7 Things To Know About Jefferson Davis, Now That His Confederate Monument Is Gone


May 11, 2017


Legend has it that an on-the-run Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, was wrapped in woman’s clothing when captured at Irwinville, Ga., by Union troops before dawn on May 10, 1865. Fast-forward 152 years and one day to a predawn Wednesday in Mid-City, and a statue of Davis is covered in green bubble wrap and yellow nylon hoist straps as construction workers remove the bronze monument to him from a pedestal on the New Orleans avenue that bears his name.


In truth, Davis was wearing a loosely fitting, water-repellent overcoat and his wife’s black shawl over his head and shoulders when captured. It was raining that morning, after all. But that didn’t stop northern newspapers from twisting the story, with one lithograph portraying him as wearing a hoop skirt and bonnet. Years later, a driving force behind the Davis monument in New Orleans was a Jim Crow-era attempt to restore his honor “as a statesman,” said historian William Cooper, a retired LSU professor and widely acknowledged expert on Davis and his presidency.


His namesake — Davis was named after a Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, who was a political hero to Davis’ father. Though their reasons differed, both Jefferson and Davis knew slavery could not survive. But neither did anything to abolish the practice, and both owned slaves.


The Eggnog Riot — While attending West Point, Davis and other cadets were arrested for smuggling liquor into the barracks for a Christmas morning drinking party. Once caught, Davis followed orders and confined himself to quarters, where he remained for some six weeks. But after what became known as the Eggnog Riot, other punch-drunk cadets were expelled for breaking windows, throwing furniture and drawing swords against their superior officers.


Anti-secession — As other Southerners recoiled at the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. president, Davis, then a U.S. senator, urged caution and compromise. Less than two months before he was inaugurated president of the Confederacy, he was still arguing against Southern secession. But after his home state of Mississippi seceded in 1861, he declared allegiance to it and resigned from the Senate.


Impressive resume — Before becoming president of the Confederacy, Davis served in both houses of Congress and as secretary of war. He was appointed, not elected, to most of the offices, only once winning a popular election.


Emancipation — As Southern losses in the Civil War mounted, Davis proposed emancipating slaves in late 1864 and early 1865 — with a catch. He offered a widely criticized plan to grant freedom to any slave willing to fight for the Confederacy. “He was willing to jettison slavery in order to save Southern independence,” Cooper said during a 2012 talk at Virginia Military Institute.


Good candidate, bad president — The resume notwithstanding, Davis is generally viewed by historians as a failure, largely because of a quick temper, an inability to navigate politics and a willingness to reward friendship over competence. “He appeared to be better equipped than Lincoln,” Cooper said. “He attended West Point, was a war hero, was a member of both the House and Senate, was secretary of war and was seen a Southern gentlemen. Despite these credentials, Davis almost makes the prima facie case for disregarding prior achievement in awarding higher responsible office.”


Bad times in Louisiana — Born in Kentucky, Davis spent less than a year of his youth living in St. Mary Parish before the family moved to Mississippi. As a young man, Davis resigned from the military in order to marry Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of future president Zachary Taylor. Three months into the marriage, the couple traveled to West Feliciana Parish to spend the summer, but soon they both contracted malaria or yellow fever, and his wife died. In 1889, after completing his novel on the history of the Confederacy, Davis took ill and was taken to New Orleans for treatment. After several weeks his conditioned worsened, and Davis died at a friend’s house in the Garden District on Dec. 6.


Web Source: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/05/town_halls_a_lose-lose_situati.html