Click here to go to the Home Page Celebrating Leaders Of The Confederacy As Heroes - The Museum of the Confederacy Part 2 By Edward H. Sebesta, Guest Commentator

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[This is Part 2 of a 4-Part series]

The Museum of the Confederacy (MOC) celebrates Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis as heroes and has sought to “honor” them by offering a Lost Cause view of the Civil War and promoting Confederate nationalism. The very reason for the existence of the Confederacy was white supremacy and slavery. On these issues, the historical record pertaining to both Lee and Davis is clear, and should be central to any historical assessment of these figures. Yet the MOC obscures this history, choosing instead anecdotes, trivia, artifacts and peripheral issues. Both Davis and Lee betrayed the United States of America, led an insurrection that resulted in the deaths of 600,000 Americans, and fought to dissolve the United States. Both Lee and Davis were white supremacists who believed in slavery and consistently denigrated African Americans. During Reconstruction, Lee in particular worked to deny African American basic civil rights in particular the right to vote. [1] That either would be “commemorated” or “celebrated” or “honored” in any century is revolting, let alone at the start of the 21st century. Yet, this is precisely what the MOC does.

In 1999, Confederate Veteran magazine previewed the MOC’s forthcoming Robert E. Lee exhibition. Describing Lee as “a man made a hero in his time, and a legend after his death,” the exhibition was to be the MOC’s year-long “commemoration” of Lee’s 130th birthday. [2] To coincide with the exhibition, the MOC hosted a “Celebrate South Ball,” to “honor” Lee. Explaining the Ball, Sarah Meadows Brown, Director of MOC Development, and Douglas G. Knapp, Associate MOC Executive Director stated:

What better way to bring in the year 2000 than to recognize Gen. Robert E. Lee at our Ball! As you know, the year 2000 will be the year of Lee at the Museum. The Museum’s annual fund raising ball will also turn its attention to this distinguished Southern hero. Since Lee embodies the entire South, we are taking a year off from honoring a particular state.

Besides asserting that Lee is a “hero,” for which it might be asked to whom in the South Lee is a “hero,” there is an underlying assumption that the Confederacy and the South are one and the same. It also has to be asked if African Americans would be “embodie[d]” by Lee, who is supposed to represent the “entire South.” [3] Also previewed in the magazine is the MOC’s “Grand Old Days Carnival,” which raises the question for whom these “Old Days” were “Grand”? [4]

Shortly after the MOC’s Lee exhibit opened, Confederate Veteran proclaimed “General Lee Lives at The Museum of the Confederacy!” Reminding SCV members that “J.E.B. Stuart, IV, great-grandson of the Confederate general is the Museum’s Board President” and he is “a distinguished member of the SCV, and an active member of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars,” this article also informed readers that the Lee exhibit concludes with a poster published by the SCV “advocating the restoration of the Lee mural on the floodwall in Richmond, Virginia,” a painting that had caused great controversy in the mid-1990s. [5]

Writing about the exhibit in the Museum of the Confederacy Newsletter, John Coski discusses the first draft of Lee’s letter of resignation from the U.S. Army, April 20, 1861, which was to be displayed by the MOC. It includes a sentence that forms the basis of the old Lost Cause justification for Lee’s treason, quoting, “Save in the defense of my native state, I never desire again to raise my sword.” Coski discusses the editing of the letter as revealed by the first draft, remarking that it is “dramatically shown” how “Lee made changes in style and in language calculated to make the letter more eloquent.” What is missing is any critical review of the letter regarding his resignation from the U.S. military during a time of dire need of the American republic for loyal officers; nor is there any discussion of Lee violating his Oath of Allegiance to the United States as a U.S. military officer. Instead, the letter and the Lost Cause justification are showcased and left unexamined.

Coski then proceeds to describe the artifacts that will be shown at the exhibit, such as locks of Lee’s hair and a letter Lee wrote giving a subordinate permission to marry, “with a warmth and effusiveness that will surprise those who believe Lee to have been stiff and formal.” Coski comments that Lee became a hero in the late 19th and early 20th centuries “even by those who fought against him and his armies.” Announced in the article is “a lavishly-illustrated guide to the Museum’s object and library collections relating to Lee’s life.” [6] Both the Confederate Veteran and Coski articles lack any critical view of Lee or the Confederacy. Lee’s white supremacist views and advocacy of slavery are avoided, Coski at one point even hinting that Lee was an abolitionist, by describing that the MOC exhibit will display, “the December 1862 document by which Lee emancipated the 63 slaves of his late father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis.” The reality was quite different. Lee was obligated under the terms of Custis’ will (which left the slaves to him) to emancipate the slaves in five years. [7] Further, the historical record is that before the Civil War two of the slaves Lee inherited tried to escape. They were captured and brought back to Lee’s plantation, where they were whipped and brine poured into their wounds. One of Lee’s slaves who suffered this treatment was Wesley Norris who, in a 19th century interview, described the event:

I was born a slave on the plantation of George Parke Custis; after the death of Mr. Custis, Gen. Lee, had been made the executor of the estate, assumed control of the slaves of Mr. Custis, in number about seventy; it was the general impression among the slaves of Mr. Custis that on his death they should be forever free; in fact this statement had been made to them by Mr. C years before; at his death we were informed by Gen. Lee that by the conditions of the will we must remain slaves for five years; I remained with Gen. Lee for about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859; we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen. Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington, we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to ‘lay it on well,’ an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine which was done.

At the end of this interview, Norris states that there were at least a dozen witnesses to substantiate his statements. [8] The old expression “salt in the wounds” refers to the searing burning pain of having salt placed into a would. The brine in Norris and his sister’s wounds would have been agonizing. [9]

The comments by Norris make it clear that Robert E. Lee was a man who had people tortured by having them tied up, whipped, and left in agony with brine poured on their wounds. This is the Lee that the MOC fails utterly to describe.

There is nothing in any of the articles about the Lee exhibit to suggest that it presents anything critical of Lee or even mentions Lee’s white supremacist views and support for slavery. His post-Civil War efforts to deny African Americans civil rights during Reconstruction are also elided. Rather, the MOC and SCV understands the exhibition as celebrating Lee. Although technically the MOC might point out that they have merely assembled historical artifacts concerning an important person, it is clear that the MOC’s Lee is sanitized to become the sainted figure of the 19th century Lost Cause and current neo-Confederate groups. [10]

The MOC’s Jefferson Davis exhibition in 2008, to celebrate the Confederate President’s 200th birthday, presented a similarly partial and sanitized historical record, lacking in any critical analysis, and instead touting Davis as a patriot.

A MOC press release announcing “Jefferson Davis’s 200th Birthday Party: The Museum of the Confederacy Commemorates the President of the C.S.A” offered free admission to the museum on June 3, 2008 (when Davis would have been 200), speeches, a re-enactor to enable “photo-ops from the president himself,” and even “cake in the garden.” [11]

Like Robert E. Lee, the historical record regarding Davis reveals a staunch advocate of white supremacy and slavery - positions that Davis stated consistently and regularly throughout his life - but ones that the MOC exhibition ignores. For example, in 1853, white supremacist J. H. Van Evrie published, “Negroes and Negro Slavery; The First an Inferior Race – The Latter, Its Normal Condition.” It contained a letter of endorsement from Davis, who at the time served as U.S. Secretary of War. “I have read the enclosed pages with great interest,” commented Davis, “not as a Southern man merely, but as an American, I thank you for your able and manly exposure of a fallacy which more than any or all other causes has disturbed the tranquility of our people and endangered the perpetuity of our constitutional union.” [12] The “fallacy” was that African Americans were human. For Van Evrie, and his patron Davis, they were not. [13] Arguing that Africans were a species of mammal that could be categorized somewhere between white men and orangutans, Van Evrie rhetorically asked:

…should we therefore attempt, in all respects, to make the Negro our equal, and deny to the Ouran-Outan everything? Or rather, should we not, in conformity with the eternal and immutable facts of nature, grant to the Negro all that he possesses in common with us, and no more; and to the Ouran-Outan, and still inferiour creatures, what belong to them, or have consideration for them to the extent that they approximate to us? Unfortunately, the distinctions that separate, yet bind closely together, all the species of men, have not been inves­tigated or understood, and a few general resemblances have been confounded and mistaken, so that a very large portion of mankind are entirely ignorant of their true character. [14]

Of course, this is not the Davis that the MOC exhibited in 2008. Instead the MOC offered “Christmas with the Davis Family,” “a tour of the Davis’ Christmas decorated White House,” [15] and a Jefferson Davis Dog Walk. [16] Other essays in MOC Magazine detail the museum’s “Hearts At War... program about Civil War Valentines,” that “examined the marriage of Varina and Jefferson Davis”; displays like “Dressing in a Hurry,” about how women dressed in the 19th century; “Hello, Dolly, Dolls and Paper Dolls in the South”; “Bedlam Broke Loose,” about the Davis children in the Confederate White House; and “To Take Tea,” an event that will “show off pieces in the Museum’s tea service”. [17] Also announced is a “Walking Tour of ‘Jefferson Davis’ Richmond,” which “incorporates anecdotes about Jefferson Davis … and stories of life in Richmond during the Civil War.” [18] Such trivialities abound. Davis’s views on race and slavery are avoided, although James Redpath, an abolitionist and contemporary of Davis, is quoted as saying “Lest any foreigner should read this article, let me say for his benefit that there are two Jefferson Davises in American history — one is a conspirator, a rebel, a traitor … the other was a statesman with clean hands and pure heart.” [19]

As 2008 progressed, other MOC Magazine articles reiterated traditional Lost Cause narratives and assertions concerning Davis. One such piece describes Davis’s imprisonment and proposed trial. The article informs the reader that “the government hoped to pack the jury with Unionists, including African-Americans. Photographs showing the mixed race grand jury that indicted Davis and mixed race petit jury pool to try the Confederate president became propaganda tools in the South.” However, since this was to be a jury in Virginia, it would seem that some African Americans would be in the jury unless there was a policy to exclude them and is hardly a matter of some conspiracy. The article doesn’t mention why a photo of a mixed race jury would be a propaganda tool. It would incense racist whites, largely ex-Confederate supporters, who would think it an outrage that an African American would be on a jury to try a white person. In contrast, biracial coalitions trying to build the first multiracial democracies in the South would likely welcome the jury composition. [20] Additionally, there is no discussion that Davis was outraged by African Americans being on juries during Reconstruction. [21]

The MOC magazine promoted the museum’s 2008 Symposium “Jefferson Davis: A Man in Full,” stating “Jefferson Davis is rather like the Rodney Dangerfield of the Confederacy. He rarely receives the respect – or the attention – that he deserves.” [22] In the summary transcript of the Symposium held at, and co-sponsored by, the Library of Virginia, William C. Davis evaluates Jefferson Davis on his executive effectiveness, using criteria such as “Staffing decisions,” where we learn that Jefferson Davis made poor decisions about Confederate generals. Race and slavery don’t even come up as a topic; Joan E. Cashin discusses the marriage of Jefferson Davis to Varina Howell Davis; and, William J. Cooper discusses “Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln, and the Crisis of 1860-1861,” which was mostly about the election of 1860 and secession. Slavery is mentioned in passing as an issue in the South. Davis’ views on race and slavery are not mentioned. Finally, Donald Collins discusses the post-war evolution of the image of Jefferson Davis in the Lost Cause view of the Civil War. This Symposium regarding the “Man in Full,” however, avoids the central issues of Davis’s life, political career, and the Confederacy: race and slavery. [23]

One of the most intriguing articles about Davis that the MOC Magazine published in 2008, was by MOC Historian and Library Director John Coski. It discusses Jim Limber, an African American child the Davis family acquired and kept largely as a pet for their children. Coski rightly rejects some neo-Confederate assertions that Limber was adopted, but writes in such a manner as to suggest that Limber and Davis lived together in an integrated family that somehow wasn’t racist. The Davis family lore that they rescued Limber from an abusive African American guardian isn’t challenged by Coski, who asserts that Limber was a protégé, not a pet, as “The Davises clearly assumed responsibility for him and there was obviously affection between him and his sponsors.” The “affection” and “responsibility” were, however, easily discarded. After the fall of the Confederacy, the Davis family handed Limber to the Union General Saxton; thereafter Limber was never again part of the Davis household. [24]

Repeating the old slaveholder idea of the ‘peculiar institution’ and the patriarchal idea of the slaves being a part of one happy family, Coski writes:

“The evidence suggests that he was a member of the Davis family in the same way that slaves, servants, and other dependents were members of white families - with real mutual responsibility and affection.”

This is the MOC’s major story in its 2008 assessment of Davis and African Americans, and it is a retelling of the neo-Confederate narrative regarding Limber, albeit stripped of its most obviously questionable elements, to portray Jefferson Davis as the father of a multiracial household. [25] The Jim Limber story serves as the example put forth by the MOC of Davis and his personal dealings with African Americans. A more representative story would be the mortality of the slaves on Davis’s Brierfield plantation in Mississippi where many were worked to death. As William J. Cooper explains in Jefferson Davis, American, “The continuing imbalance towards younger slaves on Brierfield strongly indicates that only a small percentage of Davis’s bonds people lived past forty,” and “This rarity of the elderly also helps explain why the master of Brierfield evinced such affection for the ancient slave known as Uncle Bob. He had practically no peers.” [26] Cooper was interviewed by Coski for the MOC Magazine, but in a way that enables the museum to claim that it deals with issues of slavery and race, but simultaneously both minimizes and obscures these issues. [27]

The interview starts discussing why Davis was an important 19th century figure. Cooper asserts that Davis had a national following, explaining that “he had a very warm welcome in Maine and New York and Boston.” What Cooper doesn’t discuss is the content of these well-received speeches. In Augusta, Maine, in 1858, for example, Davis praised his audience for remaining racially pure, in contrast to Latin Americans who he said were racially mixed and incapable of self-government. [28]

Cooper then suggests that Davis was not a strong believer in slavery and its expansion. Rather, “He believed, of course, that southerners had the right to take slavery into all the national territories, but he was willing to compromise in that. He was not insistent that the South be given that right in every territory.” [29] “As early as 1848,” Cooper continues, Davis “was willing to accept some sort of boundary line,” claiming that it is a myth “that Davis tried to get a slave code through the United States Congress, so that the United States Congress would pass a law regarding slavery in the territories... but all he wanted the Senate to do was to affirm that the South had the constitutional right to take slavery into the territories, a right that had been decreed by the Dred Scott decision.” These comments portraying Davis as a pro-slavery moderate contradict both the historical record and Cooper’s own previous work in which he describes Davis’s rage at the admission of California as a free state:

His feelings about California bored so deep that he even entertained the notion of physically taking the California bill from the secretary of the Senate and “tearing it to pieces,” but because only six other southern senators indicated a willingness to participate, the great ripping never occurred. [30]

Davis similarly opposed efforts to ban slavery in the Oregon territory in 1848. Defending slavery in a lengthy Senate speech, Davis described the inhabitants of Oregon and the newly acquired territories from Mexico as “mongrels of the Spanish and Indian races, inheriting from both the characteristics, pertinacity, treachery, and revenge.” In the speech he advocated an amendment precluding the Oregon territory legislating on slavery while it was a territory, concluding with the statement, “If this amendment be rejected, I shall view it as ominous of the future, and stand prepared for whatever consequences may follow.” [31] This was obviously a threat of possible secession. Oregon would have been north of any pre-Civil War compromise boundary line for slavery.

Cooper’s exculpatory language, “but all he wanted” and “was willing to accept,” seeks to minimize what Davis demanded, namely to expand the slavery, both over vast territories within the continental United States and also to Cuba, which Davis sought to annex.

Davis had a consistent extreme pro-slavery career. When the bill to fund the American ships in the African Squadron, a multinational squadron of ships to suppress the Transatlantic slave trade, came up for a vote, Davis spoke out against it stating “I was always opposed to the African squadron, and am now in favor of its withdrawal,” concluding “With great deference, I think the whole movement wrong. Our laws should be confined to our own country, for which alone we may decided either in morals or policy. As an indication of my opinion, I will vote against reference of this resolution.” The resolution passed 45-9 showing that Davis was distinctly in the minority as a member of the Senate’s strongest pro-slavery faction. [32]

Davis again demonstrated his extreme pro-slavery credentials in 1860. Three slave ships had been captured and 1,432 slaves were held in Key West. The problem arose that the marshal for Southern Florida had to take care of them. Congress was in session and U.S. Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana, a slave state, introduced a bill to appropriate $250,000 to repatriate them to Africa and provide some limited support when they were landed in Liberia. It passed easily in the House. In the Senate it passed 41 to 14: Davis voted against the measure. If the United States government didn’t have a means to handle freed slaves captured from slave ships other than selling them into slavery, it is unclear how the U.S. government would be able to continue to capture slave ships. Of those suffering on this slave ship, 294 died at Key West and 245 failed to survive the return to Liberia. [33]

These two legislative matters reveal Davis for who he was, but for the MOC it wouldn’t do to dwell on these matters or even bring them up; it might spoil the fun of tea parties, discussions of Davis’s Christmas and the antics of his children!

Cooper, after his explanation of Davis’s politics of slavery, then attempts to position him as a reluctant secessionist, explaining:

Davis was always trying to find some way around what would be a cataclysm. And after Lincoln’s election, he urged the South Carolina Fire-Eaters to hold off, not to secede right away, even telling them he didn’t understand what the pulse of Mississippi was, despite the fact that he’d just been campaigning in Mississippi. When the governor of Mississippi had a meeting of the Mississippi congressional delegation in Jackson following Lincoln’s election to try to get the sense of his congressional delegation and what he should propose in the legislature, Davis was the only one who urged caution, didn’t want anything done too quickly. [34]

Yet, quotes from a speech Jefferson Davis made to the Mississippi legislature Nov. 16, 1858, a little more than two years prior to the start of the Civil War, give a better understanding of Davis and secession. In the speech, Davis explains that in the next U.S. House the “Abolitionists and their allies” will likely have control, but their legislation against slavery can be vetoed by the president (James Buchanan), but that in the following election in 1860, the president elected “Whether by the House or by the people,” might be an abolitionist. For this eventuality Davis urges secession, as an abolitionist government is “entitled to no respect,” demanding that:

In that event, in such manner as should be most expedient, I should deem it your duty to provide for your safety outside of a Union with those who have already shown the will, and would have acquired the power, to deprive you of your birthright and to reduce you to worse than the colonial dependence of your fathers.

Towards the end of the speech Davis further counsels the legislature of Mississippi as follows:

As when I had the privilege of addressing the Legislature a year ago, so now do I urge you to the needful preparation to meet whatever contingency may befall us. The maintenance of our rights against a hostile power is a physical problem and cannot be solved by mere resolutions. ...due provision should be made ...should not the State have an armory for the repair of arms, for the alteration of old models so as to make them conform to the improved weapons of the present day, and for the manufacture on a limited scale of new arms, including cannons and their carriages; the casting of shot and shells, and the preparation of fixed ammunition?

Such preparation will not precipitate us upon the trial of secession... [but] in the event that separation shall be forced upon us, we shall be prepared to meet the contingency with whatever remote consequences may follow it, and give to manly hearts the happy assurance that manly arms will not fail to protect the gentle beauty which blesses our land and graces the present occasion. [35]

Davis did not hope a civil war would come, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t ready to secede if he felt the slavery was threatened, and demand that Mississippi be prepared to fight to secure its white supremacist future upon secession.

Mississippi would secede in January 1861 and, two years later, when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Jefferson Davis raged against this declaration that mandates “all slaves within ten of the States of the Confederacy to be free” as “the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man.” “We may well leave it to the instincts of that common humanity,” Davis continued, “

…to pass judgment on a measure by which several millions of human beings of an inferior race, peaceful and contented laborers in their sphere, are doomed to extermination, while at the same time they are encouraged to a general assassination of their masters by the insidious recommendation “to abstain from violence unless in necessary self-defense.” … I confine myself to informing you that I shall, unless in your wisdom you deem some other course more expedient, deliver to the several State authorities all commissioned officers of the Unites States that may hereafter be captured by our forces in any of the States embraced in the proclamation, that they may be dealt with in accordance with the laws of those States providing for the punishment of criminals engaged in exciting servile insurrection. [36]

As regarding the use of African American troops in the American army, Jefferson Davis issued a proclamation including the following:

3. That all Negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong, to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.

4. That the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the United States when found serving in company with armed slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy. [37]

The “laws of said States” would be that aiding an insurrection of slaves is punishable by death

Despite such fulminations by Davis, Cooper’s discussion/interview about Davis during the Civil War hints that Davis changed his racial attitudes, becoming less racist and favoring African American Confederate troops:

He led the Confederacy through its short violent history, and in doing so, he moved the South by 1865 in directions no one in 1861 could have fathomed. He even advocated putting slaves in uniform by 1865. And nobody in the South could have possibly conceived of that in 1861. [38]

It is true that in utter desperation for troops in 1865, and fear that if the Confederacy didn’t use African Americans, invading United States armies would, that the Confederacy did intend to utilize African American troops, but it was so late in the war that it is unclear whether any were actually fielded. The record of the Civil War is a record of atrocities and massacres of African American troops by Confederate soldiers and Davis did indeed take the South “in new directions.”

Cooper’s does say that secession was connected to slavery and it wasn’t an issue of tariffs, but he further explains that it was really a question of honor because people in the “Republican Party didn’t just say that we’re opposed to slavery. They called slavery un-American, that you could not be a good American and support slavery,” further explaining “honor... was, of course, a very important concept in the antebellum South. You didn’t take insults easily.” In Cooper’s assessment, therefore, the abolitionists caused the Civil War because they insulted Southern slave owners as “un-American.” Slavery itself, however, was not really the issue.

MOC official John Coski asks Cooper why his book is entitled, “Jefferson Davis, American.” Cooper explains that Jefferson Davis was really a very patriotic American and was very sad to have to secede: “he said to the end of his life, the saddest day of his life was the day he gave his farewell speech to the United States Senate in January 1861, because the America he cherished disappeared.” This “cherished” America, Cooper comments, supported slavery. Cooper also suggests that Davis saw Confederate secession as equivalent to the American Revolution, however, here Cooper’s arguments confuse and obscure the issue: Davis supported slavery first and last; if other institutions supported slavery, Davis supported them; if an institution ceased to support slavery, he opposed it. Davis’s identification with the leaders in the American Revolution, and George Washington in particular, was that he saw them as the leaders of a slave owning republic who supported slavery.

Cooper does say that Jefferson Davis thought Reconstruction was “horrible” because “he didn’t think the blacks were capable of participating in politics” and that “he was delighted when Reconstruction came to an end.” Cooper also says that Davis “thought what most white southerners thought.” This, of course, wasn’t necessarily what all people in the South thought. Reconstruction is the story of biracial majorities being defeated not at the polls, but by white terror, atrocities and murders by ex-Confederates acting as Ku Klux Klans, Knights of the White Camellias, the White League, and the Red Shirts. This is the course that Davis supported; violence and terror, not democracy. Yet, Cooper concludes by saying that says Davis was “delighted that the native white southerners regained control in the South,” as if it were home rule, instead of stating that Davis was delighted that white supremacy was restored. What Cooper says about Davis’s views is correct, but why Davis held these views is omitted. [39]

Cooper ends by mentioning that Davis’s book, “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” finishes with a Latin sentence stating that the Union should remain together forever. Curiously this major book by Davis, in which he articulates his opinions, is only mentioned once by Cooper. A more informative a discussion of the “Man in Full,” would have been to discuss Davis’s views on race and slavery as portrayed in his one major literary work. These views were unchanged from before the Civil War. Davis felt that African Americans were racially inferior, that emancipation was a mistake, and that it was an outrage that African Americans were allowed on juries and in state legislatures, among other things. Davis died never regretting his lifelong fight for slavery nor altering his views regarding African Americans. [40]

Cooper also takes time in this interview to take a knock on Abraham Lincoln, attributing his great reputation to his being assassinated.

Perhaps the most interesting obfuscation of the issues of the life of Jefferson Davis is given by the MOC’s President and CEO S. Waite Rawls III when he spoke at a United Daughters of the Confederacy event. UDC Magazine quotes Rawls as saying that:

What stands out among modern historians is Jefferson Davis’ strong will and his passion, determination and commitment to the cause that he undertook in 1861, although he was reluctant to become the President of the Confederacy. Whether criticized or praised, all writings mention his unyielding commitment to the Confederacy.

Praising Cooper’s Jefferson Davis, American , Rawls comments that Cooper understands that “Davis saw nothing wrong with the experience of slavery and states’ rights, and would have been puzzled by our questions today about both slavery and the Confederacy.” [41]

This is a nonsensical assessment. Given that Davis was a U.S. Senator that heard frequently from, and knew of the views, of abolitionists, would he really be “puzzled by our questions... about slavery”? Is Rawls arguing that the concept of anti-slavery was beyond Davis’ comprehension because of the historical period he lived in so he is blameless for his strong pro-slavery views?

The statement implies that the relevant issue of Davis’s life history is his commitment to the Confederacy. This should be the criteria by which we should judge Davis; not his views on race and slavery. Commentaries like those of Cooper and Rawls, are examples of how the MOC evades the issues of the race and white supremacy as they pertain to Civil War and the Confederacy.

Click here to read any of the parts in this series. Guest Commentator, Edward H. Sebesta, is co-editor of Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction (University of Texas, 2008) and The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The ‘Great Truth’ of the ‘Lost Cause’ (University Press of Mississippi, 2010) Click here to contact Edward Sebesta.

End Notes

[1] Nolan, Alan T., “Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History,” University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1991. For Lee’s views on slavery and his involvement in it, pages 9-29. For Lee’s opposition to civil rights for African Americans, pages 134-152.

[2] “Notices: R.E. Lee: The Exhibition Opens at the Museum of the Confederacy, January 16, 2000,” Confederate Veteran, pages 45-46.

[3] Brown, Surah Meadows, and Knapp, Douglas G., “Lee Leads the Ball,” Museum of the Confederacy Newsletter, Fall/Winter 1999/2000, page 10.

[4] “Notices: R.E. Lee: The Exhibition Opens at the Museum of the Confederacy, January 16, 2000,” Confederate Veteran, pages 45-46.

[5] For discussion of the controversy, see Jonathan I. Leib, “Robert E. Lee, ‘race,’ representation and redevelopment along Richmond, Virginia’s Canal Walk,” Southeastern Geographer, 44.2 (2004), 236-262.

[6] Coski, John M., “Exhibit and Book will mark Year of Lee,” The Museum of the Confederacy Newsletter, Fall/Winter 1999/2000, pages 6-8.

[7] Nolan, Alan, T, ““Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History,” University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1991, page 16.

[8] Norris, Wesley, Interview circa 1866, in John W. Blassingame’s “Slave Testimoney: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies,” Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1977, pages 467-68.

[9] For a graphic account what a whipping with salt placed in the wounds afterwards see Campbell, Randolph B., “An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas,” Louisiana State University press, Baton Rouge, 1989, page 147.

[10] Harhai, Courtney M., “General Lee Lives at The Museum of the Confederacy!,” Confederate Veteran, Vol. 2 2000, pages 14-16.

[11] Stagg, Megan, “Jefferson Davis’s 200th Birthday Party,” Press Release of the Museum of the Confederacy, 5/12/2008, printed out 2/27/2011. See also “Jefferson Davis’ 200th Birthday Celebration,” “Upcoming Events,” The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2008, back cover.

[12] Van Evrie, J.H., “Negroes and Negro “Slavery;” The First an Inferior Race – The Latter, Its Normal Condition,” Day Book Office, New York, 1853, letter reprinted inside front cover.

[13] Emerging pseudoscientific theories of racism, much like Van Evrie’s, were drawn upon during the Civil War by Jefferson Davis’ Confederate government in an attempt to enlist the support of Europeans. One such publication was The Index, edited by Hermann Hotze, a believer in these pseudoscientific theories. A selection of Hotze writing can be found in “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader,” editors James Loewen and Edward H. Sebesta, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010. See also Robert E. Bonner, "Slavery, Confederate Diplomacy, and the Racialist Mission of Henry Hotze," Civil War 51 #3 (9/2005), 290.

[14] J. H. Van Evrie, Negroes and Negro “Slavery;” The First an Inferior Race – The Latter, Its Normal Condition, (New York: Day Book, 1853), inside front cover for Davis; George Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind (NY: Harper & Row, 1971), 92. The letter of endorsement and a lengthy extract of this book can be found in “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader,” editors James Loewen and Edward H. Sebesta, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010.

[15] No author, “Christmas With the Davis Family,” “Upcoming Events,” The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2008, back cover. This even is also listed in the “Upcoming Events” section in the Fall 2008 issue.

[16] Boltz, Martha A., “Commemorating Jefferson Davis’ Life and Legacy: 42nd Annual Massing of the Flags,” UDC Magazine, pages 14-15, with a report of S. Waite Rawls III, President of the MOC reporting on upcoming activities.

[17] Stagg, Megan, “Jefferson Davis —Patriot & Paradox: Commemorating the 200th Birthday of the President of the C.S.A.,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2008, pages 12-14, activities on page 13.

[18] No author, “Walking Tour of ‘Jefferson Davis’ Richmond,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2008, back cover.

[19] Stagg, Megan, “Jefferson Davis —Patriot & Paradox: Commemorating the 200th Birthday of the President of the C.S.A.,” The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine,” Winter 2008, page 12-14.

[20] Coski, John M., “Bottimore Lecture Will Explore ‘The Trial of the (19th) Century,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2008, pages 14-17.

[21] Davis, Jefferson, “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,” Vol. 2, De Capo Press, New York, 1990, reprint of the 1881 edition, pages 628-29, text and footnote.

[22] No author, “2008 Symposium Explores Life and Legacy of Jefferson Davis,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Fall 2007, page 8.

[23] “2008 Symposium (February 23, 2008), ‘Jefferson Davis: A Man in Full,’ A Summary Transcript,”, accessed 7/30/11.

[24] Botume, Elizabeth Hyde, “First Days Among the Contrabands,” Lee and Shepard Publishers, Boston 1982, pages 181-190.

[25] Coski, John M. “What Do We Really Know about ‘Jim Limber’,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2008, pages 18-19.

[26] Cooper, William J., “Jefferson Davis, American,” Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, page 248. Reported average life spans in history are greatly influenced by infant mortality and the mortality of children. It is a common place in high school history classes for teachers to explain that just because the average life span was very low, that didn’t mean there weren’t old people around in the past. Even in the past, if you made it to be 15 years old you had a fairly good chance to make it to be 60 years old. To have a mortality curve truncate around the age of 40 years, is indicative of something morbid and is sinister. Cooper’s rationalizations and excuses for this truncation on Brierfield are appalling.. As Cooper explains in his book, Jefferson Davis was a steady purchaser of slaves, most whom would have been at least in their teenage years if not young adults. With this in mind it can be assumed that the Brierfield worked its slaves to an early death. Cooper discusses Davis’ purchase of slaves on pages 248-250.

[27] Coski, John M., Interview with William J. Cooper, Transcribed by Trucker H. Hill, “‘We should be trying to understand Davis and the Confederacy,’”: An Interview with Prof. William J. Cooper, Jr.,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2008, pages 7-13.

[28] Davis, Jefferson, “Speech of Jefferson Davis at the Portland Convention,” Vol. 3 pages, 284-88, and “Speech of Jefferson Davis at State Fair at Augusta, Me. ,” from the Eastern Argus, Sept. 29, 1858, reprinted Vol. 3, pages 312-314, both from “Jefferson Davis: Constitutionalist, His Letters , papers, and Speeches,” editor Dunbar Rowland, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, 1923.

[29] Coski, John M., Interview with William J. Cooper, Transcribed by Trucker H. Hill, “‘We should be trying to understand Davis and the Confederacy,’”: An Interview with Prof. William J. Cooper, Jr.,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2008, pages 7-13.

[30] Cooper, William J, “Jefferson Davis, American,” Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2000, page 217.

[31] Davis, Jefferson, Speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, July 12, 1848, Appendix to the Congressional Globe, 30th Congress, 1st Session, pages 907-914.

[32] Congressional Globe, 31st Congress, 2nd Session, pages 307-309.

[33] Fehrenbacher, Don Edward, McAfee, Ward M., “The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States government’s relations to slavery,” Oxford University Press, New York, 2001, page 188. The vote is on page 2309 in the Congressional Globe, Senate, 36th Congress, 1st Session.

[34] Coski, John M., Interview with William J. Cooper, Transcribed by Trucker H. Hill, “‘We should be trying to understand Davis and the Confederacy,’”: An Interview with Prof. William J. Cooper, Jr.,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2008, pages 7-13.

[35] Rowland, Dunbar, “Jefferson Davis Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers, and Speeches,” Vol. III, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, 1923, speech on pages 339-360, quotes on pages 356, 359.

[36] Dunbar Rowland, “Jefferson Davis to the Confederate Congress,” from Jefferson Davis Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers, and Speeches, 5, (Jackson: MS Dept. of Archives and History, 1923), 396-415. Also in the Journal of the Confederate Congress, 3, 58th Cong., 2d sess., 1904, S. Doc. 234, Serial 4612, 13-14.

[37] Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. / Series II - Volume 3: Proclamations, Appointments, etc. of President Davis; State Department Correspondence with Diplomatic Agents,etc., page 142.

[38] Coski, John M., Interview with William J. Cooper, Transcribed by Trucker H. Hill, “‘We should be trying to understand Davis and the Confederacy,’”: An Interview with Prof. William J. Cooper, Jr.,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2008, pages 7-13.

[39] Coski, John M., Interview with William J. Cooper, Transcribed by Trucker H. Hill, “‘We should be trying to understand Davis and the Confederacy,’”: An Interview with Prof. William J. Cooper, Jr.,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2008, pages 7-13.

[40] Cooper also takes time to suggest that Abraham Lincoln’s reputation is primarily due to his being assassinated.

[41] Boltz, Martha M., “Commemorating Jefferson Davis’ Life and Legacy: 42nd Annual Massing of the Flags, June 2, 2007, Richmond, Virginia,” UDC Magazine, Vol. 70 No. 7, August 2007, pages 14-15.


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