The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics

By George C. Rable | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The Two Political Cultures

M r. Davis seems to have learned but one rule of government," novelist Augusta Jane Evans complained to Beauregard, "that laid down by Machiavelli in the celebrated sophistical dictum, 'the dissensions of great men contribute to the welfare of the state.' "1 One suspects, however, that neither Evans nor Beauregard entirely grasped the irony in this bon mot. Whatever the effects on the Confederate state, Jefferson Davis had temporarily benefited from the "dissensions of great men."

Yet at the same time, the president remained a powerful symbol of Confederate nationalism -- or at least Confederate nationalism as defined by the traditional Southern elite. Although by early 1863 Robert E. Lee too had become an icon in the Southern struggle for independence and had eclipsed Davis in popularity among soldiers and civilians, it was the president who had helped create the political culture of national unity whose basic features had now appeared. More broadly speaking, in speeches, textbooks, sermons, and family conversations, in public ceremonies, schoolrooms, churches, homes, and army camps, the Confederacy's core beliefs and values had emerged. These beliefs and values -- along with libertarian alternatives -- in turned shaped the content and tone of debate over public policy.

With the popular mood growing more optimistic, especially after Confederate victories at Fredericksburg and later at Chancellorsville, attacks on the administration seemed factious and selfish. Waspish editorials and the

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