Normal Americans —an increasinglyrnrare breed—will welcome this substantialrnvolume as a new literary and historicalrnclassic.rnThis is by no means the first biographyrnof Jefferson Davis, hi addition to his wife,rnVarina Howells I^avis, a long line of biographers,rnfriend and foe, have undertakenrnthe task, from Frank Alfriend’s fairmindedrnattempt in 1868 to Allen Tate’srnmalicious exercise in historical revisionismrnto Hudson Strode’s romantic and unscholarlyrnvolumes published in thern1950’s and 60’s. Historians and biographersrnhave not, on the whole, been kindrnto Mr. Davis, or even just. The patternrnwas set, immediately after the War Betweenrnthe States, when newspapermanrnE.A. Pollard published his vindication ofrnthe South, The Lost Cause. As Felicit)’rnAllen points out. Pollard wanted to provernthat the South was right and that therncause was only lost through the perfidyrnand weakness of the first and only Presidentrnof the Confederate States.rnEvery losing side needs a scapegoat,rnand Jefferson Davis, with his loyalty tornWest Point officers, provided the conventionalrnsacrificial victim. Davis was wrongrnto trust Robert E. Lee and not NathanrnBedford Eorrest; wrong to draw the linernin front of Richmond instead of defendingrnthe middle South; wrong to quarrelrnwith Joe Johnston, wrong to trust Johnston’srncapacity, wrong to replace himrnwith Hood. More broadly, Davis hasrnbeen viewed as a conceited prig, emotionallyrnunstable, incapable of running arnpeaceful city, much less a new nation atrnwar.rnSome of the specific points are valid: IfrnJoe Johnston knew anything, it was how tornretreat. But President Davis was in an impossiblernsituation: The South was undermannedrnand outgunned, outspent, andrnoutproduced by the North. All the bravery,rnchivalry, and honor on the planetrncould not have won the war without thernsupport of France or Britain. WithoutrnFrench assistance, there would have beenrnno free and independent union of Americanrnstates in the first place. In one sense,rnit was Charles Francis Adams, thernUnion’s ambassador to the Court of St.rnJames, who won the war, not the Unionrnbutchers sent by the demagogue in thernWhite House. Unlike most Southernrnfire-eaters (and Mrs. Allen makes it abundantlyrnclear that Davis was no fire-eater),rnthe President of the Confederacy knewrnthe odds and accepted them calmly as arnman is supposed to do. Davis’s brother-inlaw,rnGen. Dick Taylor, was acerbic on thernquestion of armchair commanders whornshowed, from the comfort of their booklinedrnstudy, how the war should havernbeen fought and could have been won.rnIn recent years, only Shelby Foote hasrnattempted to paint a sympathetic portraitrnof Davis, and although some have foolishlyrnaccused the Lincoln-loving Foote ofrnConfederate tendencies, they forget thatrnthe historian’s own kinsman, Sen. HenryrnFoote, had been Davis’s political nemesisrnin Mississippi. There was something inrnPresident Davis that caused even his enemiesrn(like Seward) to admire him, andrnthat was his character.rnEven Davis’s warmest admirers haverntended to portray him as a parody of thern”iron man,” John C. Calhoun, as a manrnalmost fanatical in his devofion to principle,rnadmirable (if you like) but barely human.rnMrs. Allen, however, reveals arnthree-dimensional Davis: a fun-lovingrnyoung man getting in scrapes at WestrnPoint; the gallant officer falling in lovernwith Zachary Taylor’s daughter, who becamernhis short-lived first wife; the sorrowingrnwidower. (Mrs. Allen dispels thernmyth that the marriage caused a seriousrnrift with General Taylor or his family.) Inrntime, he became the hero of the MexicanrnWar and the passionate husband whornjust managed to keep his equally passionatern(to the point of hysteria) and considerablyrnyounger wife, Varina Howells, underrncontrol.rnMrs. Allen keeps her novelistic eyernopen to the human dimensions of Davis’srncareer. He was well served by his loyalty tornold friends and comrades like Dick Taylor,rnAlbert Sidney Johnston, Robert E.rnLee, and Leonidas Polk, but, straight as hernwas himself, he could never quite get tornthe bottom of more equivocal charactersrnlike W.H. Seward, Joseph Johnston, orrnBraxton Bragg. Davis’s constancy in principlernand loyalty grew out of a characterrnthat was deeply rooted in religious faith.rnAttracted to the Roman Church as a boy,rnhe never took the final step of conversion:rnHe was repelled, he said, by what he saw ofrnthe priests in Cuba.rnEven if he had made the change,rnDavis would have made a gospel-centered,rnnot to say Calvinistic, Catholic.rnThe moral teachings of the ChristianrnChurch, with its twin emphases on dut}’rnand humanity, inspired him in his dailyrnlife. Hearing a Northern polifician predictrnthat most blacks would perish oncernthey were freed, Davis was shocked byrnthe brutality of abolifionists who hatedrnSoutherners because they (the abolitionists)rnhated Africans. Of the abolitionists,rnperhaps only crazy Thad Stevens couldrnendure the presence of African-Americans.rnBut, unlike Abraham Lincoln andrnhis colleagues, Davis had known andrntrusted black people all his life. He didrnnot regard them as prepared, en masse,rnfor emancipation; he did, however, regardrnthem as fellow human beings deservingrnof kindness and respect.rnIn his sympathetic regard for blacksrnand Indians (Chief Blackhawk, after hernwas captured, said that this young warrnchief was the only American who knewrnhow to treat another warrior), Davis revealedrnhimself as a Christian. In the dignityrnand courage he displayed under sufferingsrnand misfortunes that have brokenrnmany good men, he set an enduring examplernof how a Christian is to live andrnmeet death. It is altogether fitting that arnnation contemptuous of Christianityrnshould vilify his name. Pope Pius IX,rnwho understood Davis and what thernSouth was fighting for, sent his own picturernto the President; during the Risorgimento,rnwhen the Italian Lincolns madernthe Pope a prisoner in his own palace, thernDavis family adorned the picture with arncrown of thorns. Varina called it “arncrown of thorns and glory.” (Robert E.rnLee said that the Pope was “the onlyrnsovereign in Europe . . . who recognizedrnour poor Confederacy.”)rnIn 1861, when Davis was being introducedrnto the people of Montgomery,rnWilliam Lowndes Yancey declared,rn”The man and the hour are met.” In thisrnvolume, that declaration has been fulfilled,rnas President Davis finally receivesrnthe biography he deserves.rnThomas Fleming is the editor ofrnChronicles.rnUpstairs, Backstairsrnby Katherine DaltonrnKeenelandrnby Alyson HagyrnNew York: Simon & Schuster;rn270 pp., $23.00rnA nyone writing a novel about thor-rn.oughbred racing in Kentucky wouldrnOCTOBER 2000/.31rnrnrn