This piece is published in honor of Davis’s birthday, June 3.
With unaffected distrust of my ability to meet the demands of such a great hour as this, I rejoice to be again on the beautiful campus of my alma mater, and have the opportunity of bringing a message to the young men of my country. And as this commencement day chances to be the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis, the most illustrious citizen whose name ever adorned and enriched the annals of Mississippi, I have had the temerity to select his Life and Times as the theme of this hour’s discussion. To paint, with skillful hand, the full length portrait of that majestic man, or adequately portray the qualities that gave him greatness and the virtues that make him immortal, I cannot; but, with you, I can reverently sit at his feet and listen to a story that will stir within us many a noble aspiration, and cause us to seek more diligently the old paths of manly honor and high endeavor. My purpose is not to indulge in extravagant or indiscriminate eulogy, but, if possible, give a judicial estimate of a great man who was the most commanding figure in a fierce and eventful national crisis. It shall be alike removed from unreasoning censure and unreasonable praise. We need not deify Mr. Davis, or disproportionately exalt the pedestal on which the Genius of History will surely place him, in order to show adequate appreciation of his noble character and splendid genius.
On the other hand, the use of bitter invective and lurid superlatives about this man of destiny, may evidence literary ingenuity and partisan malignity, but can never any more command the respect of patriotic, thoughtful students of our national history. The days of malignant vituperation are gone, and the time of judicial interpretation has come. It is not necessary now to “measure all facts by considerations of latitude and longitude.” The character and life work of Jefferson Davis were never so diligently and dispassionately studied as to-day. War-passions have sufficiently cooled, and war-clouds have so floated forth our national skies that even the most ardent and sentimental nationalist can study the man and his times in a clear, white light. A citizen whose moral and religious ideals were the most exalted, and whose daily conduct was sought to be modeled after the Man of Galilee, and whose life has in it as little to explain or apologize for, as any leader in American politics, can never be caricatured as a monster or condemned as a traitor, and have anybody really believe it.
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