The Rise of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis

The Rise of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis spent years in New Orleans after the Civil War writing his two volume memoir of the “Rise and Fall” of the Confederacy. He would have done better learning Creole cooking. His “Rise” is one of the worst works of non-fiction in history.

The first volume ostensibly traces the creation of the Confederate nation. In fact, Davis offers hundreds of pages as a sort of legal brief on the Constitutional right to disband the Union. This might have had some relevance had Davis sought to sever the South from the United States through a lawsuit, but he choose instead to order the attack on Federal troops in Fort Sumter.

While today’s Neo-Confederates like to argue that the shelling of Sumter was motivated by a concern for abstract principles of “states rights”, Davis makes it clear that the right that needed to be defended was the power of one man to own another. He explains that Southerners’ rights were violated when Northern states barred slaveholders from bringing their slaves North. Hardly an argument for state’s right, but a strong one for slave owners’ powers.

When Davis isn’t defending slavery, he’s attacking his generals. With the exception of Robert E. Lee, he essentially sees his subordinates as self-aggrandizing incompetents. Davis claims all the successes for himself and lays off the blame on underlings.This might fit him well as a modern corporate CEO, but it hardly enhances his historical standing.

In his cause of settling scores with other Confederates, Davis often inserts whole letters intended to show his opponents up as liars. These letters run for pages and appear to be unedited in many cases. Accordingly, they include salutations, passages irrelevant to Davis’s argument, and valedictory remarks. Poor Davis appears to have been bereft of an editor himself!

I press on to read Volume 2, but only because I have to.


About Patrick Young

Program Director of the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) and Supervising Attorney for the Westchester Hispanic Coalition. Blogs for Long Island Wins and New York State Immigrant Action Fund
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