previous next

Literary notice.

Rise and fall of the Confederate government, by Jefferson Davis. New York: D. Appleton & Co.

We have received from W. W. Hayne, of Baltimore, general agent for Virginia and Maryland, a copy of this superb book of two volumes of over 700 pages each, which is gotten up in the highest style of this famous publishing house.

The nineteen engravings (two portraits of Mr. Davis, and good likenesses of members of his Cabinet, leading generals, &c.) and eighteen maps of battle-fields are all admirably executed, and add to the interest and value of the book. But the contents of the book itself would have been welcomed even if coming in rough garb. As a story of a great revolution, told by its leading actor, it would command attention. When this actor is a man of great ability, of unspotted character; a high-toned Christian gentleman; as true a patriot as ever drew sword in freedom's cause, and the master of a terse, classic English which has long been the admiration of scholars and the delight of those who have heard him or read his State papers, it were superfluous to add that we expected a book of rare power and deep interest, and that we have not been disappointed. We have [286] read it with thrilling interest, and shall place it on a convenient shelf where it will be at hand for ready reference, and where our children and children's children may read this noble and triumphant defence of the Confederate cause — this admirable story of the heroic deeds of our Confederate people.

We have neither time nor space now for any elaborate review of the work. We propose in future to give a series of papers on its several parts, with liberal extracts from its pages. We can only give now some idea of its scope and the value of its contents.

Part I is a very able sketch of the origin of slavery in this country and the process by which our friends at the North, who were mainly instrumental in establishing it, discovered that it was “the sum of all villianies” after they had sold their slaves and pocketed the money, and begun that sectional agitation which culminated in the election of a sectional President and the secession of the Southern States. He ably shows that slavery was not the cause, but an incident of the separation, and that for the secession movement the North, and not the South, was responsible.

Part II is a forcible, clear and unanswerable constitutional argument for the Sovereignty of the States, and the Right of Secession.

Part III gives a deeply interesting narrative of “Secession and Confederation,” showing the steps by which the Southern States seceded, the formation of the Confederacy, the provisions of the Confederate Constitution, &c. He clearly sets forth that the Confederates were for peace, not war — that they exhausted every means of pacification, while their commissioners at Washington awaited the pleasure of the Federal Government, and were amused by the perfidious assurances of Seward that Sumter would be evacuated at the very time when the Government was fitting out an expedition to reinforce it — and that the cry against the South for “firing the first gun” is as senseless and false as to charge a man with being the aggressor who disarms the assassin advancing on him with drawn weapon instead of waiting for him to strike.

Part IV embraces the history of the war and of the civil administration during the four years of the great struggle for constitutional freedom. He shows the difficulties with which the South had to contend, brings out clearly the fact that from the first we fought against overwhelming numbers and resources, shows the ability of our generals, the heroism of our soldiers, the patriotism of our people, and the devotion of our noble women; and writes a story of which we may well be proud, and which we may, without a blush, hand down to generations yet unborn.

He does not go into full details of battles, but gives rather general outlines and results; but on all of our great campaigns he sheds light, which his position enabled him to give, and adds interesting personal anecdotes and incidents to our previous stock of information, which makes us regret that he did not make another volume, and treat this part of his narrative more fully.

He brings out very clearly that in the general “conduct of the war,” so far as observing the “humanities” of modern civilization, the Confederacy has a far better record than the Federal Government, and that (despite of widely circulated [287] slanders to the contrary) in the matter of the exchange and treatment of prisoners, conduct of our troops in the enemy's country, &c., our record is one which might well elicit the tribute of the English poet:

No nation rose so pure and fair
Or fell so free of crime.

The impression made by the book on intelligent and fair-minded men on the other side may be gathered from the following extract from a review in the New York Sun:

Mr. Davis frankly and emphatically acknowledges the Union of these States to be indissoluble. He admits that secession has been demonstrated once for all to be impracticable. For good or for evil, the lot of the South is inextricably coupled with that of the North; and whatever perils shall hereafter menace the people of the whole country in their political and civil liberties, will be those engendered not of disintegration but of consolidation. For these very reasons many generous and upright men of all parties will concur with Mr. Davis in thinking the time has come to weigh dispassionately the character of the motives and the soundness of the arguments which led the Southern States to form an independent federation. If it be true that the Union is henceforth indestructible, it has clearly become our paramount duty to see to it that the common flag is what it once was, a symbol of sympathy and fraternity, and not the detested emblem of compulsory aggregation. We must no longer permit ourselves to think or speak of the late Confederates as “rebels,” for the term begs the whole question, hinging on the purport of the Constitution, and is really inapplicable to men who simply held and applied a conception of that instrument, which was not even disputed for many years after the formation of the Union, and to which Northern advocates of secession had recourse long before the project of separation was mooted at the South. We must not forget that even after the Gulf States had seceded and formed a new Confederacy, so careful a student of American constitutional history as Horace Greeley acknowledged that the right of peaceful withdrawal seemed to lie by implication at the root of the powers and guarantees reserved to the individual Commonwealths, and that he could discern no power in the Federal Government to coerce a State. We must bear these things in mind; we must forego ugly epithets, which only serve to breed bad blood and befog the intellect; we must admit freely that, from their point of view, the Southern States had as much right to resist the attempt to force men back into the Union as the majority of the Northern people had to exercise coercion. Each party, in a word, was equally “loyal” to that theory of the Constitution which was dominant in its locality. Without a general recognition of this truth, it is impossible for the two sections to understand and appreciate each other's motives and actions, and such an understanding is indispensable to the reestablishment of mutual confidence, esteem and amity. We do not envy the man who can dispose of all the equities involved in a constitutional problem with a jeer or a taunt, who has no comment but voe victis for the devotion of a brave people to the principle of State Rights, and who still in his heart surveys the South as a conquered country. Such a man's notion of the Union is [288] indeed a sordid and hateful thing; it has nothing in common with the benignant conception of concord and fraternity, which the fathers sought to embody in the American Constitution, and which it is the duty and the hope of patriots to restore.

The impression has been current at the North that the secession of the Gulf States was not the outcome of a popular movement, but the result of a so-called conspiracy, in which many of the Southern Senators and Congressmen took part, and in which Mr. Davis himself was a chief promoter. This view can scarcely be sustained hereafter in the face of the overwhelming evidence brought forward in these volumes. As regards the part taken by himself, Mr. Davis proves, by the written testimony of eye-witnesses, that he was one of the last men among those prominent in Mississippi politics to approve the secession of his State, and that from the first he never shared the prevailing opinion that a withdrawal from the Union could be peacefully accomplished. Not, of course, that he doubted the abstract right of secession, but he long questioned the expediency of its exercise. It seems to us, also, that Mr. Davis successfully refutes the assumption that the South was the aggressor in the conflict which ensued. It is hard to see how Mr. Seward can be freed from the charge of flagrant bad faith in his dealings with the Confederate Commissioners sent to Washington for the purpose of negotiating an amicable transfer of the forts and other Federal property in the seceding States. Nor will reasonable men deny, now that nothing is to be gained by quibbling, that the first overt act of hostility was not the attack on Fort Sumter by General Beauregard, but the attempt to reinforce that post made in violation of the pledges repeatedly given by Mr. Seward to the Commissioners. We think no candid person can fail to be convinced by the simple documentary testimony brought forward by Mr. Davis that the seceding States were sincerely anxious to live on terms of peace and amity with those who adhered to the old Union, and that with very few exceptions, among which Mr. Davis must be counted, the leading men of the Confederacy believed up to April, 1861, that the formation of an independent government at the South would encounter no resistance. They were unquestionably misled by the specific tone of the Northern press, and especially by the attitude of the New York Tribune. It will be remembered that this journal, which had contributed so largely to the election of Lincoln, had declared after the election of its candidate: “Whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep her in. We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets.”

But our space will not allow us to say more at present than to urge our people generally to buy and read for themselves a book which should be in every library.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Maryland (Maryland, United States) (1)
Baltimore City (Maryland, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Jefferson Davis (9)
W. H. Seward (3)
Abraham Lincoln (1)
W. W. Hayne (1)
Horace Greeley (1)
G. T. Beauregard (1)
D. Appleton (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
April, 1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: