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Obstacles may retard, but they cannot long prevent the progress of a movement sanctified by its justice, and sustained by a virtuous people … Jefferson Davis

In an age of little men with little minds he had a remarkably clear view of precisely what the United States Constitution said and meant. In the course of a long life full of service, triumph and tribulation he did not waver from his first principles. His heroism was his tragedy and in an age where politicians change the principles and their opinions at least as often as they change their socks he is almost impossible to understand yet – if we are ever to regain our freedom the effort must be made.

 

Never be haughty to the humble or humble to the haughty.

Never be haughty to the humble or humble to the haughty.

Jefferson Davis, American  William J. Cooper, Jr.  New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2000  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xv, 757 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm.      Includes bibliographical references (p. [659]-737) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Print shows Senator Daniel Webster speaking in the Old Senate Chamber about the Compromise of 1850; his Seventh of March speech. "A full view of the U.S. Senate chamber in session. At lower right, Daniel Webster stands and raises his right hand in addressing the Senate. Each member of 1850 is carefully depicted, including Stephen Douglas (to the right of Webster), John C. Calhoun, Vice President Millard Fillmore (presiding at center), Secretary of the Senate Asbury Dickens (below Fillmore), and Jefferson Davis. The visitors' galleries above are full of men and women. The coffered, domed ceiling arches over a portrait of George Washington hung above the eagle and shield above the Vice President.

Print shows Senator Daniel Webster speaking in the Old Senate Chamber about the Compromise of 1850; his Seventh of March speech. “A full view of the U.S. Senate chamber in session. At lower right, Daniel Webster stands and raises his right hand in addressing the Senate. Each member of 1850 is carefully depicted, including Stephen Douglas (to the right of Webster), John C. Calhoun, Vice President Millard Fillmore (presiding at center), Secretary of the Senate Asbury Dickens (below Fillmore), and Jefferson Davis. The visitors’ galleries above are full of men and women. The coffered, domed ceiling arches over a portrait of George Washington hung above the eagle and shield above the Vice President.

West Point graduate, secretary of war under President Pierce, U.S. senator from Mississippi – how was it that this statesman and patriot came to be president of the Confederacy.

I worked night and day for twelve years to prevent the war, but I could not. The North was mad and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came.

I worked night and day for twelve years to prevent the war, but I could not. The North was mad and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came.

This is the question at the center of Cooper’s biography of Jefferson Davis. Basing his account on the massive archival record left by Davis and his family and associates, Cooper delves not only into the events of Davis’s public and personal life but also into the ideas that shaped and compelled him.

The withdrawal of a State from a league has no revolutionary or insurrectionary characteristic. The government of the State remains unchanged as to all internal affairs. It is only its external or confederate relations that are altered. To term this action of a Sovereign a 'rebellion' is a gross abuse of language.

The withdrawal of a State from a league has no revolutionary or insurrectionary characteristic. The government of the State remains unchanged as to all internal affairs. It is only its external or confederate relations that are altered. To term this action of a Sovereign a ‘rebellion’ is a gross abuse of language.

We see Davis as a devoted American, yet also as a wealthy plantation owner who believed slavery to be a moral and social good that could coexist with free labor in an undivided Union. We see how his initially reluctant support of secession ended in his absolute commitment to the Confederacy and his identification of it with the legacy of liberty handed down by the Founding Fathers.

The contest is not over, the strife is not ended. It has only entered upon a new and enlarged arena... Jefferson Davis, address to the Mississippi legislature - 16 years after the wars end

The contest is not over, the strife is not ended. It has only entered upon a new and enlarged arena… Jefferson Davis, address to the Mississippi legislature – 16 years after the wars end

We see the chaos that attended the formation of the Confederate government while the Civil War was being fought, and the ever-present tension between the commitment to states’ rights and the need for centralized authority. We see Davis’s increasingly autocratic behavior, his involvement in military decision-making, and his desperation to save the Confederacy. And we see Davis in defeat: imprisoned for two years, then, for the rest of his life, unrepentant about the South’s attempt to break away.

Secession belongs to a different class of remedies. It is to be justified upon the basis that the States are Sovereign. There was a time when none denied it. I hope the time may come again, when a better comprehension of the theory of our Government, and the inalienable rights of the people of the States, will prevent any one from denying that each State is a Sovereign, and thus may reclaim the grants which it has made to any agent whomsoever.

Secession belongs to a different class of remedies. It is to be justified upon the basis that the States are Sovereign. There was a time when none denied it. I hope the time may come again, when a better comprehension of the theory of our Government, and the inalienable rights of the people of the States, will prevent any one from denying that each State is a Sovereign, and thus may reclaim the grants which it has made to any agent whomsoever.

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