EDITORS NOTE: We originally published a brief form of this review in October 2012 and have only recently had the chance to expand it and explain so much of the background of the argument that most are unaware of and so we now offer this expanded – and we hope improved – review of a book about one of America’s first prominent men to go from political leader to political prisoner.
Whenever there is a weak and ineffective national government, or one that is obviously morally bankrupt or one that is attempting to force unconstitutional change on the nation there is generally talk of secession – and generally talk is all there is since only rarely does a generation willing to pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor rise up in unison to dissolve the political bands which have connected them and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of God entitle them.
States rights – the very thing the Constitution was designed to protect – has become a term made synonymous with radical racism which, properly understood, it bears no more resemblance to than a nation-state does to a republic but starting with his first inaugural that is exactly what Lincoln strove to create in a revolution that paraded under the guise of a crusade for liberty and left the nation a good deal less free. Jefferson Davis – and the political tradition that owes its American roots to leaders from the Founders through Calhoun – put forth the arguments that were consonant with the founding but could not meet the combination of industrial development, the westward course of empire or the monied interests behind them.
After a pious – if hypocritical – recitation of the rights of the states in the first fifteen paragraphs of his first inaugural Lincoln states in the sixteenth that, It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination, and there, in that one sentence, is where the misdirection and duplicity that led to the war began. When the 13 colonies declared their independence in 1776 a set of Articles of Confederation was drafted by 1777, submitted to the colonies and approved by 1781 [two years before the final military victory of the revolution] and became the governing law of the 13 states until the adoption of the Constitution is 1789.
Indeed it was not until 1789 that the United States was formed as a formal named entity whose very formation was argued against as a breach of the Articles of Confederation. Lincoln may have had his talents as a lawyer but they pale beside those of James Madison who was the fourth president who had written at the time of the Constitutional Convention, The Confederation, having been formed by unanimous consent, could be dissolved by unanimous consent only. Does this doctrine result from the nature of compacts? If we consider the federal Union as analogous not to the social compacts among individual men, but to the conventions among individual States, according to the Expositors of the Law of Nations, a breach of any one article, by any one party, leaves all the other parties at liberty to consider the whole convention as dissolved… It could be argued that the change in the form of government from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution [whose adoption was a near run thing] was the first act of secession in American history.
In other words Lincoln’s argument that the union was one and indivisible did not meet the bar of conventions among states so that his arguments proceeding from his assumption were as fallacious then as they would be today. Jefferson Davis knew this as did the other advocates of secession and even Lincoln’s hand chosen chief justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon P. Chase, wrote in July 1867, If you bring these leaders to trial it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution secession is not rebellion. Lincoln wanted Davis to escape, and he was right. His capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one. Unfortunately it was Lincoln himself who had destroyed habeas corpus in his illegal usurpation of powers that continued through the military occupation of the South that continued until 1877.
This is a good book as far as it goes. The real reason Jefferson Davis was never charged with anything is that he had never done anything wrong. The South had [has] a perfect right to secede just as the other three cardinal points of the compass , and the territory they include, did and do. Just as Lincoln was willing to start a war to hide the weakness of his position his successors were willing to keep an innocent man in prison rather than allowing the truth to come out. We have no doubt that any contemporary challenge by a state – or group of states – would be met as a matter of homeland security with much the same results that Jefferson Davis faced – capture and imprisonment with torture and humiliation, the common plight of political prisoners everywhere.
Pursuit : the chase, capture, persecution, and surprising release of New York : Citadel Press, 2008 Clint Johnson , 1808-1889 Captivity, 1865-1867 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. 322 p.,  p. of plates : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. -312) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
In the only book to tell the definitive story of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s chase, capture, imprisonment, and release, journalist and Civil War writer Clint Johnson paints a riveting portrait of one of American history’s most complex and enduring figures.
In the vulnerable weeks following the end of the war and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, some in President Andrew Johnson‘s administration burned to exact revenge against Jefferson Davis. Amid charges of conspiracy to murder Lincoln and treason against the Union, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered cavalry after Davis. After a chase through North and South Carolina and Georgia, Davis was captured. The former United States senator and Mexican War hero was imprisoned for two years in Fortress Monroe, Virginia, where he was subjected to torture and humiliation — yet he was never brought to trial.
With a keen eye for period detail, as well as a Southerner’s insight, Johnson sheds new light on Davis’s time on the run, his treatment while imprisoned, his surprising release from custody, and his later travels, in this fascinating account of a defining episode of the Civil War.