Civil War

The Last Consolation of Jefferson Davis

A few years ago, Congress pardoned the Confederate president but his statues and namesakes may be starting to come down.

|

Jefferson Davis has been having a bad summer. The University of Texas has decided to move the statue of Davis that has been standing prominently on its Austin campus since World War I to a museum setting. Some folks in Georgia want the tableau on Stone Mountain that includes Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Davis, who served as president of the Confederacy, obliterated. Some folks in Kentucky want the statue of Davis, a native of the state, moved out of Frankfort's capitol rotunda. Some folks in Virginia want the stretch of U.S. Route 1 that runs south from the Potomac to the North Carolina border, and that has carried the name of Jefferson Davis Highway since 1922, renamed for somebody or something else. A statue of Davis in Richmond, one-time capital of the Confederacy, was recently vandalized.

These are tough times for Lost-Cause iconography of all kinds, and Davis has been having a tougher time of it than any other Confederate ghost. Davis' statue in Austin is actually part of a grouping of a half-dozen statues, three others, ncluding Robert E. Lee, being Confederate leaders. But while Lee and the other rebels will stay where they are, Davis will be carted off. UT president Gregory L. Fenves explained that, "While every historical figure leaves a mixed legacy, I believe Jefferson Davis is in a separate category".

A similar dynamic is playing out in Virginia. Though as one state legislator noted, statewide action will be "a hard lift," some officials in Arlington County (across the Potomac from D.C.) would like to take Davis' name off their stretch of Route 1. But there's a Lee Highway in the county, too, and, at least for now, that'll be staying Lee Highway. Lee, of course, was as Virginian as it gets; Davis was out-of-state.

Still, Davis' ghost can harbor one consolation in its otherwise cold and abjured isolation. It was not so long ago that Jefferson Davis was pardoned by a yankee Congress. The then-president, a Democrat, seemed quite pleased about the action, releasing a feel-good statement celebrating the full restoration of Davis' citizenship rights as a symbolic moment of conclusive reconciliation. Davis at the time was perceived by most people as having become sufficiently inconsequential in modern terms, a figure relegated to Aunt Pittypat's magnolia-scented nostalgia, that the action inspired little attention and less outcry.

Jefferson Davis' rights of citizenship were restored on October 17, 1978. He was the last Confederate whose rights were curtailed and the last to have them posthumously restored. President Jimmy Carter's satisfied statement on signing the act are in rather dramatic contrast with the current anti-Davis Zeitgeist.

"In posthumously restoring the full rights of citizenship to Jefferson Davis," Carter's statement read, "the Congress officially completes the long process of reconciliation that has reunited our people following the tragic conflict between the States. Earlier, he was specifically exempted form [sic] resolutions restoring the rights of other officials in the Confederacy. He had served the United States long and honorably as a soldier, Member of the U.S. House and Senate, and as Secretary of War. General Robert E. Lee's citizenship was restored in 1976. It is fitting that Jefferson Davis should no longer be singled out for punishment.

"Our Nation needs to clear away the guilts and enmities and recriminations of the past," Carter concluded, "to finally set at rest the divisions that threatened to destroy our Nation and to discredit the principles on which it was founded. Our people need to turn their attention to the important tasks that still lie before us in establishing those principles for all people."

Clearly, the University of Texas sees it otherwise these days, since it has determined it fitting literally to single out Davis for expulsion. But then, that's because, the congressional pardon notwithstanding, "the long process of reconciliation" that Carter alluded to was, and remains, unresolved. Whether Davis had indeed "served the United States long and honorably" so as to outweigh his role in the Confederacy and his views on slavery, turns out to be precisely the point of contemporary contention. As for "the guilts and enmities and recriminations of the past" that Carter hoped would be cleared away with his signature, they're still there.  

Most former confederates had been pardoned in a series of amnesties in the years immediately after the Civil War. In 1876, a universal amnesty was proposed to pardon the few high-ranking Confederate officials who had been previously excluded. But James G. Blaine, the Republican candidate for president that year, amended the proposal to exclude Davis. (Robert E. Lee had died unpardoned in 1870.) If Davis wanted a pardon, he'd have to ask for one. He wouldn't ask.

"It has been said that I should apply to the United States for a pardon, but repentance must precede the right of pardon, and I have not repented," Davis later said. He died in 1889.

Advertisement

NEXT: Liberland: Disappointing Reality or Encouraging Fantasy?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past.

    Democrats look really bad when someone looks closely at the civil war. This must be repaired. So down the memory hole Jefferson Davis!!

    If they successfully maintain this memory holing of the civil war, within the next 40 years it will be the republicans fault and Lincoln will be revered as a great democrat who was essential in establishing America’s one party.

    1. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…

      http://www.incomereport.tk

  2. It’s about to get all Botarded in here.

  3. This medieval inclination to sterilize history is despicable in its every facet. The infantine degenerates insistent upon cleansing away the knowledge, symbology, iconography, and memorializations of our past, as if that were a noble endeavor, comprehend only their own censorious motivations for creating a thoroughly sanitized fabrication of historical events. They make no indication that they are aware of the necessarily broken, dysfunctional cultural environment such revisionism breeds, but perhaps societal retardation is their deliberate design. Little else is as spectacularly terrible as pursuing the wilful lobotomization of American society.

    Many amongst us are allowing the busybodies responsible for this crusade to escape with their actions without censure, and we must not. Letting these morons destroy everything they find offensive will lean to ruin.

    1. This whole fad disgusts me. It’s as if they want to pretend that the Civil War was really just the Northern states rescuing the Southern states from a few evil slave owners instead of a war between two countries.

      1. Progressives also neglect to acknowledge that the population of the Confederacy was only about a third of that of the US, and only about 1-2% of the US population had any slaves at all (and most of those were effectively just domestic help). And some of those slave owners where black themselves.

        So, because 2% of the US population engaged in a practice we now condemn and that the majority white population sacrificed heavily to abolish, anybody with white skin is now responsible for that? Even if they immigrated long after slavery and the civil war?

        Progressive beliefs about slavery and who today should be held responsible are so bizarre, irrational, and racist that it defies belief.

        1. Here’s what’s really bizarre: white people TODAY must wear an albatross on their necks over an injustice that was committed generations and generations ago… Yet, if you give even the slightest hint of casting dispersions on Muslims because of terrorists – many of whom are STILL ALIVE TODAY – you will be branded as a bigot and get a lecture on how it’s not fair to judge an entire group based on a few bad apples.

  4. *lead to ruin.

  5. Blow up Stone Mountain, eh? Maybe they could get in touch with some of the Taliban who blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Interesting how much the Progressive SJWs have in common with other zealots.

    1. /\ This /\

  6. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

  7. But, what does Trump think? And was Davis pro-life or pro-choice?
    And we should ask Hihn what the official libertarian position on the civil war is.

    1. “And we should ask Hihn what the official libertarian position on the civil war is.”

      Oh… please… no. Not even in jest.

  8. Charles Freund is confused – no Confederate was ever “pardoned” since none had committed a crime. What happened was that their citizenship was “restored”, which also made no logical sense, at least to those in the Union, since Lincoln had claimed they had never left the Union. Lee was told his citizenship would be retsored , but the inefficient Union govt lost the papers. Some have slandered Confederates as “traitors” but that won’t wash, since seceding from the Union is not treason and had never been considered treason or illegal. Lincoln can certainly be considered a traitor to the U.S. Constitution. Lincoln deserved t be hung for provoking the Civil War and then illegally invading the Confederacy.

    1. Do you regularly gargle toilet water?

    2. Lincoln provoked a civil war how? By being elected?

      The Southern states were pissed off over losing a presidential election and decided to pick up their marbles and run away. Then they opened fire on a federal installation. And that’s Lincoln’s fault?

      Neo-Confederates are funny.

      1. The Southern states seceded and opened fire on what they considered a foreign military force on their territory when that force refused to leave. That doesn’t seem like a particularly outrageous position, particularly that the US had seceded from the UK less than a century earlier.

        I mean, I’m glad that the Civil War brought about an end to slavery, but the question remains what justification the Northern states had to refuse secession in the first place.

        1. How about:

          Protecting the rights of U.S. citizens who resided or owned property in the seceding states. In some cases, this may have required adjustments to the national borders where Unionist sentiment was strong (e.g., western Virginia, eastern Tennessee,) also the question of what to do about pockets of citizens who retained loyalty to the Union (e.g., the “State of Jones). Also: disposition of the Western territories.

          Addressing the national debt, which was ~$60 million at the time. If Dixie was walking, a share of that needed to walk with them.

          Addressing right of navigation down the Mississippi and other intra- and inter-coastal waterways?

          Determining the disposition of federal property (including military installations like Ft. Sumter, but other federal property, such as courthouses.)

          These issues were all potentially resolvable, and should have been addressed through their representatives in the Federal Congress. They didn’t do that. There was no attempt to get buy-in on what a post-breakup America would look like; there weren’t the repeated petitions sent to the Crown in the 1770s. Instead, their guy lost an election, so they decided to dismember the country before Lincoln even took office. When the secessionists saw fit to open fire on a federal installation, it was correct to treat it as an illegitimate rebellion.

          The fact that the Confederates took up arms in defense of slavery merely confirmed that their cause was both morally and legally wrong.

          1. You know who else started wars of conquest to protect their ‘people’?

  9. The story of Jeff Davis post war is an interesting one. He was held in irons at Fortress Monroe
    and was to be tried for treason. The Dept of Justice lawyers didn’t like their prospects for a conviction, so they told Davis to admit his guilt and escape punishment. Davis denied he had anyhting to be guilty about and refused. Then the lawyers offered to pardon him , which Davis also refused,sincehehad committed no crime. Finaly, they just let him go, probably with some BS about being merciful. In point of fact, had the DOJ lost a trial, Daviscould have sued the Union for their illegal war and the vast damages inflicted upon the South, particularly in Georgia, Virginia and South Carolina. In my opinion, the Confederate states can still sue the U.S. govt

  10. Pardoning dead people is, in my view, BS. If you can’t be bothered to pardon someone during his lifetime, then leave him to history. Don’t wank off about your virtue in pardoning dead historical figures who are beyond the reach of human justice.

    This applies in particular to Congressional pardons of Confederates who lost their right to hold office under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Congress was empowered to remove these disabilities and make ex-Confederates capable of holding office, and it exercised this power liberally after the Civil War (though not in Lee and Davis’ behalf). In 1898, Congress finally restored officeholding rights to all living ex-confederates, but by that time Davis was dead.

    What’s the meaning of pardoning him in 1978? So he can come back from the grave to hold office again?

    1. Obviously the purpose is to get votes from living people who either aren’t sure the person is actually dead or who have their own version of history where that dead person won.

    2. Perhaps the emptiest and most hypocritical posthumous pardon was signed about fifteen years ago by Massachusetts Governor Jane “Not-so” Swift on behalf of the Salem witches of 1692, at the same time Swift doubled down on the Fells Acres day care hysteria.

  11. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…
    http://www.jobnet10.com

  12. …and Stalin airbrushed his enemies out of photographs.

  13. I can understand the desire to remove Confederate icons from US government buildings, or other places that publicly confer honor. However preserving these objects for the public to view in an effort to understand our history is also critically important. If not as a symbol of a collective failure, then as a first draft of a plan for future secessionists .

    1. Indiana Jones: “IT SHOULD BE IN A MUSEUM!!!”

  14. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…
    http://www.jobnet10.com

  15. Liberals have learned their Orwellian lesson to airbrush out inconvenient or unpleasant history. We see this also in their increasing rejection of the traditional name for party annual affairs (named after Jefferson and Jackson). In one recent incident, California Democrats have urged the small town of Fort Bragg to change its name — though in fact it owes its name to a fort established by Zachary Taylor and named for one of his best battery commanders at Buena Vista (who later contributed greatly to Union victory as a Confederate army commander).

  16. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,

    http://www.Careersonline10.tk

  17. It’s all just the Left mopping up after their latest Civil Rights victories. Walking around the battlefield stabbing the corpses.

  18. “A few years ago, Congress pardoned the Confederate president but his statues and namesakes may be starting to come down.”

    I don’t understand why Congress thought they had the right or the authority to pardon Jefferson Davis.
    To pardon someone implies that he violated some law.
    Davis was held in military prison for two years while the administration tried to work up a case to try him for treason.
    The administration interviewed several potential prosecutors.
    Each prosecutor said that he would never be found guilty in a fair court of law because he violated no crime.
    While he was in prison a Constitutional scholar by the name of AlbertTaylor Bledsoe wrote a book completely exonerating Davis proving he was not a traitor and committed no crime while Abraham Lincoln fit the US Constitution’s definition of being a Traitor by “waging war against the states”.
    Because of this book there was never any trial and he was eventually released.

    Bledsoe’s book was called,
    Is Davis a Traitor? Or Was Secession a Constitutional Right Previous To The War of 1861?

    1. Andrew Jackson argued secession was illegal in the same breath as nullification of federal tariffs being illegal. When a new tariff of abominations passed–written by the same Vermont Red Republican who again tried in 1894 to make an income tax stick–Lincoln was elected after the tariff and sworn in after states had decided to leave for the same reasons the northern colonies broke with England (taxes, monoplies). Texas attacked federal armories and revenue cutters months months before hostilities broke out on the East Coast. Also, Lord Dunmore wrote the Emancipation Proclamation urging slaves to take up arms for Britain in 1775. Lincoln re-used this adding as a promise that states could keep slavery if they surrendered within the deadline. The was was over the industrial North moving into the mercantilist metropolis niche to exploit the agricultural South. Withdrawal of English capital to attack China in the Opium Wars brought on the depression that foreshadowed the tariff hike and secessions. Jeff Davis did not start the Civil War and it was not primarily about slavery.

  19. So? UTexas at Austin also named a building after a Klansman and named the team mascot Bevo after Anheuser-Busch alcohol-free beer in a fit of prohibitionist zeal. After repeal they even made up a story about Aggies branding the steer with a game score to distance themselves from prohibitionism, and renamed the Klannish edifice to distance themselves from that dry society. Next thing you know someone will want to remove the George Washington statue because from a certain angle the hand on the hilt makes it look like he’s holding… Um… come to think of it, just forget I ever said anything about the statue of George Washington. Move along, nothing to see here…

  20. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.