The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

New Liberal Rule: When in Doubt, Invoke Distant History You Don’t Understand

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.



147 Responses to “New Liberal Rule: When in Doubt, Invoke Distant History You Don’t Understand”

  1. Quartermaster
    October 7th, 2013 @ 6:02 am

    You are correct about the lower 7. But the upper south did not go until Lincoln’s call for troops. If slavery was really the issue then you have a problem with the slave states that did not go. You also have a severe problem with the upper south who went because they would have no part in coercion of the others.

  2. Quartermaster
    October 7th, 2013 @ 6:07 am

    Lincoln did not save the Union, he destroyed it. Davis, on the other hand, stood on his principles. He did not like the fact that the gulf states seceded. He had earlier defended the idea of secession with Massachusetts as his teaching foil.

    Lincoln, on the other hand, was simply a cunning politician that served the interests of the northeastern industrialists who could not tolerate the idea of a free trading country that shared a very long border with the northern states.

    This is not saying that Davis was not flawed, but Davis stood consistently on principle. Lincoln showed his were for sale and that he was not above destroying what he said he was defending when his personal interests were at stake. Obama is also such a man and the precedents for Obama were set by Lincoln. Lincoln was not merely a flawed man. He was deeply corrupt.

  3. Quartermaster
    October 7th, 2013 @ 6:09 am

    WV had been restless for many years. Virginia’s secession was simply the opportunity they needed to get out from under Richmond’s thumb. WV was not free soil.

  4. Quartermaster
    October 7th, 2013 @ 6:17 am

    There is not anything to “understand about this” other than your obsession and blindness. The reason the US is in the straights it is in is typified by your inability to see the actual issues involved.

    Yes the Gulf states stated that slavery was the reason. Yet the upper south went when Lincoln made his call for troops. The upper south was under no pressure from the gulf states to secede. They simply refused to be used by the northeastern industrialists to fight and die for their bank accounts.

    You are obviously a product of the indoctrination mills called public schools. I had the opportunity tor research the background of the war while I lived in Ohio. What is taught in public schools, and rehashed by idiots like McPherson and Williams is bowdlerized version with little truth beyond the battles themselves. What you are spouting are simply the lies that make out the war as some sort of holy crusade. It was far from that. It was nothing less than a war of imperial conquest by teh same type of government the founders fought to escape. You can spout the lies all you like, but then you blind yourself to to the genesis of what we are seeing in DC now. If the south had no right to withdraw from the increasingly raw deal that sought to subjegate the states to a unitary Fed state, then we have no right to resist the anticonstitutional stuff coming out of DC now. The choice is yours, but you need to realize what the stakes are and what you are actually fighting against if you are a conservative.

  5. Film Ladd
    October 7th, 2013 @ 7:40 am

    “Interesting men are seldom 2 dimensional figures.”

    True – and that’s fine as far as it goes, I’m all for 3 dimensions, but the portrayal of him as an almost-hero has the vague taste of saying “[Redacted by Godwin] was also a vegetarian and loved puppy dogs.”

  6. historian_82
    October 7th, 2013 @ 8:30 am

    New Liberal Rule: When in Doubt, Invoke Distant History You Don’t Understand

  7. TMLutas
    October 7th, 2013 @ 8:49 am

    Nah, we’d still be doing counterfactuals, just different ones.


  8. JeffS
    October 7th, 2013 @ 9:15 am

    Nicely said, QM. Lyle7 is clearly blind and obsesses on this issue; I doubt that he will change his mind.

  9. JeffS
    October 7th, 2013 @ 9:17 am

    Heh. That’s true!

  10. JeffS
    October 7th, 2013 @ 9:20 am

    That depends on your definition “saved the Union”. You are correct as you frame it, and Lincoln did eventually destroy the Union.

  11. JeffS
    October 7th, 2013 @ 9:21 am

    That was the next round in my magazine, Richard!

    People often miss the trees while standing in the forest.

  12. rmnixondeceased
    October 7th, 2013 @ 10:15 am

    Heroes are rare. Men to be emulated are a bit more common, with the understanding of their strengths and frailties. Men worthy of respect for something they did are even more common. Historical figures that show man’s glory and stupidity all in one lifetime need to be studied and not swept into the dustbin of history.

  13. Bob Belvedere
    October 7th, 2013 @ 10:35 am

    When the leaders of the South refused to emancipate their slaves upon the creation of The Confederacy, they damned their cause. The refusal to dissociate themselves from such an Evil institution and concentrate on the State’s Rights aspect tainted their crusade forever.

    They had legitimate grievances against the national government, but they were subsumed by the black mark of slavery. The ultimate blame for the fact that we modern patriots have such a steep hill to climb in making the case for succession rests squarely on the shoulders of men like Jefferson Davis.

  14. rmnixondeceased
    October 7th, 2013 @ 10:48 am

    Cogent statement. The fact that many men like Jefferson Davis went to their graves as racists and believers in slavery 50 and 60 years after the end of the Civil War.

  15. Film Ladd
    October 7th, 2013 @ 11:06 am

    I’m not saying dustbin him, but then again, just because Democrats demonize him I’m not going to spend 50% of any paragraphs I write talking about how his vegetarianism was awesome.

  16. Quartermaster
    October 7th, 2013 @ 11:37 am

    Hardly, but you’re blind to the truth and no one is going to convince you that you’ve swallowed lies.

  17. rmnixondeceased
    October 7th, 2013 @ 11:37 am

    Exactly so. Portray him accurately, warts and all without special emphasis. No excusing wrongs.

  18. Quartermaster
    October 7th, 2013 @ 11:45 am

    The war was a direct result of s split in the Dem party that year that allowed Lincoln’s election. I’m sure more than on Dim cried about that (actually, I’m certain of it). I find it amusing that most of the north was glad to let the south go (look up editorial opinion of the time, it was quite strong in favor of letting them go in peace).
    I don’t condemn the Confed leadership. They really didn’t know what to do with freed slaves and all options seemed to be equally bad to them at the time. I will also interject that Lincoln really could not have cared less about them either. And, not long into Sherman’s march, Slaves took to the woods to escape the Union marauders who raped and casually killed blacks as they moved through Georgia and South Carolina.
    The diaries of Union officers tell stories that will curl your hair and will always keep me from holding the Union Army as some liberating force engaged in a holy crusade. They conducted themselves more like the Soviet Army as they crossed Germany.

  19. rmnixondeceased
    October 7th, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    What would a WaPo writer know about anything older than 5 minutes ago? They have lost all memory, even short term. I wonder if there is a ‘neuralizer’ (Men in Black style) that is working on progressives that doesn’t work on conservatives?

  20. rmnixondeceased
    October 7th, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

    Always keep in mind the victors write the histories. Seldom accurately, always supporting and lauding the victors viewpoint and policies …

  21. rmnixondeceased
    October 7th, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

    The simple fact is Lyle is that you delude yourself. You are standing in the forest and cannot see it for the trees …

  22. Lyle7
    October 7th, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

    You got me in a corner now with that argument. Oh, how will I ever get out?

  23. Lyle7
    October 7th, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    Oddly, there were way fewer slaves in the Western Virginia counties.

  24. Lyle7
    October 7th, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

    Yeah, I agree, but it was slave interests in North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas that were determinative of which way their secession conventions went.

    East Tennessee became a problem for the Confederacy because of what? I severe lack of an interest in slavery.

  25. Lyle7
    October 7th, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

    I’m sorry, but I’m not the blind and ignorant one here. You need to take a look in a mirror maybe.

  26. Lyle7
    October 7th, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

    Apparently I’m no more obsessed than any of you people. And I’m not ignorant of our history.

    You guys are both ignorant though. Y’all don’t know what you’re talking about at all.

    Y’all should learn to argue with facts and evidence to start off with. Themnmaybe you’ll get somewhere with your arguments. Otherwise your views are laughable.

  27. TMLutas
    October 7th, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

    Did somebody do some Jefferson Davis polling that I wasn’t aware of? What *is* Davis’ general reputation in your opinion?

  28. TMLutas
    October 7th, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

    Given the inexpensiveness of disk space and Internet servers, writing a history is no longer technically limited to the winners. This is something of a state change that has only recently come to happen.

  29. rmnixondeceased
    October 7th, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

    True. However, there are no eye-witnesses left extant. What history has been written is therefore contaminated and suspect.

  30. rmnixondeceased
    October 7th, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

    By shutting up and reading.

  31. Art Deco
    October 7th, 2013 @ 3:16 pm

    I draw a blank. The chief curator of one of our better historical museums was a family friend, my family has been in Upstate New York since the 1820s, and one of my relations belonged to this outfit.

    I have never heard of such a thing.

  32. Art Deco
    October 7th, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

    His namesake in To Kill a Mockingbird was a good guy.

  33. JeffS
    October 7th, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

    The difference between you and others here (besides myself) is that you see the Civil War as a one-issue conflict, i.e., “simple”, as in slavery.

    We see it as a multi-issue conflict, i.e., “complex”. Said complexity including, among others, slavery.

    You won’t acknowledge other factors, to the point of pounding us with your highly focused perspective, and ignoring other opinions.

    In other words, you won’t open your eyes to other possibilities. That’s why I consider you “blind and obsessed”.

    Have a nice day!

  34. Unix-Jedi
    October 7th, 2013 @ 5:21 pm

    Parks being closed, old folks thrown out of their houses….

    But the President’s Golf Course, hey, THAT’S important.

    … It might not be polling the way The Won thought it might.

  35. TMLutas
    October 7th, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

    A good friend’s father, a college prof in geology told me this and I trusted him. He moved up there. He has since passed away.

  36. Mjolnir Hammerschlag
    October 7th, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

    Don’t forget, that the matter was ‘settled’ by the Supreme Court… not exactly a Southern institution.

    Not defending the SCOTT decision, but pointing out that it wasn’t just the South, and that when all the fail-safes fails (e.g. reliance upon a flawed legal system), then the pressure builds and war is nearly inevitable.

  37. Doug Hgain
    October 8th, 2013 @ 9:43 am

    The first 7 States yet the others DID NOT vote to secede, UNTIL it became obvious Lincoln was intent on using force to make those States remain in a Union they no longer wanted to be part of. Read the ordinances of secession for VA. AK, NC, and TE, their reasons were VERY CLEAR!
    Does not really matter why WV formed their own State, it was their right

  38. Doug Hgain
    October 8th, 2013 @ 9:49 am

    What difference did it make WHEN Davis was elected? None!
    And I am not failing to understand anything I have studied this war since I was 9, almost 40 years now. You, on the other hand, seem intent on repeating the same thing over and again, slavery, slavery, slavery, there were several other very key issues, tariffs, taxation, Constitutional questions, among those whether or not the Constitution would not be changed unless amended!

  39. Lyle7
    October 8th, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

    What are you talking about Doug? I’m a student of the Civil War too. Maybe even more than you.

    Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederacy. He willing accepted the position. He knew full well what secession was about and what the Confederate Constitution said. He swore an oath to uphold it.

    What’s the Confederate Constitution have to say about slavery Doug?

    Did Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina also accept the Confederate Constitution when they became Confederate states? They elected congressmen to represent their states in the Confederate Congress in Richmond, Virginia didn’t they?

  40. K-Bob
    October 8th, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

    Yes. As much as people would wish—because many reasons exist for doing so—slavery cannot be unraveled from the Secession.

    Even so, I often wonder what would have been, had the South not fired first.

  41. K-Bob
    October 8th, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

    I can understand what you mean about people wanting to let them go. It totally explains the mindset prior to Manassas, where folks figured it would all blow over in a few months.

    As those of us who studied war or served in them know, once the carnage commences, men really fight for their brothers in arms, and no longer give a rat’s ass about why the war commenced. This is why I want us to pledge to do everything in our power to make the Convention of the States happen.

    If that effort fails, war is a near certainty, and the casualties will not be low.

  42. K-Bob
    October 8th, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

    It’s all of those self-help books, telling them to “reinvent” themselves every day. Being leftists, they totally botch the job and reinvent history instead, hoping for a different outcome.

    The silver lining is, their futile efforts guarantee that the Greek tragedies all still have meaning today.

  43. K-Bob
    October 8th, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

    Depends on the stain.

  44. K-Bob
    October 8th, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

    It’s the squirrels’ fault.

  45. K-Bob
    October 8th, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

    Unless the writer is a leftist. Then it gets a total pass on the fact checking, and goes straight into the curricula of the government schools and most colleges and unies.

  46. Doug Hgain
    October 8th, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

    Lyle, This is all the Confederate Constitution has to say about slavery. Frankly the the CS and US Constitutions are very like one another.

    Sec. 9. (I) The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.

    (2) Congress shall also have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy.

    WOW! They really dedicated a lot to their “cornerstone” didn’t they?
    By the way you DO know Grant’s wife owned slaves, even AFTER Appomattox

  47. FMJRA 2.0: Cold Rock The Mike : The Other McCain
    October 12th, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

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