For a Vast Future Also: Essays from the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association

By Thomas F. Schwartz | Go to book overview

12
Two War Leaders:
Lincoln and Davis

T. Harry Williams

THEY WERE BORN within less than a hundred miles of each other in the same state and with less than a year’s space between them in time, the two men who would lead the Northern and the Southern nations in the American Civil War and who have come in the historical and popular consciousness to represent two very different American traditions—the one the representative of a progressive modern culture rushing to meet the modern age, the other the embothment of a static conservative culture clinging stubbornly to the ideals of a past age.

The two future opponents were born not only in a common geographical area and social environment but also in almost identical circumstances in that environment. Everybody knows that Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in the Kentucky woods. But only some of the specialists know that Jefferson Davis also came into this life in a log house. The Davis dwelling was, it is true, somewhat larger than the Lincoln structure, but it was still a log cabin, the kind of house that most settlers built when they entered a wilderness frontier region. The size of the Davis cabin indicated that the Davises were somewhat better endowed with worldly goods than were the Lincolns, a cut above the latter economically and hence culturally and socially. The cut was not very high, however, and certainly not very significant. Thomas Lincoln, the father of Abraham, could not read and could barely write his name. Samuel Davis, the father of Jefferson, could both read and write, but his formal education was most scanty. Samuel owned more property than Thomas but not much more. Thomas was not the shifdess good-for-notiiing fabricated by creators of the Lincoln myth. Although he was not well-to-do, he

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