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Jefferson Davis, Federalism, and Consensual Government

In the modern world, we are encouraged to demonize certain individuals and idolize others. For years, those who control the narrative have promoted Abraham Lincoln as an individual to be admired and, sometimes even lionized. As a proponent of centralized power and government/corporate partnerships, Lincoln had and still has many like-minded supporters. Lincoln has also been lauded for his role in ending slavery despite the fact he supported the Corwin Amendment, favored colonization most of his life, and admitted the Emancipation Proclamation (which had no constitutional basis) was strictly a “war measure.” Also omitted is the allegation that Lincoln owned and sold slaves, a subject covered in Kevin Orlin Johnson’s The Lincolns in the White House: Slanders, Scandals, and Lincoln’s Slave Trading Revealed. After Lincoln’s death, Rev. William Barton, Robert Todd Lincoln, William H. Townsend and other apologists destroyed or concealed records of many of his activities and misdeeds. Much of the Lincoln legacy is, in reality, a myth.

On the other end of the spectrum, Jefferson Davis has been designated as someone to demonize. Davis was an agrarian who believed in State sovereignty and voluntary Union, and he had slaves. Although most people consider present-day and past slavery to be nefarious, Davis was known for his leniency. For example, on Davis’ Brierfield plantation (Mississippi), many overseers were Black and there was a sense of order and efficiency. Davis relied on Black plantation managers such as James Pemberton and Ben Montgomery to maintain productive operations. Echoing the philosophy of Davis’ older brother, Joseph, both corporal punishment and overworking were prohibited, the slaves were well fed, and “A slave jury judged slave transgressions, with Davis often commuting severe sentences.”

Although a Democrat, Davis could be described as a “Jeffersonian republican.” In the mold of agrarians, e.g., Thomas Jefferson and John Taylor of Caroline, this political philosophy supports federalism (States’ Rights) and decentralized power, whereas, Lincoln consistently advocated centralized power, central banking, corporate welfare, and protectionism. Davis was a traditional conservative and Lincoln, like many Republicans of his era, was a political leftist—despite the rantings of modern neoconservatives and folks like the “neoconish” Lincoln-lover Mark Levin. Socialists (including National Socialists), fascists, communists, etc., revere Abe Lincoln and despise decentralized government. Over time, Democrats have changed dramatically whereas the Republican Party is pretty much the same as it was from the beginning.

In 1846, Davis identified the only source of the federal government’s power: “I answer, it is the creature of the States; as such it could have no inherent power, all it possesses was delegated by the States.” Davis understood the States, i.e., the people of the individual States, are sovereign. The federal or general government is not sovereign; it is simply the agent of the States.

Echoing the Declaration of Independence, Davis maintained his belief in secession, stating, “the supremacy of the truths on which the Union was founded…I shall die, as I have lived, firm in the States’ rights faith.” Davis understood secession is a reserved right of the people of the individual States and that government that does not represent its constituents is illegitimate. Davis made this argument during his Farewell Address in the Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 1861: “I hope the time may come again, when a better comprehension of the theory of our Government, and the inalienable rights of the people of the States, will prevent any one from denying that each State is a sovereign, and thus may reclaim the grants which it has made to any agent whomsoever.”

Davis went on to say:

“Then, Senators, we recur to the compact which binds us together; we recur to the principles upon which our Government was founded; and when you deny them, and when you deny to us the right to withdraw from a Government which thus perverted threatens to be destructive of our rights, we but tread in the path of our fathers when we proclaim our independence, and take the hazard. This is done not in hostility to others, not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit; but from the high and solemn motive of defending and protecting the rights we inherited, and which it is our sacred duty to transmit unshorn to our children.”

Post-war, Davis was asked about a pardon. He responded, “If it were all to do over again, I would again do just as I did in 1861.” Believing in consensual government is very American and requires no pardon. That American precedent was validated when the colonies seceded from the British Empire. There is no wonder why there is an effort to “cancel” Davis and others who believe in the “radical” idea of government by consent.

Sources: “Jefferson Davis’ Farewell Address,” Senate Chamber, U.S. Capitol, January 21, 1861 The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Rice University, at: https://jeffersondavis.rice.edu/Content.aspx?id=87; “The Declaration of Independence,” Thomas Jefferson, at ushistory.org; Jefferson Davis—The Unforgiven, by Grady McWhiney, Beauvoir Press, 1989; Union At All Costs: From Confederation to Consolidation, by John M. Taylor; “10 Things You May Not Know About Jefferson Davis,” by Christopher Klein, History.net at: https://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-jefferson-davis; “Abraham Lincoln Is a Hero of the Left,” by Matthew E. Stanley, Jacobin, at: https://jacobin.com/2023/02/abraham-lincoln-historical-memory-american-left-emancipation-of-labor-racial-justice; Jefferson Davis’ birthday is June 3rd and has been recognized in Alabama since 1901; NOTE: In the “Woke Marxist” world we live in, even the great centralizers, e.g., Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, etc., do not always escape criticism.

 

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