Excerpt from Abraham Lincoln and Confederates: Jefferson Davis (2)
No living man at the time held so gloriously that combined record of conspicuous service on the battlefield and in statesmanship. Nowhere is Mr. Strode neutral. Anybody who opposed Davis had to be wrong. For example, Henry Foote the only foe of Davis in Mississippi politics whom Mr. Strode even deigns to men tion was nothing but a shrill-tongued, noisy, unscrupulous little opportunist. Stephen A. Douglas whom Davis fought valiantly in the Senate from 1857 to 1860 - was a ruthless and callous schemer, ruled by a consuming desire to be President. Not in precise words, but in substantive effect, Mr. Strode endorses Davis' own estimate of Douglas as a little grog-drinking, electioneering Demagogue. Only once - in relating the story of the kansas-nebraska Act - does Mr. Strode suggest that Davis' conduct may have deserved disapproval. Even then he says guardedly: Davis may have been deceived and he may have acted unwisely in persuading Franklin Pierce to approve the measure.
In his introduction and in his notes on sources, Mr. Strode ascribes much im portance to the wealth of new material that he has found. Yet he never describes the exact nature or scope - of this new material. Rather, he says simply that it includes five boxes of intimate family papers in the possession of Jefferson hayes-davis, a banker in Colorado Springs, and that he has used numerous Davis letters and mementoes in the hands of other Davis kinsmen (whom he names). He has dispensed with footnotes on the ground that they interrupt the rhythm of reading.
The book is marred by numerous small errors of fact, but they are errors of a kind that the specialist in history, rather than the general reader, will object to. Its greatest weakness lies in its treatment of politics. Because Davis' chief importance in the years before 1861 lay in the field of politics, this weakness is fundamental. Mr. Strode tells us almost nothing about the political alignments in Mississippi that elected Davis once to the House of Representatives (in 1845) and twice to the Senate (in 1848 and Who were Davis' supporters and political friends in Mississippi? How did he gain their support? Why did they send him to Washington, and what did they expect of him there? Who opposed him, and on what grounds? Mr. Strode does not say. For example, he does not even give the name or the political party of the man whom Davis defeated for Congress in 1845; nor does he mention a single issue or assertion made in that campaign. Similarly, his account of national politics in the l84o's and 18so's is often 'sketchy and superficial, or oversimplified. Although he quotes liberally from some of Davis' best known speeches in the Senate, he has not bothered to explain what was actually going on in the Senate while Davis was a member. What were the issues and measures in which Davis was most deeply interested? What did he do to forward them? What, besides the anti-slavery agitation, did he fight? What were his relationships with his fellow senators? How much inﬂuence did he have in the Senate? Mr. Strode gives us but little light on these questions.
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