Jefferson Davis, President of the South

by H. J. Eckenrode. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1923. 12mo. xii + 371 pp. $2.50.
ALTOGETHER an unconventional presentation of Jefferson Davis and the War of Secession, written in terms of race. For Mr. Eckenrode looks upon the South as Nordic with the desire to become tropical and upon the North as Nordic about to be submerged by the flood of foreign immigration. He seeks to interpret Jefferson Davis in action and character, and records his conclusions with the detachment of a judge.
Davis’s West Point education gave a twist to his judgment of men that influenced him greatly in the war, for later he had a strong appreciation of West Point men. Resigning from the army, he became a planter, but, though he showed capacity, his ambitions turned to politics. On the plantation his habits were fixed for life and, not having experienced that wholesome contact with men to correct faults, his seclusion and close attention to books developed the idealist and also the egoist. Opportunity and popular favor in the war with Mexico gave an exaggerated idea of his military capacity and led to his election to the United States Senate. In that body he was counted as favoring extreme slavery and States’ rights policies. He resigned, to combat the Compromise of 1850, was defeated, and became Secretary of War in Pierce’s cabinet. He there exercised the love of detail which reduced his efficiency as President.
Secession was caused, the author holds, by the ‘antagonism of the tropic Nordicism of the lower South for the meddling, non-Nordic industrial civilization of the North.’ A difference in social or economic systems, leading to different political aims, and the desire of a minority to govern itself, resulted in trial of a monarchical form of republic, with Davis as its President, chosen to that office for his military reputation.
The war followed, and Mr. Eckenrode shows how the character of this neurotic and scholarly executive developed and failed, because of his want of foresight and knowledge of human nature and his inability as a political leader. He always stood much alone, was never popular or the head of a party, and the favorable impressions made immediately upon his election wore off as the contest displayed his failings.
In discussing the war, Mr. Eckenrode raises many debatable questions and gives evidence of a close study of material. Davis committed many errors and sacrificed policies to his private grudges. He adopted drifting in 1861, and Bull Run was not properly followed up; he lost the chances of constituting a credit in Europe through the sale of cotton and by it of gaining European aid; he alienated the politicians and the State Governments; after Missionary Ridge he lost the confidence of the people of the South; the Confederate Congress turned upon him. It would be easy to extend the list and Mr. Eckenrode does not spare him. As President, Davis bore the responsibility for all the failures and final downfall of the Confederacy. On the other hand, the credit for successes went to others. In spite of his defects, he showed qualities that commend him. He fought a losing cause, for no success could be other than temporary. A republic based upon slavery was an affront to civilization and would never have been accepted.
The book is worthy of study and offers novel views on men and measures.