cover image Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart

Felicty Allen. University of Missouri Press, $49.95 (832pp) ISBN 978-0-8262-1219-1

As her title suggests, Allen, an independent scholar, has written a sentimental account of the life of the president of the Confederate States of America. Davis's wife, Varina, along with their children, play a central role in a narrative that draws heavily on Davis's own correspondence. Allen depicts Davis as a caring husband, a loving father, a virtuous public servant and the very embodiment of Southern chivalry. This is anything but a critical biography; what Allen strives earnestly to convey is the strict moral code that Davis lived by, a code emphasizing honesty, self-sacrifice, loyalty to family, physical and moral courage and respect for Southern tradition. Davis was, foremost, a soldier; ironically, the tactical and technical innovations that he introduced at the antebellum War Department greatly enhanced the preparedness of the Union army, thus contributing to the defeat of his beloved Confederacy. As a senator from Mississippi, Davis was at the boiling center of the slavery debate, arguing that servitude civilized and Christianized African-Americans and was sanctioned by both the Bible and the Constitution. Allen doesn't contribute much to our larger understanding of the period; the political ""crisis"" of the 1850s, with Davis heading the Southern faction in the Senate, has been better described elsewhere, as has the complex military history of the Civil War. What Allen contributes is an emphasis on Davis the family man and Davis the martyred symbol of a vanquished but proud and unrepentant South. While she largely succeeds in portraying Davis as a noble individual and as the personification of Southern ""glory,"" she's unable to solve the ultimate conundrum: how a supposedly great man could devote his public life to defending slavery. 72 illus. not seen by PW. (Dec.)