Talk:Jefferson Davis

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Argued against secession?[edit]

The article claims that Davis "argued against secession." Isn't that rather inaccurate? For years prior to Lincoln's election, Davis had been a strong advocate for the secession of his state, Mississippi, should an abolitionist President be elected [1]. When Mississippi finally seceded, he rather clearly said in his farewell speech to the Senate that he agreed with the decision and even took credit for having brought it about [2]. I'm not sure on what basis the line in the article can be justified. And it might also be noteworthy to mention the reason he cited in his Senate speech for his support of secession, which was his rejection of "the theory that all men are created free and equal". Frellthat (talk) 12:43, 23 July 2015 (UTC)

Remove the passage then. (talk) 18:48, 27 July 2015 (UTC)
No, 1858 speech is now referenced to the National Park Service, “The Anti-Secessionist Jefferson Davis”, viewed July 27, 2015. TheVirginiaHistorian (talk) 03:19, 28 July 2015 (UTC)
Then keep[ it. (talk) 12:42, 28 July 2015 (UTC)
Did you read the speech? He's basically saying that the south will secede if the north doesn't stop agitating for abolition. It's not a very anti-secession speech at all. More like a "stop trying to abolish slavery or we're going to secede". "Speech at Boston, October 11, 1858" Moreover, he said very emphatically in his speech to the Mississippi legislature one month later that he did want Mississippi to secede if an abolitionist President was elected: “Speech to Mississippi Legislature, November 16, 1858”. I just don't think "he argued against secession" is an accurate summary of his views. It makes him sound like a reluctant secessionist. Frellthat (talk) 05:28, 30 July 2015 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Let's look at the speech you source, which sounds reluctant and bellicose as a good politician would have it. Davis anticipated a majority led by abolitionist Seward, then:

Were a majority "to seek by amending the Constitution, to pervert it from its original object,” of enshrining slavery, "I say to you here as I have said to the Democracy of New York, if it should ever come to pass that the Constitution shall be perverted...” … "Now, as in 1851, I hold separation from the Union by the State of Mississippi to be the last remedy—the final alternative.” Then, "Mississippi’s best and bravest should gather to the harvest-home of death." -- J. Davis before the Mississippi legislature, November 1858.

Of course, Lincoln was elected, not Seward, and he mentioned the proposed Amendment guaranteeing slavery against any such abolitionist majority in his inaugural address. The Civil War was unnecessary by the reasoning in these speeches. But once the Fire-Eaters began hijacking state governments, the Cooperationists felt they had no choice but war to guarantee the future of slavery. TheVirginiaHistorian (talk) 07:42, 30 July 2015 (UTC)

He actually put it much more simply: if an abolitionist was elected President, it would be their duty to secede:
"Whether by the House or by the people, if an Abolitionist be chosen president of the United States... I should deem it your duty to provide for your safety outside of a Union..." “Speech to Mississippi Legislature, November 16, 1858”
And then in 1861 when Mississippi did secede, he referred (in his farewell address) back to that speech and said that he still agreed with secession and even took credit for the decision to secede:
"I, however, may be permitted to say that I do think she has justifiable cause, and I approve of her act. I conferred with her people before that act was taken, counseled them then that if the state of things which they apprehended should exist when the convention met, they should take the action which they have now adopted." "Farewell Address to the US Senate, January 21, 1861"
I had to cut a lot out because dear God, that man was verbose. Frellthat (talk) 21:39, 30 July 2015 (UTC)

Okay, he was against secession before he was for it. No one said he was not a politician. “the state of things which they apprehended should exist” did not include a Constitutional amendment of abolition, nor an abolitionist President, nor an abolitionist majority in Congress, only a majority in Congress against the extension of slavery into the territories. The majority in Congress against the extension of slavery may have indeed become "justifiable cause" for him by 1861, or maybe the statehood of Kansas, or personal ambition, or he simply wanted to go along with his fellows. Hard to tell with politicians. But that was not the grounds laid out in 1858 when Davis favored union until and unless the Constitution were amended. TheVirginiaHistorian (talk) 09:29, 31 July 2015 (UTC)


Didn't flee in women's clothes?[edit]

The article denies the story of Davis attempting to flee Union soldiers while disguised in women's clothes, calling it a rumor. It seems fairly well supported by numerous eyewitnesses, including Davis's nephew and his wife, Varina Davis, as well as the soldiers present. Mrs. Davis said that she tried to get him past the troops by telling them he was her mother. All primary sources seem to agree on this with the exception of Davis himself, who claimed for the rest of his life that he never wore any clothing other than his own. Frellthat (talk) 13:45, 23 July 2015 (UTC)

Marriage photo of Jeff Davis and Varina Howell[edit]

I removed the photoshopped picture of Jeff Davis with is an obvious photo shop and has been floating around the internet for awhile. I'm distraught that this social desirability bias has gone on for so long. If you click the picture, the original writer (not I) sums up this debacle succinctly. (talk) 09:41, 8 September 2015 (UTC)

It's really curious to have two anonymous sources purportedly attesting to having posted "a more accurate" example of the daguerrotype. According to what authority and what source? This photo looks photoshopped itself. It isn't just social desirability bias that causes many viewers to think Varina Howell may have been of mixed race. This is the reaction of numerous people to the NYPL daguerrotype and other photos (including of her as an older woman). If so, her ancestry could be just another example of our complex, multi-racial American history. But that does not matter. The provenance of the NYPL daguerrotype is known; it was owned and donated by Howell's granddaughter. Aaccording to the Encyclopedia of VA, people in Richmond commented about Howell Davis, saying that she looked like a mulatto or Indian. Editors should not be speculating about the biases of people looking at these images; what about your own biases? Paul Heinegg in his Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware (also available on the Internet), has documented there were many families of free people of color established in Virginia before the Rev. War - and most were descended from white mothers.Parkwells (talk) 12:44, 17 March 2016 (UTC)
It is inappropriate to substitute an image that itself looks photoshopped for the original one in Wikimedia Commons from the NYPL, with its provenance documented. Parkwells (talk) 15:10, 17 March 2016 (UTC)
I restored the documented image of the daguerrotype from the NYPL, which has provenance. Also restored it in the Varina Davis article. Parkwells (talk) 15:22, 17 March 2016 (UTC)
The current version of the picture has obviously had its background obliterated, but that's not uncommon in old photographs. It looks to me like old work, not modern photoshopping. Note that, in a previous copy, one can see bits of the original background at the edges, suggesting that the background was physically (not digitally) airbrushed out while the picture was in a frame or mat. (The current copy has been cropped to eliminate these glimpses of the original background.)
If Varina Davis had African or Amerindian ancestry, and Jefferson Davis knew about it, that would probably be a notable fact (assuming it was supported by reliable authority); but it's worse than silly to make an issue (to what end, anyway?) merely on the basis of subjective impressions of her superficial appearance in a single photograph. J. D. Crutchfield | Talk 16:51, 17 March 2016 (UTC)
I agree. I've not been able to find sufficient documentation on her maternal ancestry. Varina Davis' biographer Joan Cashin (See Howell Davis article) found that her maternal grandmother Martha Graham (b. VA) would have been considered illegitimate, because her parents George Graham and Susan McAllister never married. Cashin's Davis biography won the Fletcher Pratt Award from the Civil War Roundtable of New York and was a finalist for three other prizes. Cashin also wrote that George Graham was a Scots-Irish immigrant. McAllister was born in VA at the end of the 18th century. By state law, if McAllister were known to be of mixed race, they would have been prohibited from marrying.Parkwells (talk) 19:03, 17 March 2016 (UTC)
Undid Vandalism. PBS uses the actual photo...not my opinion. Stop being ethnocentric. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:50, 3 July 2016 (UTC)
It is not vandalism or ethnocentric to use a photo from the New York Public Library that has documented provenance from Davis' family. This photo is more complete than the one the above editor keeps trying to substitute. The above anonymous editor has provided no cite to demonstrate that PBS has a better or more accurate photo than that of the NYPL, and is alleging incorrect intention to my changes.Parkwells (talk) 02:23, 3 July 2016 (UTC)

Stop being obscurantist. (talk) 15:10, 4 July 2016 (UTC)

It is not vandalism or being obscure to use a well-documented source, the New York Public Library, which has provenance for its image, donated by a descendant of Varina Howell. The Civil War Daily Gazette, an online interest group, has no basis for claiming it has a more accurate image. Stop the false accusations.Parkwells (talk) 15:21, 4 July 2016 (UTC)
This edit-warring and name-calling is objectionable and unencyclopedic. The differences between these two copies of the same daguerreotype are trivial at best. The anonymous IP editor's repeated accusations of "ethnocetrism" (read, racism) seem to indicate that she or he imagines some significant difference between the two copies, having to do with Varina Davis's ancestry; but he or she offers no argument in support of any such belief, nor any explanation as to why such a difference would be significant, if it existed. Parkwells supplies a copy with a reliable provenance, and the anonymous IP editor provides no justification for replacing it: we are commanded merely to accept his or her preference without any argument or authority to support it. If there's any "authoritarianism" in this embarrassing episode, that would seem to be an example.
The best available version of the photograph, as far as I'm aware, and as close to the "original" or "actual photo" as we're likely to get, is on the New York Public Library's web site, which identifies it as being "From a daguerreotype in the possession of their granddaughter, Mrs. George B. Webb, Colorado Springs, Colorado." That copy was evidently airbrushed (to obliterate the background) while in a frame or mat, which has since been removed (so that parts of the original background are visible), but no other alteration is suggested, and this was the copy preserved by the Davis family, who presumably knew what Mrs. Davis looked like. Neither of the copies being contended for entirely represents this copy, so I have taken the liberty of uploading it to the Commons and placing it in the article. I hope all concerned can accept this eminently authentic copy of the image. J. D. Crutchfield | Talk 18:58, 5 July 2016 (UTC)
Thank you for your assistance. I am glad to use this image from the NYPL with documented provenance and agree on your statement that it was preserved by the family (who should know) as representing Mrs. Davis. I have used this version in the Varina Howell article as well, replacing a now distorted version of the image.Parkwells (talk) 19:35, 5 July 2016 (UTC)

Variants on the Web[edit]

I note that in the course of responding to the foregoing discussion I have found at least three versions of the Davises' wedding photo, with regard to the appearance of Mrs. Davis's face. There is, of course, the version found on the NYPL web site, and now used in the article.

Second, there is this image, from the Getty Images web site, a smaller version of which is to the right.

Varina Davis.jpg

(It appears to me that both copies at issue in the late edit war were versions of this image.)

Third, there is this picture from Find-a-Grave. (I have not taken the trouble to upload the latter to the Commons.)

The third version is an obvious fake and doesn't resemble any other picture of Mrs. Davis. The first, to my eye, appears to have been manipulated, to exaggerate the breadth of her nose and the thickness of her lips. Note that the nose and mouth are not aligned with each other, or with the rest of her face. The second appears to me to be the most natural and symmetrical. Unfortunately, as far as we presently know, the first version has the better provenance, having reputedly come from Mrs. Davis's granddaughter, and must be presumed authentic (although, of course, it could still be a fake: there just isn't any evidence of that before us right now).

I have written to Getty Images, to see if they will provide any information concerning the provenance of their version. If I hear anything back from them, I'll report it here. J. D. Crutchfield | Talk 22:20, 5 July 2016 (UTC)

Restored sourced section[edit]

I restored the sourced section.

Many historians attribute the Confederacy's weaknesses to the leadership of President Davis.[1] His preoccupation with detail, reluctance to delegate responsibility, lack of popular appeal, feuds with powerful state governors, favoritism toward old friends, inability to get along with people who disagreed with him, neglect of civil matters in favor of military ones, and resistance to public opinion all worked against him.[2][3] Historians agree he was a much less effective war leader than his Union counterpart Abraham Lincoln.


  1. ^ Cooper 2008, pp. 3–4.
  2. ^ Wiley, Bell I. (January 1967). "Jefferson Davis: An Appraisal". Civil War Times Illustrated. 6 (1): 4–17. 
  3. ^ Escott 1978, pp. 197, 256–274.

TheVirginiaHistorian (talk) 07:29, 11 September 2015 (UTC)

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