Confederacy and Freedom

For too long defenders of Confederate heritage… have associated it with freedom and individual rights for all whites. The specter of the conquering Yankee invading the homeland to oppress the yeoman and steal his acre was the rallying cry.  Policy makers in the Confederacy used this propaganda to dupe poor whites  to defend the landed gentry- a social order built on the aristocracy of chattel slavery.  Jefferson Davis and ilk had no interest in expanding opportunity for the thousands of men who volunteered for this abhorrent cause- they were cannon fodder.

Talk of opportunity and liberty were contrary to the Confederate cause… the slave owning power structure needed poor whites to stay right where they were.  The egalitarian dreams of Thomas Jefferson had no place in the CSA- and the leadership expressed it openly- The Declaration of Independence was a threat to the south.  Far from a “second American Revolution,” the American Civil War was an authoritarian power grab by an entrenched group of oligarchs.

 

Confederate propaganda from Georgia said it best…

“Thanks to Mr. Jefferson we have made a mistake … and pushed the love of democracy too far … vulgar democracy and licentious freedom is rapidly supplanting all the principles of constitutional ‘liberty’! When shall the American people perceive that all our difficulties arise from the absurdities of deciding that the ‘pauper’ and the ‘landholder’ are alike competent to manage the affairs of a Country, or alike entitled to vote for those who shall?”  Athens Southern Watchman 1857

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Jefferson’s feelings on slavery and liberty also alienated our apostle of liberty… from these slave owning aristocrats…

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it …The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and moral undepraved by such circumstances [under slavery]. And with what desecration should the statement be loaded, who permitting one half of the citizens to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots and these into enemies, destroys the morals of one part and the amor patriae of the other.”  Notes on the State of Virginia  1782

January 12, 1865: Davis Note to Blair

Almost Chosen People

Lincoln v. Davis

 Go here to read about the peace initiative of Francis P. Blair who travelled to Richmond to meet with President Davis.

Jefferson Davis was a very shrewd man, much shrewder I think than most historians have given him credit for being.  He realized that little could be expected from negotiations with Lincoln because Lincoln would never agree to Confederate independence, the one non-negotiable issue as far as both Lincoln and Davis were concerned.  Additionally, he regarded a joint Union Confederate war against the French in Mexico, the core of the Blair initiative,  to be a fairly bizarre proposal.  However, he was eager to negotiate.  The Confederate military situation was beyond dire.  If the negotiations led to Confederate independence, victory would be snatched at the last instant.  If, as Davis expected, the negotiations led to nothing, he could tell his people that he had attempted negotiations and the Union would not negotiate in good…

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Harriet Lane’s Bracelet Story

Presidential History Blog

Harriet Lane served as de facto First Lady for her bachelor Uncle, POTUS James Buchanan.

Little Orphan Harriet

James Buchanan was a brother among many sisters. Having received a solid education, he became a successful Pennsylvania attorney, elected to Congress at a young age, and rose in Democratic political circles. Since he never married, he became guardian or semi-guardian to several nieces and nephews, all of whom he treated generously and affectionately. 

But when his niece Harriet Lane (1830-1903) became completely orphaned at nine, she became not only his ward, but as near a daughter as he would ever have. He adored her, and she was devoted to “Nunc,” as she called him, for the rest of her life. 

Young Harriet (second from left) with President and Mrs. Polk – and Dolley Madison (far right).(LOC)

In her early teens, Harriet came to live with him in Washington, and…

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Cousins at Odds

Thomas Jefferson battled with his cousin, John Marshall… over the role of the federal judiciary, but also over the direction of our young republic.  Jefferson long feared an unchecked judicial branch during the ratification crisis- Marshall’s decision in Marbury v. Madison only deepened his distrust.

The Court determined at once, that being an original process, they had no cognizance of it; and therefore the question before them was ended. But the Chief Justice went on to lay down what the law would be, had they jurisdiction in the case, to wit: that they should command delivery . . . . Besides the impropriety of this gratuitous interference, could anything exceed the perversion of law?
Yet this case of Marbury and Madison is continually cited by bench and bar, as if it were settled law, without any animadversion on its being an obiter dissertation of the Chief Justice. like gravity by night and day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the states, and the government of all be consoli¬dated into one.” Jefferson 1804

Marshall answered:

“For Mr. Jefferson’s opinion as respects this department, it is not difficult to assign the cause. He is among the most ambitious, and I suspect among the most unforgiving of men. His great power is over the mass of people, and this power is chiefly acquired by professions of democracy. Every check on the wild impulse of the moment is a check on his own power, and he is unfriendly to the source from which it flows. He looks of course with ill will at an independent judiciary.”  Marshall 1807

History Wishes for the New Year – 2020

This historian would like to see…

  • Discourse on the New York Times’s 1619 Project. The current vitriol is unacceptable.
  • Academic historians engage each other in substantive debate, rather than insipid tweeting.
  • Acknowledging contributions and expertise of established scholars in the 1619 Project debate
  • Gordon Wood, James McPherson, and Sean Wilentz must be heard and respected.
  • David McCullough, Evan Thomas, Nate Philbrick, Richard Brookheiser- are considered historians
  • Real discussion on the wisdom and future of the 17th amendment
  • A fair and comprehensive Senate trial on the latest articles of impeachment
  • A fair and reasonable general election
  • The emergence of a new(not third) political party. The current two have far outlived their effectiveness
  • The Electoral College is maintained
  • Americans rediscover the genius of the Founding generation
  • Washington’s birthday becomes a separate holiday again
  • A moratorium on destroying Confederate monuments – particularly anonymous memorials to war dead
  • More US history in high school
  • Less Howard Zinn in college
  • The younger generation embraces living history
  • Frederick Douglass replaces Andrew Jackson on the $20
  • More battlefield preservation
  • A President who is Presidential – returning dignity to the Office.

Christmas on the Mountain

Thomas Jefferson celebrated Christmas… but not with stockings and Christmas trees- modern incarnations of the season didn’t take hold in America until after the Civil War.  Jefferson’s Christmas was a time for family, friends, and as he described it, “merriment.”   Family was all important to the Sage of Monticello, and he described the day”  “the day of greatest mirth and jollity.”

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He received the greatest joy from watching his grandchildren… opening gifts and playing games in Monticello.  Describing the scene to a friend, Jefferson observed his youngest grandson; “He is at this moment running about with his cousins bawling out ‘a merry christmas’ ‘(this is) a christmas gift”  His music library included  many Christmas standards including the family favorite, Adeste Fideles. 

Good friends, good food, and good conversation… marked the holiday season at Monticello.  Plenty of wine was on hand to compliment Jefferson’s holiday favorite, mince pie.  Mince at Monticello consisted of  apples, raisins, beef suet(fat), and spices.

Drink Like a Founder

If you seek a historically acceptable wine… for this holiday season, consider Madeira.  The fortified wine is produced in the island group of the same name.  Madeira is fortified with another spirit, typically rum.  The fortification process dates to the 16th century where it prevented spoilage over long ocean voyages.  Tinta Negra Mole grapes are used to produce a pale red wine in a variety of strengths.  Rainwater is  dry served at room temperature making a fine dinner choice.  Malmsey is a heavy, sweet option best served chilled with dessert.  Remember that the fortifying spirit provides an extra ‘bite.’

Madeira was a favorite of the American Founders… including John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.  A riot rattled Boston in 1768 when John Hancock’s sloop, Liberty was seized, loaded with Madeira.  John Adams would enjoy three glasses every night before bedtime.  Jefferson enjoyed Malmsey and Monticello’s wine cellars were well stocked with it.  Later in life, he preferred  lighter French wines.  Most historians agree Madeira was used to toast the Declaration of Independence.

If you raise a glass this holiday season… you can feel closer to our Founders with a glass of Madeira.