Home / General / Why Honoring Jefferson Davis Is Unacceptable

Why Honoring Jefferson Davis Is Unacceptable

Comments
/
/
/
1197 Views

President-Jefferson-Davis

The discussion that starts here raises a very important point. There’s one defense of monuments to Confederates that runs something like “sure, Davis was a slaveholder, but we have slaveholders on the $1 and $2, a white supremacist on the $5, a slaveholder and ethnic cleanser on the $20, and so on. Why is Davis different?”

I think the answer to this should be clear. There’s a difference between honoring a slaveholder or white supremacist from the 18th or 19th century and honoring them for their support for slavery and white supremacy. Washington isn’t on the $1 because he was a slaveholder, but because he was the first (and still one of the best) presidents and also a major leader in the Revolutionary War. Lincoln is widely honored because of his crucial role in preserving the union and smashing the slave power, not because of the belief he held for most of his life that a multiracial democracy was impossible. The Constitution protected slavery, but its sole purpose was not the protection of slavery. (And we should also remember that the options the framers had in 1787 were a Constitution that provided some protection for slavery, or no deal. The idea that Virginia or Georgia or South Carolina would have agreed to an antislavery constitution with better bargaining is Green Lanternism that makes “Obama could have made Joe Lieberman vote to nationalize the American health care industry” look plausible.) The Revolutionary War and the Constitution were both the product of a combination of admirable motives, immoral motives, self-interest, and practical politics. One can admire the sentiments of the Declaration of Independence while also being mindful that the “all mean are created equal” part was observed in the breach to disastrous effect. Evaluating these things involves complicated judgments.

The Confederacy is a different story. Protecting slavery was its sole reason for being. Confederate leaders aren’t honored in spite of their commitment to treason in defense of slavery; in 99% of cases they’re being honored because of it. (Nobody would be naming highways in Washington state after Davis because he was Pierce’s Secretary of War.) As I said in the previous post, the idea that people like Robert E. Lee are being honored because they were fine gentleman or fathers (except for, you know, the slaves) is absurd even if you take the assertions at face value like you shouldn’t. I have great parents and you probably do too, but nobody’s building statues of them or naming schools after them. Confederate leaders are honored because of their role in the Confederacy. And the purpose of secession was 1)protecting slavery, and 2)that’s it.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that tributes to non-Confederate leaders shouldn’t be assessed critically. (Personally, I’m OK with Washington and Lincoln on the currency, but would remove Jackson with all non-deliberate speed.) A norm may emerge that honoring slaveholders in any way and no matter what else they did is unacceptable, and that would be OK with me. Norms could develop against naming things after political leaders in general. But those are complicated questions. Confederate leaders are an easy case.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • njorl

    Not only was Davis’ only claim to fame that he was a traitor who defended the cause of slavery, he wasn’t even any good at it.

    I can see why racists might want to honor Robert E. Lee of Nathan Forrest, but I can’t see why they’d want to honor Davis. It’s not just immoral; it’s stupid.

    • Warren Terra

      To be fair, if there’s one thing about Jefferson Davis for which decent people should be grateful, it’s his incompetence. Although, unless it’s proven to have been deliberate sabotage, that’s not good enough to merit memorializing him.

      • ploeg

        You can ding Davis for this decision or that (or Lee, for that matter) but calling Davis incompetent is a bit much. The job was hopeless from day 1; it took a bit of time for that fact to be abundantly clear to all, but it didn’t take that long.

        The biggest mistake that Davis and Lee made was to choose the wrong side. They could have chosen differently. Others did choose differently.

        • liberalrob

          Davis probably knew at the time that it was most likely a futile endeavor. He was not in favor of secession, but he felt honor-bound to serve the people of his state over loyalty to the country at large when they asked him to serve (as did Lee). A misguided sense of honor has made people make bad decisions and do stupid things throughout history.

          The biggest mistake Davis made as I see it was to buy in to the legitimacy of slavery. Whether he personally believed in it as a matter of morality or not I do not know, but the bare facts are that he owned slaves and believed that slavery had a basis in the Constitution (due to the odious 3/5ths clause) that the Federal government therefore could not overrule in the states without an amendment (i.e. he was a 10th’er). From that mistake all else flowed.

          • dilan

            Davis probably knew at the time that it was most likely a futile endeavor. He was not in favor of secession, but he felt honor-bound to serve the people of his state over loyalty to the country at large when they asked him to serve

            I don’t know why people say stuff like this. Davis was so committed to the cause of white supremacy that he didn’t even accept the fall of his own government. He tried to go west and regroup with the intention of conducting further sedition against the US.

            I am going to make a flat statement. Every. Single. Leader. Of. The. Confederacy. Was. A. White. Supremacist. Asshole.

            Some of them might have been worse than others. I will concede that. But every single one of them was terrible. There were no good confederate leaders. The good ones didn’t become confederate leaders in the first place.

            There is absolutely no honor in leading a violent and pointless conflict in an attempt to uphold your right to own and rape slaves. Zero. That’s not something good people do. That’s not even something that OK but flawed people do. You have to be a total asshole to do that– and they all were.

            • liberalrob

              I don’t know why people say stuff like this.

              Because we think it’s true?

              Not disagreeing with your belief that every single leader of the Confederacy was an asshole because they ultimately were fighting to defend slavery, whatever they might have thought they were defending. I’m just not as ready as you to condemn every one them for what may have been a self-delusion. It seems to me it was at least possible that some of them truly did believe it was a states’ rights issue, no matter how clear it seems to us today that they were actually defending slavery. I’m sure some of them were aware of it at the time and simply didn’t want to acknowledge it publicly; but people do the same thing today. It’s impossible to know what someone’s true motives are. You can either assume they are being truthful or assume they are being deceitful when they tell you their reasoning on some issue. I lean toward the former in this case, you assert the latter.

              • dilan

                One thing to remember is that a lot of the thinking that states rights was separate from slavery is post hoc historical revisionism.

                If you look at the speeches and secession resolutions and all the rest, EVERYONE at the time knew the secession was about slavery.

                And also, almost every one of the confederate leaders was from the planter class. They owned (and probably raped) slaves, and actions speak louder than words.

                • Malaclypse

                  This.

                  This isn’t reading back today’s values to 1861. The South was a fucking retrograde backwater then. There’s no reason to pretend that lots of people thought slavery, especially as practiced in the South at the time, was barbaric. The Confederates knew damn well what they were doing, and they knew it wasn’t about “the will of the people” because they knew blacks were people and just didn’t fucking care.

          • Malaclypse

            In addition to everything Dilan said, I’d like to unpack the idea that Davis was serving “the people” of his state, and point out that this phrasing buys into an odious narrowing of who actually gets to be “people.”

            • You’re too nice. Davis was from Mississippi, which was more than half slave. “The people of his state” that he pretended to follow were whatever percentage of the white minority voted for secession. A Virginian could pretend that the will of his state’s white majority meant something, which would be repulsive and an odious narrowing of “people” but had some ugly logic to it. On the peter hand, the will of the majority of people of Mississippi could not be anything but “end slavery.”

              • liberalrob

                “The people of his state” that he pretended to follow were whatever percentage of the white minority voted for secession.

                This is exactly right, except for the “pretended” part. He did follow them.

                A Virginian could pretend that the will of his state’s white majority meant something, which would be repulsive and an odious narrowing of “people” but had some ugly logic to it. On the peter hand, the will of the majority of people of Mississippi could not be anything but “end slavery.”

                The will of the majority of people in Mississippi did not count in those days, because those people were considered property not people. That’s what the fighting was all about.

                • Malaclypse

                  The will of the majority of people in Mississippi did not count in those days, because those people were considered property not people.

                  Right, and that renders claims he was acting honorably bullshit.

                • liberalrob

                  Well, again, that’s what the fighting was all about; and his side lost, and today we condemn what he thought was proper. As we should.

                  Some people consider remaining steadfast in one’s beliefs in the face of overwhelming odds to be at least somewhat honorable, even if those beliefs are ultimately based on something noxious. It doesn’t make those people paragons of virtue or those beliefs any less worthy of contempt. I think it is possible to act honorably even in the service of an odious cause. I don’t deny the validity of the opposite view, that any action in the service of an odious cause is hopelessly tainted no matter how noble.

                • Hogan

                  that’s what the fighting was all about

                  The fighting wasn’t about whether slavery was honorable; it was about whether slavery would continue.

                • ajay

                  Some people consider remaining steadfast in one’s beliefs in the face of overwhelming odds to be at least somewhat honorable, even if those beliefs are ultimately based on something noxious.

                  “At least it’s an ethos!”

            • liberalrob

              I’d like to unpack the idea that Davis was serving “the people” of his state, and point out that this phrasing buys into an odious narrowing of who actually gets to be “people.”

              Is that a shot at me? I’m not buying into that, if that’s what you’re claiming. Yes, it is an odious narrowing, but it also was the de facto situation at the time. From Davis’ perspective, “the people” of his state asked him to serve and he did.

              I understand the hatred of Davis and all his works and all he stood for, and it’s not wrong to feel that way. Condemn away. But I think it’s important to try to understand the thought processes behind important historical decisions, even if only to illustrate how evil they were.

    • Mudge

      Davis fled Richmond after it fell and was captured in Georgia. He was basically a coward, on top of all else. At least Lee surrendered honorably .

    • UserGoogol

      Being President affords a certain level of prestige to a person even if they’re terrible at it, and it’s not like pro-Confederates have a choice as to which Confederate President they’d like to honor.

  • the idea that people like Robert E. Lee are being honored because they were fine gentleman or fathers (except for, you know, the slaves) is absurd even if you take the assertions at face value like you shouldn’t

    The post is 99% correct, but there is a widespread sentiment that Lee was a particularly honorable soldier and gentleman, and excellent general, in a way that no one thinks of Davis, Forrest, or other CSA leaders, and thus is not (I think) itself dependent on venerating Lee *as* a slavelord/rebel/TIDOS.

    That sentiment probably whitewashes Lee’s actual character and record, but it does exist.

    • Murc

      I agree with this, Anderson, but it’s important to note that that belief is widespread because of a deliberate attempt to con people on the part of southern die-hards.

      Full disclosure: I, too, have fallen prey to it. For a long time I was of the opinion that nobody in the Civil War was Lee’s equal as a General. It took me a long time to finally figure out that, yes, Lee was a great General, but Grant was as good if not better and Sherman, Thomas, and others were certainly also the equal of Lee.

      • Mudge

        Lee was also a lucky general. He faced spineless, hesitant McClellan on the Peninsula and at Antietam. Imagine if any general other than McClellan had found the orders wrapped around the cigars. Burnside, the political general, attacked entrenched hillside positions at Fredricksburg..insane. Hooker was concussed at Chancellorsville and never called in Meade. Meade bested Lee at Gettysburg (150th anniversary) and in every battle afterwards..except Cold harbor where Grant decided to handle the actual attack and was routed. And don’t forget, Lee was a failure in Western Virginia early in the war.

        • Manny Kant

          The greatest generals in history are generally noted for the fact that their great victories are won against shitty opponents. Napoleon, notably, won his biggest victories against various shitty to mediocre generals. When he faced good generals he generally either lost (as against Wellington), or won kind of unimpressive battles of attrition (as against Archduke Charles at Wagram, for instance). Frederick the Great similarly won his great victories against nobodies. Wellington won his big victories in the Peninsula against Napoleon’s second stringers.

          Lee didn’t win any brilliant victories against Grant, but that’s mostly because brilliant victories of the Chancellorsville type aren’t really possible against competent opponents. Grant also, notably, looked far less impressive against Lee than he had against Pemberton and Bragg, which is a testament to the fact that Lee was a very good general. I do kind of suspect, though, that Stonewall Jackson might have actually been the real military genius behind Lee’s actual brilliant victories of 1862-1863. After Jackson dies, we don’t see any more brilliant victories from Lee, which kind of suggests who was the real genius there.

          • Lee Rudolph

            After Jackson dies, we don’t see any more brilliant victories from Lee, which kind of suggests who was the real genius there.

            Maybe Lee just was so torn up by grief for his departed man-crush that he couldn’t general properly.

            • dilan

              Or maybe the Civil War was a war of attrition and that by the time Jackson died, the Army of Northern Virginia was starting to be seriously degraded.

              (Bear in mind, that’s probably the only intelligent thing I will ever say about the military strategy of the Civil War, a topic I TRULY know almost nothing about.)

          • Bruce Vail

            Interesting. The story is sometimes told that, following the Confederate victory at First Manasass, Jackson urged a lightning strike into D.C., where he would hang Lincoln on the steps of the White House. Hindsight tells us he might have succeeded and ended the war virtually overnight.

            • The story is sometimes told that, following the Confederate victory at First Manasass, Jackson urged a lightning strike into D.C., where he would hang Lincoln on the steps of the White House.

              Given the disorganization of the Army at the time and the short distance, that very well could’ve worked.

              • liberalrob

                Maybe, although the Confederate Army wasn’t in great shape either. Their morale was certainly higher though.

                Also, simply taking Washington wouldn’t have ended the rebellion. Too much emphasis is placed on capitals. Taking Richmond didn’t end it either.

                • Bruce Vail

                  Taking Washington would have had a huge psychological impact, even if there was little military/strategic importance attached.

                  The most important thing would have been the execution of Lincoln. We know now that it was his fortitude and political skill that kept the war effort moving forward in 1861-1862. His elimination would have been necessary to a truce or a peace treaty that would allow the Confederacy to survive.

                • dilan

                  That’s a difficult counterfactual, isn’t it? I mean, you can just as easily make the case for the country wanting to double down on the cause of the martyred Lincoln, or being entirely outraged about the murderous confederates who killed the President.

                  Plus, although there are probably a lot of positive things to say about how Lincoln waged the war, that doesn’t mean that the South’s inherent disadvantages in the conflict (fewer factories, fewer servicemembers, fewer railroads, smaller population, the “need” to maintain millions of slaves in bondage) would have magically gone away had Lincoln been killed.

                  I have no idea what would have actually happened, of course, but I certainly wouldn’t assume magic bullet solutions to end a war. It’s often not that simple.

                • Bruce Vail

                  Yes, it is a difficult counterfactual.

                  But it is one that makes some sense if you are looking for a scenario where the South actually wins the War.

                • Pat

                  Lee was originally trained as a scout, so a lot of his plans depended on knowledge of the terrain and a valid assessment of what his men could and couldn’t do. He also tended not to waste them. I don’t recall reading about this, but I can believe that he suggested it.

            • ploeg

              There is the small matter of a body of water called the Potomac, which would have presented somewhat of an obstacle. Not to mention the trenchworks that were started in late May, which were admittedly not nearly as extensive as the fortifications that were to follow, but which would likely have held up any general advance on the Potomac bridges.

              It might yet have been worth trying, given the prospects for a Confederate victory, but success would have been unlikely.

          • liberalrob

            Lee’s greatest asset was having excellent subordinates to handle tactics. Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart were all excellent tactical commanders; all Lee had to do was handle strategy. Then Jackson was killed and Stuart got a big head (and then was also killed) and all he had left was Longstreet; and by then the Union had gotten their act together as well, and it was just a matter of time until the end.

            Grant’s greatest asset as a general was being unflappable. He didn’t panic at Shiloh when everything went to hell, and (with Sherman’s help and Prentiss’ determined stand) held his command together just long enough for critical reinforcements to arrive. He refused to be intimidated at the concept of cutting loose from his supply line to surround Vicksburg, an unheard-of gamble in the minds of most strategists (which is partly why it worked). He refused to be intimidated by Lee’s reputation, ordering Meade to stick to Lee like glue and wear him down through attrition thus taking full advantage of the Union’s superiority in men and materiel. He wasn’t particularly brilliant as a tactician or as a strategist; he simply realized what Winfield Scott had realized at the outset when he set up the Anaconda Plan: the Confederacy was doomed to fail militarily if it was isolated. And it did.

            I think Scott is the true hero of the Union side in terms of strategy. Grant and Sherman were the ones who brought the plan to its fruition.

            • Pat

              Didn’t Scott train both McClelland and Lee in the battle against Mexico?

              • liberalrob

                Don’t know about “trained” but many Civil War leaders were veterans of the Mexican War. Jefferson Davis and U.S. Grant served under Zachary Taylor in northern Mexico.

                • RonC

                  Grant served under both Scott and Taylor and I believe in all the major battles of that war.

          • Murc

            Lee didn’t win any brilliant victories against Grant, but that’s mostly because brilliant victories of the Chancellorsville type aren’t really possible against competent opponents. Grant also, notably, looked far less impressive against Lee than he had against Pemberton and Bragg, which is a testament to the fact that Lee was a very good general.

            I’m not accusing you of this, Manny, but I have found a lot of times when people say that either or both of Grant and Lee weren’t that “impressive” during the final eastern campaign of 1864-65, what they really mean is that they were dull.

            And that kind of ignores the fact that good generals want things to be dull, because getting creative on the battlefield is only something you do if you absolutely have to, as it increases, dramatically, the odds that you’re going to fuck up hard somewhere. Grant’s campaign against Vicksburg, and Lee’s grand strategic flourishes against a series of nobodies, were strategic and tactical choices undertaken out of necessity rather than choice. They didn’t want to do things like divide their armies and widely separate the pieces or rely on fast flanking marches and tricky cavalry bullshit; those things were shockingly risky.

            So when Grant tools up to march on Richmond, he realized “I don’t need to do any of that crazy stuff anymore; I hold all the cards. I can conduct this campaign in a completely straightforward manner and that will maximize my chances of victory.” And Lee realizes “Fuck, Grant actually knows what he is doing. I’m not going to be able to do to him what I did to the last five guys to try invading. I’ll have to conduct my defense in as orthodox a manner as possible and hope he fucks up or blinks at some point.”

            And so you get a long series of by-the-numbers battles, and people think “What’s wrong with these two? Why aren’t they preforming to spec anymore?” And the answer is “because they don’t want to get utterly destroyed.”

            • ploeg

              I don’t think that Grant and Lee ever stopped looking for the quick victory during the Overland Campaign, the quick victory was just never there to be had. Grant thought that he could get through the Wilderness before Lee could react; after Spotsylvania, Grant tried to lure Lee into attacking Hancock so that he could fall on Lee’s rear with the rest of his army; at North Anna, Lee constructed his lines so that the Union Army would be split in two; Grant crossed the James to take Petersburg so that Lee would be flushed into the open. For various reasons, these plans didn’t work, but they still kept looking for the quick way out.

          • Richard Gadsden

            Agreed entirely on the first para. You could do a similar list for both German and Soviet generals of WWII (e.g. Manstein and Zhukov both had remarkable records, except when fighting each other at Kharkov).

            Grant vs Lee was mostly Grant not letting Lee outmanoeuvre him, and then just grinding down the smaller army through attrition. It’s a damned bloody way to fight a war, but it worked.

            Of course, an idiot called Haig tried to copy it without the excuses, and there are war memorials in every small town in Britain with long lists of names as a result.

          • ajay

            Wellington won his big victories in the Peninsula against Napoleon’s second stringers.

            Soult, a second-stringer? Massena? Marmont? If those guys are second-stringers, who are the first-stringers?
            And you’re kind of forgetting that Wellington’s greatest victory was Waterloo, against the man himself…

      • For a long time I was of the opinion that nobody in the Civil War was Lee’s equal as a General. It took me a long time to finally figure out that, yes, Lee was a great General, but Grant was as good if not better and Sherman, Thomas, and others were certainly also the equal of Lee.

        “Lee Is Seriously Overrated” is one of those “ah-ha” moments that I think a lot of military history geeks share. In line with the comments above about Jackson possibly being the real genius of the operation, Lee has never seemed to me to get enough blame for his terrible overall strategy, especially when it comes to matters of supply.

        I understand the basic rationale behind invading the North to stop the war, but any honest appraisal of whether or not to actually do it has to account for the fact that they could barely supply their army when it was camped at a railhead connected to the rest of their country. Thinking an army that size could support itself in hostile territory was bonkers, and that’s before you remember that all the while he was doing that, the CSA was getting literally torn in half out West.

        The counter-argument to that is, I think, that the South was probably in a no-win situation regardless of what Lee did or didn’t do. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Army of Northern Virginia was perpetually dysfunctional and desertion heavy (always a sign of an army that can’t sustain itself).

        • Gwen

          Remember that in the spring of 1863, Lee needed a “go big or go home” campaign to try to win foreign support for the CSA.

          That is pretty much all you need to know about the strategery of the Gettysburg campaign.

        • Pat

          I thought Lee invaded Pennsylvania to loot it for food.

          • Gwen

            They hadn’t invented cheesesteaks and Utz chips yet tho.

            • Malaclypse

              But there were pretzels.

            • So the Army of Northern Virginia was not likely to die of massive flatulence. Win win.

  • King Goat

    This post, it says it. Amen.

  • yet_another_lawyer

    With Jefferson Davis, you’d think they could at least say the monuments are “actually” for his service in the Mexican-American War, then ask why “liberals” want to tear down monuments to an American war veteran. Isn’t that the sort of nonsensical rhetorical twist that every politician is supposed to have down cold?

    • WabacMachinist

      Somehow I don’t see the the performance of the Mississippi Rifles at the Battle of Buena Vista marks a watershed in American history.
      Maybe Davis should be honored instead for his valiant efforts to create a Camel Corps in the US Army during his tenure as Secretary of War in 1855.
      http://www.qmmuseum.lee.army.mil/historyweek/26aug-1sep.htm

      • allium
        • WabacMachinist

          Wasn’t there a song about that guy?

  • Shakezula

    For the same reason we don’t have statues and highways honoring Benedict Arnold?

    • Peterr

      I’m waiting for the CIA to name their offices in Langley after Aldrich Ames. “Sure, he betrayed more intelligence officers than almost anyone, but he was a nice guy.”

      • Shakezula

        Ha, yes. And the FBI can name it’s new building after Robert Hanssen.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Wait, does this mean that every Federal government facility anywhere must be named after George W. Bush???

      • Gwen

        The Richard B. Cheney Center for Strategy and Intelligence

        • Pat

          The Douglas Feith Center for Strategy and Intelligence!

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      maybe we would if an industry similar to the civil war re-enactors was playing American Revolution?

      it seems like there’s a story there, too, to explain how we got into play fighting the civil war itself all over again. a few years ago they started doing re-enactments here, and every year it gets to be a bigger thing

      • wjts

        There are American Revolution reenactors, but it’s not nearly as big a thing as it is for the Civil War.

        • Malaclypse

          There’s actually quite a few people here in MA that are Revolutionary LARPers, but the important difference is that nobody ever LARPs the anti-Americans for that war.

          • Aimai

            Actually I think I know some people who represent the british during role playing for the revolutionary war. And I know some people who do the minutemen. Its more about having someone to play all the roles, though, than some fantasy repeat of the actual time.

        • Hogan

          There weren’t that many actual battles in the Revolution, and they were pretty short compared to Civil War battles. Also it’s probably hard to get people who are enthusiastic about playing the British.

          • mds

            and they were pretty short compared to Civil War battles.

            [SCENE: Breed’s Hill, Boston]

            PRESCOTT: Dont fire until you see the whites of their eyes!

            [Colonial position is immediately overrun by extremely hungover British troops]

            • Hogan

              I thought Trenton had the extremely hungover British troops.

              But points for getting the hill right.

      • Call me when they start using live ammo in the cannons.

        • Bruce Vail

          Reminds me of an old boss of mine who used to say that he would only be impressed by the successes of hunters/fisherman if they went unarmed and naked into the woods for a week before bringing home their trophies and bragging about their skills.

    • ploeg

      There are suitable monuments that recognize Arnold’s role in the Revolutionary War without honoring him.

      Edit: One difference between Arnold and Davis is that Arnold made a substantial contribution to the cause before he turned traitor.

    • Ahuitzotl

      Arnold probably did more than any single person to bring about an american success in the Rebellion in the Colonies, while getting spurned like a diseased skunk by Congress. You probably SHOULD have some statues honouring him.

      ETA: sorry ploeg got there before me

  • Peterr

    The cognitive dissonance of the name of Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery AL (built in the 1960s) and its current principal is strong. I’m having trouble getting my head around what it must be like to be both African-American and principal of Jefferson Davis HS.

    • liberalrob

      How about the African-American population of Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana? Wonder how they feel about it.

      • Gwen

        Or Jeff Davis County, Texas?

      • Ahuitzotl

        Not to mention the 99% black student population of Nathan Bedford Forrest High, in south GA (now finally renamed something innocuous like Western Hills I think)

  • Bruce Vail

    Does ‘unacceptable’ mean the demolition or removal of existing monuments to Jefferson Davis?

  • c u n d gulag

    My bet is that 5/5th’s of our racists, not 3/5th’s, would vote to keep honoring Davis!
    And the other treasonous and traitorous Secesh rebels!

  • blowback

    And we should also remember that the options the framers had in 1787 were a Constitution that provided some protection for slavery, or no deal. The idea that Virginia or Georgia or South Carolina would have agreed to an antislavery constitution with better bargaining

    Rubbish, they could have told Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina to piss off and form their own country if they wanted to keep slavery.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      slavery would have been abolished in 1833 then. That might not have been a bad deal all the way around

      • wjts

        Huh? Why would slavery have been abolished in a separate Southern nation earlier than it was in the real world?

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          the English abolished slavery in 1833. I’m making the assumption a divided Revolution doesn’t succeed. That might be due to taking Ben Franklin’s “hang together or hang separately” line too seriously though (shrugs)

          edit: ah, shit. I misread the original comment and botched the year. Going to have to cure that bad habit

          • advocatethis

            If I remember my Tuchman accurately (and if she was right), the British would still have found a way to lose to half a rebellion.

          • Malaclypse

            Right, but I read blowback as saying positing a Revolution that happened as it happened, but that the country divides when the Articles of Confederation collapse in 1789.

            That said, I think the result of that scenario is that the North gets conquered in 1812.

            • blowback

              is that the North gets conquered in 1812

              Who by? The British and Canadians? The War of 1812 was launched by the United States with the aim of kicking the British out of Canada. A slightly weaker United States would have probably avoided such a stupid act. With the British far more concerned about Napoleon than a few former colonialists, I doubt the British would have picked a fight with the latter so there would have been no War of 1812.

              • Hogan

                And the War of 1812 was at least partly the work of Jefferson and Madison, who don’t get to be president in the non-Southern US. (Of course, neither does Washington. Who do we get instead? Adams? Hamilton? James Wilson?)

                • NonyNony

                  Without the slave states there is no US. There might be a federation of southern states and a federation of northern states, but without the slavery compromises there is no “United States”.

                  Also – anyone proposing counterfactuals about demanding that the southern states give up slavery before taking on the Constitution needs to re-read it. The compromise wasn’t just that slavery was legitimized and legal in the US – the compromise was that PLUS the slave states were allowed to count 3/5 of their slave population as actual population for the purpose of determining representation in Congress. They couldn’t even get the slave states to agree that only free individuals should count as population – getting them to give up the engine that actually ran their economies was not going to happen. (I remember realizing that as a young man and suddenly thinking that that very fact de-legitimized the entire American Revolution. I’m not as idealistic today as I was then, but I still think of the American Revolution as less legit than it was when I was a kid, I guess.)

                • jim, some guy in iowa

                  this is why I’m leery of doing much with counterfactuals (aside from my inability to keep the real history straight): too many changes, and how do you decide which things don’t change. Maybe for some bizarre diplomatic reason the north and the south still get into a war, and the English sit back and laugh their asses off

                • blowback

                  Why does nesting of replies run out?

                  Without the slave states there is no US. There might be a federation of southern states and a federation of northern states, but without the slavery compromises there is no “United States”.

                  NonyNony
                  The United States is an artificial construct so the United States would exist except it wouldn’t have included South Carolina or Georgia for a while. At the time of the American Putsch/Coup, there were French, Spanish, British, and Russian territories that would go on to be included in the United States. There was no force of nature that said these territories had to be part of the United States.

    • wjts

      Your grasp of the political realities of North America in the late 18th century is impressive, I’ll give you that.

      • blowback

        Really impressive “comment” then.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Sure, they could have not made a deal (although also without Maryland, North Carolina, Delaware.) How you can be confident that emancipation would have happened sooner had this happened is…not obvious to me.

      • blowback

        They could have made the Constitution silent on slavery and seen which of the slave states would accept that. South Carolina and Georgia were probably too dependent on slavery to be able to accept that. Perhaps North Carolina and Virginia might have accepted that and Delaware and Maryland don’t really matter much. At least that would have stopped the spread of slavery into the new territory acquired by the United States with the Treaty of Paris.

        • liberalrob

          They could have made the Constitution silent on slavery and seen which of the slave states would accept that.

          I bet they had a pretty good handle on what the slave states would accept. That’s how the Constitution got the 3/5ths compromise in the first place.

  • Bruce Vail

    If there are any lovers of Civil War trivia out there, then I’d urge a visit to the museum at Fortress Monroe, Va., where visitors can stand in the actual cell where Davis was held for a time post-war.

    There is an interesting bit of historiography associated with the museum: The creation of the museum was apparently an attempt by the US Army to counter persistent claims/rumors that Davis was mistreated as a prisoner.

  • Woodlark

    There’s an aspect to this issue which makes Davis even worse.

    Not only was Davis the leader of a nation founded upon human slavery, and not only was Davis a national leader of questionable ability, he was also determined to fight the north forever. After the armies surrendered, Davis wanted to take the hills and fight a guerilla war. He wanted to turn the south into Iraq or Northern Ireland, with an occupying army taking casualties for years, and the civilians being caught in the middle.

    Some Southern generals agreed, but many did not. Lee indignantly refused, in a way which embarrassed those who suggested it. Joe Johnson and John Breckinridge (David’s last secretary of war) conspired behind Johnson’s back to surrender Johnson’s army peacefully on terms which would prevent guerilla warfare. Read any book on Johnson’s surrender and Johnson comes off quite well, recognizing the war was lost and wanting to stop the bloodshed. Davis comes off as a bloodthirsty maniac.

    This is the one point in which some Southern generals have some small claim to honor—those who recognized and accepted their defeat on the battlefield and refused to fight on as guerillas.

    If Davis had had his way, the south would have been a war zone for years. For that, he deserves to be treated with special disdain.

    • Scott Lemieux

      “Jefferson Davis: a bigger tool than John Breckenridge.” Impressive!

    • Bruce Vail

      This is an excellent point.

      Davis had a reasonable expectation of being tried and hanged. Rather than surrender, he chose to encourage a guerilla war that would have resulted in more pointless death and destruction for other people. One suspects he hoped most for a genteel exile for himself in Britain of France.

    • Barry_D

      “If Davis had had his way, the south would have been a war zone for years. For that, he deserves to be treated with special disdain.”

      Somebody pointed out that the moat hardcore white resistance areas were teh one with the highest percentage of slaves. Vthat makes it rather hard to rune a guerrilla war, sonce it has to be on two fronts.

      And when the Union got really sicked and tired, they could hand the freedmen guns and kill th white resistance in months.

  • Gwen

    I think a lot of it has to do with the individual monument. At the University of Texas, there’s an ongoing dispute about statues.

    On the South Lawn, there are six statues (seven if you count George Washington, who took a bullet from Charles Whitman in the 60s):

    * Jefferson Davis
    * Robert E. Lee
    * A.S. Johnston
    * John H. Reagan
    * Woodrow Wilson
    * Jim Hogg

    Now, I am sure we could find a reason to object to five of these (Davis, Lee, Johnston and Reagan were Confederates, the historiography of Woodrow Wilson is currently in a haterade phase). The only one who wasn’t an out-and-out racist is Hogg (he is mostly known for being one of the few great progressive governors of Texas, and yeah he was probably racist by today’s standards but Wikipedia says he actually tried courting the black vote — in the 1880s — as a Democrat).

    Most of the fury has been directed at the Jeff Davis statue. And that kind of makes sense. Reagan was a Senator from Texas after the war; and A.S. Johnston fought in the Texas Revolution and to the best of anyone’s knowledge at least didn’t actually ever own slaves.

    I can’t really defend Robert E. Lee on the basis of Texas connections, but let’s face it, if there ever was a Confederate you wanted to hug (in part because of a century-and-a-half of propaganda and in part because he was probably a half-decent person, slaves and treason aside), it was probably General Lee.

    There is nothing good to say about Jeff Davis. He may not have been the most disgusting of the bunch (John Floyd was literally plotting rebellion against the Union as Secretary of War; Nathan Forrest started a social club that has since become unpopular). But he was the figure head of an evil empire. If we owe him thanks for anything, it is this: he was incredibly inept and constantly feuded with smarter, more capable men (like Lee).

    Anyway, my standard is this. If a statue is going to appear on the University of Texas of someone who was a Confederate, he needs to have either really strong ties to the university, or at least to the State of Texas. I really don’t understand why Davis and Lee are being celebrated here. And if we’re going to start pulling down statues, by god, start with Jeff Davis.

    • Bruce Vail

      ‘haterade phase’?

      Sorry, this is new terminology for me. What’s it supposed to mean?

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        means that Wilson’s reputation with historians is trending down at the moment

        • Bruce Vail

          Ah, I think I understand.

          Would that be based on the similarity between Wilson’s phoney ‘Make the World Safe for Democracy’ rhetoric and Bush II’s phoney ‘Global War on Islamo-Fascism’?

          Or would it be based on the more recent focus on Wilson’s retrograde ideas on white supremacy at home?

          • Ahuitzotl

            (d) all of the above

            • Gwen

              You forgot the Palmer Raids.

              But Wilson was nowhere near as bad as the 1924 Democratic Party, which was pretty much the electoral wing of the KKK.

              (Poor John Davis, who wasn’t really a racist, was stuck with a party that was full of them)

  • Lee Rudolph

    If you’re going to have a statue on campus, why don’t you borrow one from Huntsville? It’s not even on the SHSU campus, so there need be no unseemly wrangling.

    • Gwen

      Ah yes, Big Sam, or as my family used to call him on road trips from Galveston to Dallas: the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

  • ajay

    The Constitution protected slavery, but its sole purpose was not the protection of slavery.

    Well, probably not. But there are historians who argue that it wasn’t a coincidence that Somersett’s Case happened right before a bunch of wealthy slaveholders decided to launch the American Revolution, and who note that the US Constitution contains a fugitive-slave clause, an amendment guaranteeing the right of states to set up and arm their own slave-catching militias, and a ban on the federal government trying to outlaw slavery in the states without their consent. Worth remembering too that in an early draft of the Declaration, the “inalienable rights” were “life, liberty and property”. Property included slaves…
    and that slaves who had fled during the Revolution to join the British side (and thus secure their liberty) were rounded up and re-enslaved at the end of the war, if they hadn’t escaped to free soil in Canada or elsewhere.

    • Barry Freed

      …slaves who had fled during the Revolution to join the British side (and thus secure their liberty) were rounded up and re-enslaved at the end of the war…

      Including some of both Jefferson’s and Washington’s slaves recaptured after the battle of Yorktown.

      Relatedly, I’ll just put this here.

      • Barry Freed

        (First part was meant to be blockquoted)

It is main inner container footer text