November 4, 2014 / by admin / American History / No Comments

Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back

Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back

Robert Penn Warren

Language: English

Pages: 49

ISBN: 0813114454

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Publish Year note: Originally published in 1980
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In 1979 Robert Penn Warren returned to his native Todd Country, Kentucky, to attend ceremonies in honor of another native son, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, whose United States citizenship had just been restored, ninety years after his death, by a special act of Congress. From that nostalgic journey grew this reflective essay on the tragic career of Jefferson Davis — "not a modern man in any sense of the word but a conservative called to manage what was, in one sense, a revolution."

Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back is also a meditation by one of our most respected men of letters on the ironies of American history and the paradoxes of the modern South.

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had been mystically converted. There was one poor casualty in the midst of the glory. Davis’s daughter Winnie (Varina Anne Jefferson Davis), now with her own burden of symbolism as “the Daughter of the Confederacy,” fell in love with a young man named Alfred Wilkinson. A successful lawyer in Syracuse, New York, he was refined, well educated, a gentleman with every virtue, every grace. He was a grandson of the Reverend Mr. Samuel J. May, an abolitionist, but now Wilkinson was visiting Beauvoir,

into law by President Carter. It cannot be said that enthusiasm for keeping the memory of the “outstanding American” green swept the country. The event made at best a brief news note on a back page—except, that is, in Todd County, Kentucky, where Davis was born. And even there, no doubt, the enthusiasm, in the face of inflation and gasoline prices and the struggle for daily bread, was generally confined to the local historical society, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Jefferson Davis

might do it after all—if he had that stuff that used to come sealed up in a quart fruit jar and looked like water but wasn’t. The master of the parade, thinking how long it had been since the repeal of the Volstead Act, was hard put to it. But he proposed a compromise: “Would some of that store-bought stuff that comes in a big, flat bottle, brown, not white, and stuck in a brown paper bag, the kind of stuff white folks drinks—would that do?” After weighing the question, the old man said yes, it

bronze cap on the peak of the monument back in 1924, and the speaker of the occasion—Dr. Holman Hamilton, professor of history emeritus at the University of Kentucky. A letter of regret from President Carter at not being able to attend and speak was read, as was a statement he made on signing the document that returned citizenship to Davis. Dr. Hamilton included in his main address a quotation from Davis blessing Kentucky on his last visit to Fairview, in 1886. And so the ceremony ended. IT is a

summer, when news of the far-off fighting was the general topic of adult conversation, I went again to Fairview—only once, I think. I did go back in the fall, though, to find that work had stopped. The government had belatedly decided that the monument was not essential to the war effort. For several years, work was suspended. Then, on June 1, 1924, a bronze cap was set on the summit. Certain diehard Confederates, it is said, had wanted to push on to surpass the Washington Monument, but the

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