Jefferson Davis, His Life and Personality

by Morris Schaff. Boston: John W. Luce & Co. 1922. 12mo, viii + 277 pp. $3.00.
GENERAL SCHAFF’S fairness, his broad understanding of conditions and motives, his large human sympathy, which has done so much to bring North and South together, are again apparent in this book, so different in its attitude from some historical works that have recently been published in the South.
General Schaff has little difficulty in exonerating Davis from the extreme charges most frequently brought against him in the North. He was not a deliberate traitor, a double-tongued conspirator, who coolly trifled with his pledged loyalty to the Union to gratify his own personal aspirations. He was a high-minded, patriotic gentleman, to whom patriotism simply meant something different from what was understood by it on the other side of Mason and Dixon’s line. General Schaff also puts the Confederate president’s relation to the prisoners of war in its true light, showing that it was not Davis, but the tragic, inevitable circumstances, which were responsible for all the misery and wretchedness.
In fact, Davis’s career and achievement were more open to criticism from the Southern point of view than from the Northern. The president was a man of lofty intelligence, of far-reaching statesmanship. But he was ill-fitted to deal with men. As General Schaff aptly remarks, ‘ Lincoln knew his fellow men far, far better than Davis, and he also knew far better than he how to strike the tender chords of their nature.’ It is one of the many glories of Robert E. Lee that he was able to work with his superiors successfully. But men of lesser power and ability, like Joe Johnston and Beauregard and Toombs, were in constant friction with the president, and the public service suffered. It is also true that Davis’s somewhat positive and willful temper preferred to surround itself with second-rate figures, like Benjamin and Seddon, who would do his bidding like clerks rather than mould and guide him like counselors. Yet, after all, we judge men too much by mere success or failure. General Schaff thinks, perhaps rightly, that the task undertaken by Davis would have been impossible for any man and that few could have attempted it more bravely or failed with more dignity and selfabnegation.
I could wish that General Sehaff’s limits of space had allowed him to develop Mrs. Davis a little more fully. She was a fascinating woman, and when Dr. Dunbar Rowland prints the material he has been gathering for so long, both she and her husband will be known to us in the richer detail which they so fully deserve.
Meantime we should be grateful to General Schaff for doing scholarly and thoughtful justice to a much misrepresented and misunderstood, but essentially lofty, noble, and tragic figure.