Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

By Felicity Allen | Go to book overview
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When Jeff Davis died in 1889, everyone in the South knew who he was, and what he was. In Europe and the North, most people knew something about him, even if it was bad. Yet by 1977, FrankVandiver had picked up a phrase Communists were then using to obliterate their enemies and referred to him as “an historical nonperson.” Beginning my research just before this, I had found indeed that ignorance like my own was a general state. My friends could not tell me anything except that Davis had been president of the Confederacy. So I read Dunbar Rowland's ten-volume collection of Davis's letters and papers, little by little, in order to answer the question: “What was he really like?”

This was what Sigrid Undset had asked in 1942 when Hudson Strode tookher to see the daughters of Gen. and Mrs. Josiah Gorgas in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They, whose parents had known Davis, told her, “He was noble! A man of impeccable integrity, with a truly warm and generous heart” and “a splendid soldier.” The Nobel Prize winner in literature was puzzled. She knew that Robert E. Lee, her son's hero, was “glorified by both sides, and she could not understand why historians seemed to tell her only about Davis's faults. “Could anyone else have done so well, or held the Confederacy together so long with so little?” she asked. “Why is Jefferson Davis not given his due?”

Those four years as president will always be the ones of most interest, but that leaves seventy-seven more. “My whole life must speakfor me, said Leonidas Polk. So must Davis's. Those other years are in this book, as detailed as space will allow, showing his youth, his careers of soldier, planter, statesman, executive, and lastly, writer. All the outward events of his life speakclearly but do not say enough. What a man is “really like” comes out in the thoughts of his heart—what he feels and thinks and, above all, believes. We discover these in this bookthrough his own words, his prayers, what he chooses to read, and his relations with other people. His enemies speaktheir minds about him here, and we follow close friendships, some lasting throughout his life. The one with Lee is xi


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