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Posts Tagged ‘Jefferson Davis’


Civil War era slavesI just finished reading James L. Swanson’s Bloody Crimes: The funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the chase for Jefferson Davis. If you like American history, it is well worth your time to read; if you are fascinated by Civil War history then this book can only serve to enhance your knowledge of these two men.

But this isn’t a book review. No, I read this for pleasure. And I found myself intrigued, unsettled, and fascinated by all I did not know.

I won’t devle into specifics, but one thing I have always found of interest is the perspective many people have about the cause of the Civil War. I recall my education as being a construct of:

• A) The South (13 states in all, I think) seceded from the Union
• B) The reason for 4 years of bloodshed: Northerners didn’t like slavery, Southerners did

That is the gist of what I recall, and it is tragically myopic. To be sure, as I have aged I have learned more, but only because I sought the information out.

The institution of slavery was, indeed, at the core of the matter. More ideologically, the issue of state’s rights held the political underpinnings.

I could write at length about the founding fathers and their approach to slavery. Most people know that almost all of them owned slaves, but Thomas Jefferson especially detested the trade.

But what I want to convey with this post is a single sentence that reached out and grabbed me by the throat.

Of all the postulation, all the debate, all the scholarship and decades of genuine study Americans have pursued regarding this war, many drawn out and convoluted conclusions have been presented, perhaps the weakest of which appear in the textbooks our children read in school.

How many people know that Jefferson Davis was appointed president of the Confederate States? How many people even knew they had a president?

In a nutshell, Davis, at what was essentially the war’s end, was captured and incacerated by the federal government for two years. He was freed on bail of $100,000. This staggering amount (for 1867) was posted by a group of six men, dubbed the “Secret Six,” in May of 1867.

One of these men, Garrit Smith, was a famed abolitionist and had backed John Brown. He laid the blame for the Civil War on both the North and South:

“The North did quite as much as the South to uphold slavery . . . Slavery was an evil inheritance of the South, but the wicked choice, the adopted policy, of the North.”

Anyone cognizant of the founding fathers’ moral vs. economic struggle with the institution of slavery can appreciate the stunning conciseness and irrefutable truth of that sentence.

Just under a century after we proclaimed ourselves a sovereign nation, with all its political, religious, and nation-building complexity so tightly woven into the fabric of our infancy, this one statement, all but shrouded by the ghostly mists of time, stands to properly point out the origin of a nation’s cancer as if viewed during an autopsy.

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