Jefferson Davis’ Evolved Beliefs on ‘Property’

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Jefferson Davis, the former President of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, evolved in many aspects during and after the war. One area in which Jefferson Davis evolved most was in regards to a slave solely being deemed property and being treated as such. Jefferson Davis attested in August of 1848 that “Slaves being recognized as property by the Constitution of the United States,” were not to be “discriminate[d] between that and any other species of property” (Cooper, Jefferson Davis 69-71). He explains that the fore-fathers fought to protect institutions such as slavery and he would not give up something his father had bled for, and if provoked, civil war would ensue (Cooper, 76).

In 1864, the many casualties due to General Grant’s Overland campaign, and the fall of strategic footholds in the south such as Atlanta, Mobile Bay, and the Shenandoah valley proved devastation on morale and enlistment. In response to this and the loss of more than fifty percent of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Jefferson Davis called for the “employment of slaves for service with the army” (Cooper, 352). While the slaves were to serve in support roles, Jefferson Davis made a very clear statement. He states in November of 1864, that while slaves were “viewed merely as property…The slave, however, bears another relation to the state – that of a person” (Cooper, 352). After years of fighting the civil war and delving through periods from expectations of victory, to attempts at negotiating peace; Jefferson Davis’ beliefs evolved on the issue of a slave’s place in society and whether they were solely property.

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