented in my previous posting shows. Therefore, I feel justified in saying that slavery was still widespread in the world decades after it was abolished in the U.S.



 Posted: Tue Feb 26th, 2013 01:58 am
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My point should read, Davis's descendants rationalized Davis's beliefs by saying "(Slavery) was the standard of the day — it's the way the world was."

Davis was well aware of different views on he morality of slavery and he was aware of that the leading countries of the civilized world, France and England, had outlawed slavery.

Although Davis was an accomplished man, his legacy is tainted by being on the wrong side of the slavery issue.



 Posted: Tue Feb 26th, 2013 02:21 am
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MildMan-

  As I've said before, people have to function in the times and societies that they are born into. As I've said before, Jefferson Davis' beliefs were typical, not radical, for a white man living in the southern states in the 19th Century.

  If you had told Mr. Davis in 1860 that the: "Leading country" in the world at that time, Great Britain, had abolished slavery in the 1830s, he might have answered that that didn't stop the British from buying southern cotton. So, once again, economic considerations trumped moralistic ones.

  Mr. Davis might have added that if most Americans in the late 18th Century had been content to be ruled by what those in Great Britain thought, then Americans in those times would have been content to remain British colonists, and there would not have been a United States of America.

Last edited on Tue Feb 26th, 2013 02:53 am by Texas Defender



 Posted: Tue Feb 26th, 2013 12:43 pm
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Texas Defender -

You started this discussion lamenting “Far fewer historians have studied the life of Jefferson Davis than have studied that of Abraham Lincoln. Unlike Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Davis was never President of the United States, and was on the losing side of the Civil War.”

Davis not only was on a losing side of a war he was on the losing side of a bad idea. Yes, it is true that he was a product of his time and of the culture he grew up in. Equality among the races was not a popular idea, north or south. But others were able to see slavery for what it was, and many took great personal risk in acting on their beliefs.

Lincoln is studied because his achievements were remarkable – and his impact timeless. He was on the edge of the future, rather than clinging to the past.

Ironically. Davis’s most remarkable and timeless achievement was in making Lincolns achievements possible. He gave the order to fire on Ft Sumter to unite the south, and also united the north and gave Lincoln the war powers he needed. In successfully fighting the war through 1862, he gave Lincoln a reason to emancipate slaves and thus hastened slavery’s demise.

Nice discussion, I think I have beat this one to death. You can have the last word.



 Posted: Tue Feb 26th, 2013 01:53 pm
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Hitler was on the loosing side of a war and a bad idea. And yet you probably have as many historians studying him as Lincoln. I am not saying Lincoln was the same as Hitler, just that the arguement of the loosing side of a war and a bad idea doesn't hold merit when one of the most tyranical figures of the twentith century is so well studied.



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