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Jefferson Davis, American Paperback – November 13, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (November 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375725423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725425
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #241,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The title might seem odd, given that Jefferson Davis (1808-89) served as president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and never once, in the 34 years between the end of the war and his death, expressed any remorse for his part in the conflict that tore America apart. Yet, as historian William J. Cooper Jr. reminds us in his sober, comprehensive biography, Davis "saw himself as a faithful American ... a true son of the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers." Indeed, Davis's own father had fought in the Revolution, and Davis himself was a West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran. He declared January 21, 1861, "the saddest day of my life," as he resigned his U.S. Senate seat to follow his native state of Mississippi out of the Union; yet he also unflinchingly defended secession as a constitutionally guaranteed right. Cooper's measured portrait neither glosses over Davis's lifelong belief that blacks were inferior nor vilifies him for it: "My goal," he writes, "is to understand Jefferson Davis as a man of his time, not condemn him for not being a man of my time." The chapters on the Civil War show Davis intimately involved in military decisions, as well as in diplomatic attempts to gain foreign support for the Confederacy. Cooper acknowledges the irony of his subject--who interpreted the Constitution as strictly limiting federal authority--being forced by the war's exigencies to create a powerful, centralized Confederate government. Yet, this depiction of a forceful, self-confident Davis makes it clear that he never could have been anything but "a vigorous and potent chief executive." The author also paints an attractive picture of a warm family man who was devoted to his strong-minded wife and their children. Neither hagiography nor hatchet job, this evenhanded work sees Jefferson Davis whole. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Much has been written about Jefferson Davis, claims Cooper (The American South, etc.), professor of history at Louisiana State University, and most of it is negative. Instead of viewing Davis strictly through a modern lens, Cooper has set out to understand Davis as "a man of his time who had a significant impact on his time, and thus on history" and to "not condemn him for not being a man of my time." Davis was born in Kentucky in 1808 and attended Transylvania University in Lexington. In 1824, he left the South for West Point, graduated in 1828 with a commission as Brevet Second Lieutenant and went on to a noteworthy career as a hero of the Mexican War and an able statesman. Davis served as secretary of war under President Pierce and then as a U.S. senator from Mississippi. Indeed, Cooper notes, many thought Davis would be president one day. Always believing himself a firm supporter of the Constitution and a true patriot, Davis trusted in the sovereign rights of states ("he looked to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John C. Calhoun as the great explicators of states' rights and strict construction, of the proper understanding of the nation and the Constitution"), which included the right to own slaves if a state so chose. Although Davis did not initially favor secession, he believed the Confederacy's goals to be consistent with the America he honored, and was proud to serve as the president of the Confederacy. Previous accounts of Davis's life have argued that he was basically an incompetent leader; some even have suggested that the failure of the Confederacy was, at the core, Davis's fault. But here Davis appears much like any other leader, possessing both strengths and weaknesses. In the already cluttered field of Civil War history, Cooper's is the definitive biography; readers will be particularly pleased to discover the compelling power of his narrative. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The book is well researched and well written, and the style is highly readable.
Rheumor
Author William J Cooper Jr did an outstanding job in bringing this tragic American Icon to life with all his charm and flaws.
Paul Hosse
Nonetheless, there is enough good material here to rate it around four-and-a-half stars, which I round up here to five.
mrliteral

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 67 people found the following review helpful By SWAMP FOX on November 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Cooper, who has written a number of fine books about the Civil War and the South, has produced what is certainly far and away the best available biography of Davis, an intelligent, extremely hard-working military leader and very successful Mississippi politician who will always suffer by comparison to the far greater lights of R.E. Lee and Lincoln. The author pulls no punches about Davis' weakness for certain favorite generals, his inability to exercise his critical faculties when dealing with inadequate generals such as John Pemberton of Vicksburg fame who were, he felt, strongly devoted to the cause, as well as his calamitous command decisions relating to the war in Tennessee and Georgia, involving the trio of Bragg, Joe Johnston, and Hood, but he puts a human face on the man and his family life, including, at times, difficulties with his independent-thinking wife, Varina, who was happiest in the 1850s when Davis was Secretary of War and U.S. Senator, and with his older brother, Joseph. Davis' longstanding health problems are also fairly addressed. Like his fellow Southerner Jimmie Carter, Davis was a micromanager, both in the War Department in Washington and in leading the Confederate military machine, but it is hard to see how a more inspiring, out-going leader than Davis could have made a difference in the ultimate lost cause of the Confederacy. Cooper also does an excellent job describing Davis' theories of constitutional government. Perhaps the high point of the book, however, is Oscar Wilde's visit to Davis towards the end of Davis' life; surely, Wilde was mocking when he said Davis was the person he most wanted to meet during his American lecture tour, but the two actually did meet. Given Davis' stuffy puritanism and lack of humor, and Wilde's dandyism and wit, the two were the ultimate Odd Couple. (Varina naturally loved Wilde's cosmopolitan wit.)
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
William J. Cooper has taken one of the most confused and often misjudged figures in American history and written a very detailed and entertaining portrayal of the first and only President of the Confederate States. Many people would be surprised to find out that in the antebellum south, Jefferson Davis was a staunch Unionist and adamantly opposed secession until he had no other choice and was literally thrown into the presidency of the Confederate States of America, whether he liked it or not.
Cooper is careful not to glorify or demean Davis in any way. The Confederate president definitely had his flaws, the most prominent of which was his undying support of slavery.
Between all the positives and negatives, Jefferson Davis was a man of his time. If you are a civil war buff or just someone who wants to read a very well written piece of work on American history, Jefferson Davis, American is highly recommended.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Phillips on November 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book would be an easy five star choice except for the end. A little info about Mrs. Davis' life following Davis' death would have been nice. Otherwise I think Mr. Cooper has made a great contribution to the study of the Confederacy.
In our modern age Jefferson Davis' legacy has been tarnished by the rush to be politically correct. This book gets back to the real man. The man who got in boyish trouble in school and at West Point, the man who fathfully served his country, and the man who suffered through the loss of several of his children. This book shows us the Jefferson Davis who was the product of his times. This book also shows us a man who was deeply troubled by the storm he saw coming but who deep in his heart and soul believed secession was a legal right. No matter how his beliefs fair by today's standards he stood for his beliefs and gave up all that he had for the "cause".
Cooper has brought to us a true snapshot of Jefferson Davis and for that we owe him a great debt. This book should be required reading in all college courses dealing with the civil war or antibellum south.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Rheumor on March 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is well researched and well written, and the style is highly readable. Having said that, it's not an engrossing book that's hard to put down either. Nonetheless, I plodded through it over a month and I am glad I did. Jefferson Davis remains an enigma to most Americans; how could someone who had studied at West Point, served in our military, been a Senator and a Cabinet officer lead a rebellion against the very nation he professed to love for so long? The book reveals the answer and makes a convincing argument that Davis neither hated The United States of America nor loved the vile institution of slavery. In his view, and perhaps in the view of many if not most of his Southern contemporaries, the largest viable sovereign political entity was the State, not the Union. Put simply, Davis was a Mississippian, and as long as Mississippi chose to associate itself with the other states of the Union, so too would Davis. But he believed very deeply in the Jeffersonian principle of decentralized government, and Federal mandates were an affront to his interpretation of the Constitution. The book makes his case admirably and tells the story of that period from an interesting perspective. It will not disappoint the reader whose views may be different than those of Mr. Davis.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Thomas W. Robinson on November 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
With so many reviews already, it is hard to add much so I'll keep this short and sweet. This is a great book and the seminal biography of Davis. Historians will be hard pressed to top Cooper's work. The book on the years preceding the Civil War were, at times, not overly inspiring, but the chapters on the war years and Davis' post-war life more than made up for it. Page turning reading and solid research to boot. This book is the best kind of history--readable, entertaining, yet solidly researched and educational as well. Having read other books that discussed Davis in varying capacities, I feel like I have a much better grasp on Davis the man than ever before. Highly recommended for any and all history buffs.
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