Posted on | October 6, 2013 | 147 Comments
U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, 1853
“A question settled by violence, or in disregard of law, must remain unsettled forever.”
– Jefferson Davis
What’s up with this trend, huh? A week ago, James Fallows decided to drag John C. Calhoun into the current argument, and this week we have another liberal foray into bizarre counterfactual rhetoric:
The Washington Post’s Colby King took another stab Saturday at impugning and discrediting the Tea Party as a bunch of racists who are little more than an extension of the Confederacy. In a column titled “The rise of the New Confederacy,” King, a regular on Inside Washington, argued: “Today there is a New Confederacy, an insurgent political force that has captured the Republican Party and is taking up where the Old Confederacy left off in its efforts to bring down the federal government.”
The former deputy editorial page editor, whose column appears every Saturday, paid a back-handed compliment to House conservatives as he charged: “The New Confederacy, as churlish toward President Obama as the Old Confederacy was to Lincoln, has accomplished what its predecessor could not: It has shut down the federal government, and without even firing a weapon or taking 620,000 lives, as did the Old Confederacy’s instigated Civil War.” . . .
He asserted “they respond, however, to the label ‘tea party.’ By thought, word and deed, they must be making Jefferson Davis proud today.”
What is this even supposed to mean? It seems to be just a cheap way of making an accusation Colbert King cannot justify (remember, there are five A’s in “RAAAAACIST!”) and, although no liberal today knows this, Jefferson Davis was an American hero long before he became the unfairly demonized President of the Confederacy.
A native of Kentucky — born, ironically, not far from the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln — he was raised in Mississippi and, at age 16, appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduation, Davis served as a young lieutenant at the frontier outpost Fort Crawford in present-day Wisconsin. There, Davis fell in love with Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of the fort’s commander, Col. Zachary Taylor. So in love was Davis, in fact, that he resigned from the army in order to marry Sarah (whose father wished to spare his daughter the difficult life of an Army officer’s wife), but tragedy soon struck: The newlyweds fell victim to an outbreak of malaria in 1835. Sarah died and her grief-stricken husband fell so ill that his survival was in doubt.
After recovering his health, Davis eventually entered politics, and campaigned for James K. Polk’s election as president in 1844. Davis was later elected to Congress, but when the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846, the West Point graduate and veteran officer resigned his House seat, raised a volunteer regiment, and became colonel of the famed “Mississippi Rifles.” His bravery at the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista won Davis national distinction.
His commanding general in Mexico was his former father-in-law, now General Zachary Taylor. Recalling how he had opposed his late daughter’s marriage to the young officer, Taylor told Davis, “My daughter, sir, was a better judge of men than I was.”
Davis was appointed to the Senate in 1847, filling the seat of a senator who had died in office. He resigned that seat to run unsuccessfully for governor of Mississippi but, in 1853, was appointed Secretary of War by President Franklin Pierce. As Secretary, Davis supervised key work that helped prepare for the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Davis was then re-elected to the Senate, where he served until resigning after Mississippi seceded from the Union.
In his farewell speech to the Senate, Davis recalled when he had defended the right of secession — for Massachusetts:
I well remember an occasion when Massachusetts was arraigned before the bar of the Senate, and when then the doctrine of coercion was rife and to be applied against her because of the rescue of a fugitive slave in Boston. My opinion then was the same that it is now. Not in a spirit of egotism, but to show that I am not influenced in my opinion because the case is my own, I refer to that time and that occasion as containing the opinion which I then entertained, and on which my present conduct is based. I then said, if Massachusetts, following her through a stated line of conduct, chooses to take the last step which separates her from the Union, it is her right to go, and I will neither vote one dollar nor one man to coerce her back; but will say to her, God speed, in memory of the kind associations which once existed between her and the other States.
Such was his firmness of principle and, although his critics then and since have found fault with Davis, no man ever doubted his honesty or his courage. The name of this heroic American – a soldier and statesman, who earned praise for his service in war and in peace — deserves more honor than to be slung around ignorantly as a political epithet more than a century after his death.
Ah, but this silliness brings back memories of the 1990s when, as a young newspaperman in Georgia, I occasionally went out to cover the historical re-enactments of Civil War battles. Bill Clinton was president then, and lots of Republicans had bumper stickers on their cars saying, “Don’t Blame Us, We Voted for Bush.” But at the re-enactor encampments, the stickers sometimes displayed a slightly different wording: “Don’t Blame Us, We Voted for Jefferson Davis.”
He was a Democrat, you know.