On Wednesday night, I heard an interesting talk about Jefferson Davis. Lynda Crist, the editor of the Jefferson Davis Association, delivered the short lecture to our weekly meeting at the New York Civil War Roundtable. Ms. Crist has spent much of her working life studying and editing the papers of the Confederate President.
Naturally, she delivered some interesting tidbits about him that I never knew. First, I was never aware of what she called "his ecumenical spirit." He counted two Jews, Alfred Mordechai and Judah Benjamin, among his closest friends. His religious tolerance also extended to Catholics and he even sent one of his daughters to a Catholic boarding school. He held these attitudes at a time when there was no requirement to be tolerant of anyone.
Ms. Crist characterized Davis as a "micromanager." She explained his diversion into the minutiaie of government as one of his few means of affecting the course of affairs.
Ms. Crist constantly used the phrase "He knew" when she talked about his relationships with the key military figures in the Confederacy. Due to his period in the US Army and in politics, he had formed relationships with almost all of the subsequent Confederate military leaders. I asked her if that familiarity was a detriment to his leadership. She made the interesting point that Davis had no choice but to draw on that familiarity because he had to form a new government and army in a matter of months.
She also described Davis as a dazzling story teller in private. Until now, I had a hard time imagining him as a dazzling anything. However, she has read his papers. I'll take her word on it.
In addition, her lecture provided an interesting revelation into Davis's attitude toward public service. She mentioned that he was not happy as a politician yet he persevered in public life for years. Obviously, he was from the planter class in his state and felt a duty to serve, even if he didn't enjoy it. This is in stark contrast to people today. If we don't like our work or career, we change jobs or vocations.
Overall, Ms. Crist gave myself and the members of the Roundtable some new insight into the man. As a person who grew up learning that Davis was the Antichrist serving the Devil, it was interesting to see him as a decent man whose cause you or may not agree with.