June 3 of this year is the two-hundred and eleventh anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis. Born in Kentucky in 1808, actually not far from the birthplace of his future nemesis, Abraham Lincoln, Davis in another time might have risen to become in his own right a celebrated president of the United States. As it was, it was his thankless duty to captain the forlorn Confederacy through four years of tragic and bloody war which saw the end not only of the society and culture he loved, but, in effect, the practical end of the old constitutional republic originally set up by the Founders.
From a good family and with advantages that augured well for future prominence, Davis at an early age demonstrated both leadership potential and intelligence. Like many other well-bred Southern boys of the period, he received a superb classical education. In 1815 Davis entered the of Saint Thomas Catholic school at St. Rose Priory, a school operated by the Dominican Order in Washington County, Kentucky. At the time, he was the only Protestant student (he was an Episcopalian) at the school. As a boy he desired to enter the Church, but his age and family argued against it. Nevertheless, he would carry a strong affection and love for the Catholic Church throughout his life.
His famous war time correspondence with Pope Pius IX, an inveterate foe of liberalism in any form who was pro-Confederate, is famous, and indicates that the pope recognized Davis as de facto head of the Confederate States of America. In his correspondence the pope refers to Davis as the “Illustrious and Honorable President,” an implied recognition of the Confederate government. Responding to Davis’s expressed desire to find a just resolution to the conflict raging between the Confederacy and the North, Pope Pius finishes a letter to the Confederate leader acknowledging that there were, in fact, two separate governments in America: “May it please God,” wrote the pontiff, “at the same time to make the other peoples of America and their rulers…receive and embrace the counsel of peace and tranquility,” as Davis did.
After the conclusion of the war, while Davis was a prisoner in Fortress Monroe, Virginia, the pope addressed to Davis correspondence demonstrating his great sympathy for the Confederate president. The Blessed Pius IX sent a picture of himself to Jefferson Davis with the hand-written inscription: “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” [“Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis, et ego reficiam vos, dicit Dominus” – St. Matthew 11:28] Associated with the famous communication from Pius IX is the equally famous “Crown of Thorns,” for the longest time believed to have been woven by the pope and also remitted to Davis. Davis’s major biographer, Hudson Strode, accepted that account as the correct one.
Yet detailed research by a more modern biographer, Felicity Allen in her Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart, reveals that the crown was most likely woven by Varina Davis. Records donated by the New Orleans Confederate museum and now housed in the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane University (Rare Books and Manuscripts Division) indicate that both the autographed photograph of Blessed Pius IX and the crown were originally donated, according to the inventory, in 1891: “The Pope sent this picture to Jefferson Davis whilst a prisoner at Fortress Monroe. Accompanying the picture is a crown of thorns made by Mrs. Davis that hung above it in Mr. Davis’ study.” [Quoted by Felicity Allen from correspondence with Tulane University, August 6, 1985; see for extensive detail: Jeff Davis's Crown of Thorns.]
Unfounded rumors abounded both during and after the war that Davis had converted clandestinely. But he remained an Episcopalian throughout his life. Nevertheless, the sympathy for the Confederacy and its president shown by the pope and the Catholic Church during the war were clear. Robert E. Lee, pointing to his own portrait of Pius IX, told a visitor that he was “the only sovereign…in Europe who recognized our poor Confederacy.”
Although Davis’s tenure at the helm of the Confederacy receives by far the most attention historically, his pre-war career was truly illustrious: A West Point graduate, Davis distinguished himself in the Mexican-American War as a colonel of the Mississippi Rifles volunteer regiment, and as United States Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. Both before and after his time in the Pierce administration, he served as a US Senator from Mississippi. As senator, he argued against secession but believed each state had an unquestionable and constitutional right to secede for just cause from the voluntary Union of the Founders, just as they had seceded from England seeking political liberty. Davis resigned from the Senate in January 1861 after receiving word that his State of Mississippi had voted to leave the Union.
Davis explained his actions saying:
“[T]o me the sovereignty of the State was paramount to the sovereignty of the Union. And I held my seat in the Senate until Mississippi seceded and called upon me to follow and defend her. Then I sorrowfully resigned the position in which my State had placed me and in which I could no longer represent her, and accepted the new work. I was on my way to Montgomery when I received, much to my regret, the message that I had been elected provisional President of the Confederate States of America.
Davis had been a patriotic American who tried to save the Founders’ republic from Northern revolutionaries, and who reluctantly departed the Union with the old constitution intact to form a “more perfect Union.” He contended that he would rather be out of the Union with the Constitution than to be in the Union without the Constitution. The Southern States, he stated, seceded not to defend slavery but in order to save the Constitution of the Founders. Davis remarked in July 1864:
“I tried in all my power to avert this war. I saw it coming, and for 12 years, I worked night and day to prevent it, but I could not. The North was mad and blind; it would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came, and now it must go on till the last man of this generation falls in his tracks, and his children seize the musket and fight our battle, unless you acknowledge our right to self-government. We are not fighting for slavery. We are fighting for Independence, and that, or extermination, we will have . . . Slavery never was an essential element. It was the only means of bringing other conflicting elements to an earlier culmination. It fired the musket which was already capped and loaded. There are essential differences between the North and the South that will, however this war may end, make them two nations.
At the end of the War, when a fellow traveler remarked that the cause of the Confederates was lost, Davis replied: “It appears so. But the principle for which we contended is bound to reassert itself, though it may be at another time and in another form.”
Davis was critical of the Gilded Age corruption and political ignorance of the United States Constitution. In 1881 he remarked: “Of what value then are paper constitutions and oaths binding officers to their preservation, if there is not intelligence enough in the people to discern the violations; and virtue enough to resist the violators?”
President Davis was never indicted for treason. He demanded a fair trial in order to argue the constitutionality of the South’s actions in 1860-1861. This was denied by his Jacobin tormenters, and the reason was revealed by Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Salmon P. Chase, in 1867. Chase admitted that:
“If you bring these leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution, secession is not a rebellion. His [Jefferson Davis] capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one. We cannot convict him of treason.” [quoted by Herman S. Frey, in Jefferson Davis, 1977, pp. 69-72]
President Davis died on December 6, 1889. In death as in life, citizens across the South mourned his passing and honored him as their champion.
In 1893 his body was transported by funeral train to Richmond where he was interred at Hollywood Cemetery. At each stop thousands of mourners, white and black, paid respects. In Raleigh historic photographs show a mammoth procession down Fayetteville Street. My grandfather (on my mother’s side), then a thirteen year old apprentice, stood along the street paying respects to Davis, and he would, sixty-seven years later, recount that moving and indelible experience to me, his young grandson.
Our traditions do not really die. Sometimes, under attack, they remain dormant, to be re-awakened by new generations that re-discover them and the supreme importance that they have played, and can continue to play, in our lives, if we let them.
That’s right: It is time to disestablish our public school system, sell or lease the public school facilities to various independent associations (e.g., family groups, churches, corporations, etc.), and use the tax monies as vouchers for parents for their school age children so they may go where parents judge best.
It’s time, it’s right, and it’s necessary if the nation and our state survive.
Back on Wednesday, May 1, thirty-four public school systems in North Carolina closed for a day in the middle of the week so that teachers and support staff could travel to the state capital Raleigh to engage in an organized mass demonstration titled “Red 4 Ed.” The rally was organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE)—and the object was to demand that state legislators give them large salary raises and additional benefits for their work in and out of the classroom. Dressed out in red T-shirts with a Marxist-style clenched fist emblazoned on the front, participants partially surrounded the State Legislative building and screamed out their demands. Some demonstrators at this “non-partisan” rally held signs demanding Medicaid expansion (a hot political issue in the state General Assembly) and, of course, “gun control” (e.g., “more funds, less [sic!] guns” a sign read—hopefully, this placard was not created by an English teacher!!). And anti-Trump sentiment was
also present, if mostly just below the surface.
Raleigh Police estimated that “fewer than 19,000” attended the May 1 rally, fewer than the rally held on May 1 last year. Yet, the loquacious leftwing Mark Jewell, President of the NCAE, estimated the total at 30,000, going so far as to tweet out a highly doctored photograph attempting to prove his assertion; when called out for his dishonesty by others and by other photographers, Jewell conveniently deleted his post [“How big was the teacher’s rally? NC education leader posted an altered crowd photo,” The News & Observer, May 2, 2019]
Among the speakers at the rally was the irrepressible black extremist and radical social justice advocate the Reverend William Barber who
…wrapped up the rally, giving his first speech on the grounds since he was banned from the property after a [violent] protest in 2017. A judge recently lifted the restriction, specifically denying a prosecutor’s request that Barber be kept away at least until after the teachers rally, because he tends to draw a crowd. “They didn’t want me to come,” Barber told the crowd, “but it looks like they’ve got a bigger problem than me.” Barber told the teachers, teacher assistants, nurses, counselors, custodians and other school workers who stood in the sun that they were right — morally, legally, constitutionally and religiously — to stand where legislators could hear them and demand better treatment. “It’s time to teach them a lesson,” he said again and again, to the teachers’ cheers. Barber especially praised the group’s solidarity, advocating not only for themselves but for each other and the students…“Together,” he said, “we will turn North Carolina around.” [For the second year, teachers march through Raleigh demanding more education funding, News & Observer, May 1, 2019.]
Interestingly, the average salary (as of March 2019) for a public school teacher in North Carolina comes in at $53,975, and the General Assembly is proposing the restoration of extra pay for advanced degrees and pay raises ranging from 1 percent or $500 for school support staff to 4.6 percent for teachers, 6.3 percent for assistant principals and 10 percent for principals. The Republican-sponsored budget would bring teacher pay to $55,600 by 2020. Such figures are actually higher than what the average North Carolinian makes per year: $52,752 (by 2017 figures). Thus, teachers currently average $1,223 more per annum than the average Tar Heel makes.
Yet this is not seen as anywhere nearly sufficient by the unionized NCAE which is joined at the hip to the state Democratic Party. The NCAE is demanding a $15 minimum wage for school support staff, a five percent raise for all school employees and a five percent cost of living adjustment for retirees; Medicaid expansion statewide; and the hiring of “thousands of additional staff psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals” to meet the “national standard.” In reality, this effort was little more than politics at its worse: using teachers as pawns in a larger battle against the Republican legislature. No doubt, if the GOP General Assembly were to raise all salaries by $10,000, there would still be rancorous complaints from the NCAE and its minions.
One friend, a retired educator and college professor, remarked that given the state of public education in North Carolina, were our public school system a private business, probably half of those teachers would be terminated for ineptitude and inability to perform their jobs. Of course, there are many dedicated public school teachers who deserve our appreciation and support—but could they not do even better if not weighed down by excess bureaucracy and unqualified fellow personnel?
That comment is no exaggeration when you consider the relative success of the operation of charter schools in the state (cf., Lindsay Marchello, “A Public Decision: School Choice has a Long History in North Carolina,” Carolina Journal, May 2019, pp. 1 et seq.). The Raleigh Charter High School, for example, ranks as one of the top high schools in the United States, and it achieves that without an expensive sports program, without a cafeteria serving three meals a day, without an auditorium, and without all the additional “support staff” deemed so necessary by public educators.
Our public school system has increasingly become not so much a vehicle for educating our children as rather a massive Petri dish in which to incubate future social and cultural revolutionaries who are “woke” to the perceived “crises” in the environment, to the “white racism” inherent in our history and societal structures, to the misogyny and “toxic masculinity” which has oppressed women (and the LGBTQ community), and to the absolute imperative to “overthrow” the institutionalized “prejudice” and “inequality” that characterize our society and our republic.
Thus, any opposition to such demonstrations as we saw on May 1, even the slightest demurrer or questioning of the basic premises of such manifestations and demands is met with shrieking accusations—the same ones we are now accustomed to hear regarding so many other issues—about race, gender, prejudice, equality and “right-wing extremism.”
Here, for example, is long-time Democrat strategist and former special assistant to Democrat Governor Jim Hunt, Gary Pearce, making those accusations:
…why the anti-teacher, anti-public-school rhetoric and action? There are five reasons: race, religion, ideology, politics and – as is so often the case in politics – money….Under Trump, the Republican Party is dominated by rural, high-school-educated whites. Hostility to “race-mixing” still runs strong….Sometimes this is camouflage for race, and sometimes its [sic] sincere conviction. The Supreme Court not only struck down school segregation, it “took God and prayer out of the schools”….The Republican Party today holds to a rigid right-wing ideology that is rabidly anti-government….The rise of anti-public-school politics coincides with the rise of an ultra-wealthy, ultra-reactionary oligarchy…who have deployed their wealth to shape politics, dictate policy and reshape society in a way that serves their own selfish interests at the expense of most Americans.
The message is clear: if you in any way oppose the full demands of the educational establishment—the real oligarchy—and the Democratic Party, you must be a racist, a bigot, an intolerant Christian fanatic, or somehow connected to “ultra-reactionary, ultra-wealthy oligarchs”—and one of those unenlightened “rural, high-school-educated whites”! (Notice the dripping ill-concealed condescension.)
And you should just shut up. Got that?
Fascinating: back in 1981 it was a critical phone call by Pearce that assisted me in getting a full time position (initially pretty low paying, but it was still a job) with the Department of Cultural Resources. But in 1981, it seems, Pearce had not yet “evolved” into the raving social justice fanatic he apparently is now, and the old Democrat Party still had room for folks with traditional ideas about merit over race and gender.
Over 140 years ago the great Southern theologian, essayist, and critic Robert Lewis Dabney prophesied the future failure of public education in a series of essays he penned for Planter and Farmer magazine and later for the Richmond Enquirer (1876). State-run education imposed an unnatural equality on students and exposed the school system to ideological manipulation by “demagogues, who are in power for a time, in the interests of their faction.” “Providence, social laws, and parental virtues and efforts, do inevitably legislate in favor of some classes of boys,” he declared. “If the State undertakes to countervail that legislation of nature by leveling action, the attempt is wicked, mischievous, and futile.” The older system of largely private education left “the school as the creature of the parents, and not of the state….This old system evinced its wisdom by avoiding the pagan, Spartan theory, which makes the State the parent. It left the parent supreme in his God-given sphere, as the responsible party for providing and directing the education of his own offspring.” (R. L. Dabney, “The State Free School System,” reprinted in Dabney, Discussions, vol. IV, “Secular,” pp. 201-210)
So, yes, our legislature—and legislatures around the country—must continue the process of disestablishment: more charter schools, more support for home schoolers, more voucher programs, more parental control, with a final goal that our public school system—which is now serving as a vehicle for ideological and cultural indoctrination—be dismantled. Let newly-formed associations of parents, corporations (why not Duke Power, Red Hat, etc), church organizations, and others assume control of buildings and use them; why not take the tax monies collected and disperse them accordingly? Would this not be real school choice? And, if in some few cases, perhaps in some poorer counties, this would work less well, then certainly there would be no time limit in the process of disestablishment.
In the long run our students—our children—will be far better off, better educated, and better prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century. And the ideological incubation so prevalent today would, hopefully, in large part subside.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.