Jefferson Davis, Religion, and the Politics of Recognition

 

D. Jason Berggren[1]

 

(Article was published in White House Studies 5.2 (2005): 231-241)

 

ABSTRACT

At a time when Catholics and Jews were often held in contempt and discriminated against, one president did more than any other American president before the twentieth century to symbolically recognize them.  That president was Jefferson Davis.  Through his appointment power, the Confederate President created the first administration in American history that included Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.  Unlike his contemporary Abraham Lincoln who only appointed Protestants to high office, Davis practiced the politics of recognition by appointing individuals identified with persecuted religious minorities.  In this regard, contrary to conventional wisdom, Jefferson Davis was a remarkable president, a president ahead of his time.  This paper not only compares the Davis and Lincoln records, it suggests two reasons why Davis was the more inclusive: his personal character and his ties to the Democratic Party.  



[1] D. Jason Berggren is a Ph.D. candidate and instructor of political science at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.  The author can be reached at djberggren@hotmail.com  The author would like to thank Dr. Robert Watson of Florida Atlantic University and the three anonymous reviewers for their encouraging words and helpful suggestions to improve the article.

 

ANOTHER TRAIL OF INQUIRY

V.O. Key once wrote that in studying and understanding Southern politics “sooner or later the trail of inquiry leads to the Negro.”[i]  Those who follow Key’s line of inquiry, which most scholars of the South do, conclude that the South has not only been “illiberal”, but more importantly the South has been “non-democratic”.[ii] 

But what if the trail of inquiry is drawn away from issues of race?  Might we see a different South?  Might a redrawn trail lead us to see aspects of the South largely unacknowledged or unappreciated?  Might there be a redeemable, laudatory Southern past?  Might there be Southern precedents beneficial to what Arend Lijphart called the quality of democracy?[iii]  In a very small way, the broader purpose of this paper is to commit a heretical act.



[i] V.O. Key, Jr., Southern Politics in State and Nation. Reprint. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, [1949] 1984), 5.

[ii] John H. Aldrich, “Southern Parties in State and Nation,” Journal of Politics 62.3 (August 2000), 643-670.

[iii] See Arend Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999).

[1] D. Jason Berggren is a Ph.D. candidate and instructor of political science at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.  The author can be reached at djberggren@hotmail.com  The author would like to thank Dr. Robert

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A DIFFERENT COMPARISON OF LINCOLN AND DAVIS

In the typical comparison between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, Lincoln is judged to be far and away the better president of the two.  After all, Lincoln was the winning war president who saved the Union and Davis the loser who tried to divide it.  But more than that, Lincoln is judged to be the president that fully embodied the American spirit of equality, inclusion, and civic nationalism, and Davis the contrary spirit of hierarchy, exclusion, and ethnic nationalism. 

It is commonly recognized that Lincoln, more than any president before and more than most after him, reached out and expanded the circle of inclusion to include African Americans.  He is the one who issued the Emancipation Proclamation and made the abolition of slavery a chief war aim.  In contrast, Davis is viewed as a defender of slavery and traitor to the Union.     

This article shows a different side of Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy, and the South — a side under-appreciated if even known by most Americans.  With the exception of Davis scholars

and non-mainstream Southern scholars, most may not know that President Davis broadened the circle of inclusion for minority communities, that the Confederacy was vigorously supported by minority communities, including Catholics, Jews, and Native Americans, and that religious minorities succeeded politically more so in the antebellum South than in the North.    

When Davis put together the inaugural cabinet of the Confederacy, he not only included men from various Southern states, he included men from various religious communities.  In choosing Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, Davis forged the first tri-faith administration in American history, something that would not happen again until the twentieth century.  Considering the history of religious conflict in the West, this was no small achievement.

Watson of Florida Atlantic University and the three anonymous reviewers for their encouraging words and helpful suggestions to improve the article.

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