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I56CIVIL WAR HISTORY equality. But unless the constitutional process which he felt gave that idea life is given at least equal weight, such an exercise will serve only the purpose (important but limited) of contemplating ideals. The main thing, as Harvey Cox once said about Christianity, is not to believe it; it is to do it. In this country equality will be achieved only when the rule of law, which forms a vital element in the nation's character, is respected equally with ideal of equality, respected as providing the means to live, achieve, and not just think about equality. As Christopher Dodd once said, "In this country our means are our ends." Lincoln understood this. Wills, on this evidence, has not adequately explored it. Phillip S. Paludan University of Kansas Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour. By William C. Davis. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991. Pp. xv, 784. $35.00.) According to the author, Jefferson Davis has hitherto been ill served and misunderstood by those who have tried to tell his story. He believes that "the Davis we have been given in print has come chiefly from an unbroken string of second- and third-rate biographies," among which he mentions those by Edward A. Pollard, Hudson Strode, and Clement Eaton. Whereas other biographers have failed to understand Davis, to William C. Davis there is "nothing at all mysterious" (xi) about him. Observing that "excellent works have appeared by scholars like William Cooper, Frank Vandiver, Paul Escott, Ludwell Johnson and others," Mr. Davis nevertheless avoids secondary sources and embarks on a Rankeian-like search for the pure flame of truth by confining himself almost entirely to sources contemporary with his subject. (Incidentally, I am still trying to figure out what I have written that is important enough for Mr. Davis to ignore.) This method, of course, has the advantage of finessing the irksome task of assimilating a daunting mass of modern scholarship. Generally speaking, one who does not pick the brains of other scholars runs the risk of making mistakes and failing to understand very precisely matters not fully explained by his necessarily incomplete range of sources. Even though this book is supposed to be a "life" and not a "life and times," a good grip on the times can help in depicting the life, and in this case the life suffers to some extent from an inadequate grasp of the antebellum period. Mr. Davis is naturally more at home in the war years, but even there his avoidance of secondary treatises narrows his focus unnecessarily. Mr. Davis undertakes to do two things: provide a narrative of his subject's life and explain Jefferson Davis the man. The first is done well, subject to the limitations of the author's method, and one must admire the impressive amount of work that went into making this book. Some might wish that more than sixty-seven of the 706 pages of text had been allotted to the twenty-four BOOK REVIEWS157 postwar years of Davis's life, but on the other hand one can applaud the full treatment of the antebellum years, something so often lacking in biographies of Civil War figures. If the narrative part of the book is for the most part solid and strong, the interpretive part leaves something to be desired. These remarks pertain especially to the author's reading of Jefferson Davis's personality, character, and psyche. He does not practice psychobiography, for which we can all be grateful, but relies on what he calls a common-sense approach to human nature . Even so, there are difficulties; a couple of examples may be offered. The reader is told that the great "unifying and overriding influence" of Davis's life was "one single paramount force—insecurity," which in the "great event of his life . . . helped to guide him to failure," even though that failure "may have been preordained" (641-42). He admits that the etiology of this alleged insecurity remains largely conjectural, but then attributes much of it to Samuel Davis, Jefferson's father, who "never knew how to show his affection." This impelled the son to adopt a succession of father substitutes , whom he regarded "almost...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 156-158
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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