In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

156civil war history Jefferson Davis: American Patriot, 1808-1861. By Hudson Strode. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. 1955. Pp. xx, 460. $6.75.) with an earlier biographer, Landon Knight, Hudson Strode agrees that Jefferson Davis is "the most misunderstood man in history." Mr. Strode became interested in Davis when Sigrid Undset asserted on a visit in 1942 that Davis's faults have been magnified by historians and biographers, his virtues forgotten. When she asked, "Why is he not given his due?" no satisfying answer was forthcoming . Not until 1951, however, did Mr. Strode's sympathy with Davis become active. In going through the papers of his mother-in-law, an admirer of Davis, Mr. Strode became indignant when he read a newspaper clipping describing the "ironing" of Davis after his capture by the Union forces and his imprisonment at Fortress Monroe. This gratuitous humiliation of a proud and wellmeaning man apparendy became symbolic to Mr. Strode of a career whose brilliance was obscured in later times through personal misfortune and distortions of fact. That Davis himself anticipated his ultimate fate if he failed as president of a new country, may be seen in his own comments upon some disgruntled office -seekers — comments which conclude the present volume: "If we succeed, we shall hear nothing of these malcontents, ii we do not, then I shall be held accountable by friends as well as foes. I will do my best, and God will give me strength to bear whatever comes." Whether Mr. Strode will be able to revise conclusively the general impression that Davis was "a faulty politician" and "a cold human being and an irascible , driven leader, who lacked the ability to steer the Confederacy to success" must await the completion of the biography. In the second volume, the more controversial aspects of Davis's personality and career will be interpreted: the contentions with the "states-rights" group in the South led by Rhett, Yancey, Stephens, and Toombs; the relief of General Joseph Johnston during the crisis in Georgia in 1864; and the retention of Judah P. Benjamin in the cabinet after his censure by the Confederate Congress. Since the sincerity, the high-mindedness and the accomplishments of the pre-Civil War Davis have been conceded, at least by scholars, the author's aim of humanizing Davis has undoubtedly been easier to encompass in this first volume than it may be in the second. In depicting Jefferson Davis, the vital human being, Mr. Strode analyzes perceptively his tragic first marriage to Sarah Knox Taylor (she died of malaria three months after the wedding) ; his relationship, at first strained and later cordial, with his first father-in-law, Zachary Taylor; his second marriage to the demanding but devoted Varina Howell; and the lifelong influence upon him of his elder brother, Joseph. Mr. Strode has done much in this sympathetic portrayal of the younger Davis to rehabilitate him as an "American patriot." In analyzing his contributions to American statesmanship, Mr. Strode rightly regards his tenure as Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce as the high point of his earlier career. More than with the Confederate presidency, man and position were admirably suited to one another. The conciliation of rival factions was not a paramount issue in the Book Reviews157 cabinet position, and Davis's military experience and administrative genius made him a success. Ironically, as Secretary of War, Davis strengthened administratively and strategically the army which, a few years later, was to be deployed against the Confederacy. He increased the size of the army by two regiments , strengthened coastal defences, sent commissions abroad to examine foreign military establishments, and secured additional appropriations for West Point. He also displayed constructive vision in his plans for a trans-continental railroad (the four roads later built to the Pacific follow approximately the routes he sketched) , in his urging that Cuba be annexed when Spain seemed willing to negotiate, and in helping to arrange the Gadsden Purchase. Davis's interest in these matters, however, was not so exclusively national as Mr. Strode implies: he also desired to provide the South with additional territory into which to expand and with outlet ports on the Pacific. If, as...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 156-157
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.