We like to sit on very high horses, don’t we? Every high horse I’ve gotten comfortable on has bucked me off. I suppose that is the nature of aging (and learning). I still have my moments.
Jeff Davis was only a decent cadet at West Point, but an excellent rider and extremely good looking (according to EVERYONE who met him). His military bearing, his grace, his unflappable sense of person integrity impressed friends and acquaintances, but he wasn’t perfect. He was involved in the EGGNOG RIOTS at West Point. Yes, it was as silly as the name. The boys smuggled in whiskey and got completely out of control one Christmas.
As a handsome military man things sometimes happen. I’m no apologist but I have a checkered past (and I was a straight A student set for great things!). For over a hundred years people have wondered about Jeff’s debilitating eye infection. The current theory is that AT SOME POINT JEFFERSON DAVIS CONTRACTED HERPES SIMPLEX. Jeff was not the sort to kiss and tell (as far as we know). I wonder at our shock over the Donald’s crass words when we seemed to love the bawdy talk of the women of Sex in the City–but maybe it’s just another high horse waiting to bolt.
Jeff Davis fell in love with Sarah Knox Taylor. When her father ZACHARY TAYLOR refused to give his blessing to the couple, worried that his daughter would have a horrible life following Jeff in the military, Jeff resigned. Three months after their wedding Sarah died of malaria. Jeff almost died as well. I wonder if his eye troubled him yet?
I think we tend to gloss over what pain and tragedy does to a man (or woman). My brother went crazy for about five years when his wife died of brain cancer. Imagine a wedding and a funeral so closely following. Imagine the weakness and depression felt by a young man recovering from malaria and the loss of a young, beautiful wife.
Jeff hermit-ted himself away on the plantation his brother gave him as a wedding gift. He read history. He by chance went to a political meeting and to his surprise was given a position. This post is not about slavery. It’s not about tearing down monuments and in doing so tearing down the complexities of history (don’t you mourn the loss of photos and diaries of your forebears when you find a heartless relative threw them away as clutter?)
People in pain sometimes fight battles and cling to old ideas as their only means of survival. At a Christmas party Jeff met Varina Davis, a girl with Northern ties. Was Jeff just lonely? Did he love her as much as Sarah? They married.
We look at photographs of Jefferson Davis as either a hero of the “Lost Cause” or a hardhearted traitor to his country, but it’s never that easy. Jeff served his country in and out of the military for years. Slavery (only recently done away with in England and still quite a popular thing in the rest of the world including Africa at the time) was seen by different people in different ways–just as pro-life people see things differently about abortion than other people. Most of us go with the flow. We listen to the people with strong opinions one way or the other but very few of us do more than that.
As the debates about slavery heated up again (for slavery was debated constantly since the founding of the nation) so did Jeff’s pain. Herpes simplex comes with black pimples forming around the eye, the eye swells and a film forms. I won’t disgust you with the horrible details of 19th century treatment but it was bad. During a recurrence of symptoms which can lay dormant for a time, Davis lay in a darkened room for days and weeks. Did he wonder if any of it was his fault? Why would he? Even a strong wind hitting the eye was said to bring on his outbreaks.
But there was more. Sudden and severe shocks of pain assaulted his face. A pain so terrible that Varina said the only words Jeff spoke to her were intermingled with such tortured cries of anguish she could hardly stand it. But she did. With every bout of TRIGEMINAL NEURALGIA (considered one of the most painful nerve disorders known to man) Varina stayed at Jeff’s side–sometimes just holding his hand. He could neither eat nor move–again this went on for days and weeks. As a senator he cared so deeply for his duties that on many occasions Varina and others carried him to his work in Washington.
If Jeff loved Varina at first, he was devoted to her now (and would be for the rest of his life).
Jeff shared an unlikely friendship with WILLIAM SEWARD, an openly pragmatic anti-slavery senator from New York, and through Jeff’s illnesses Seward visited him on a daily basis. When a doctor suggested Jeff might have to have his eye removed, Seward reportedly cried with Varina that to spoil Jeff’s face–a face of such masculine beauty– would break their hearts.
Words said in a sick bed are often quite interesting:
After Seward admitted that he never voted but only as it might help his career, “The weakened Mississippian gasped to Seward, ‘Do you ever speak from conviction alone?’
“‘Ne-ever,’ said Seward, stretching out the word as he leaned forward in his chair.
“Davis raised his head from the pillow, looked right at his Northern friend, and said in a low voice, ‘As God is my judge, I never spoke from any other motive.’
“Seward was genuinely moved.”**
**Essay inspired by Bruce Chadwick’s book 1858
Attacks of trigeminal neuralgia may be triggered by the following:
- Touching the skin lightly
- Brushing teeth
- Blowing the nose
- Drinking hot or cold beverages
- Encountering a light breeze
- Applying makeup
Young America (ca. 1863), Thomas Le Clear
What do you think?
What are boundaries for? Imagine this: a girl, aged ten, is released to the state after her mother refuses to seek counseling for beating and starving her children. The girl sits in wait for a new home, gets one and wonders alone in her new room. Is this bed mine? Will wolves (the human kind and the furry kind) cross the line into my personal space through doors and opened windows? Will a higher power, a governing force, protect me?
This girl knows (after years of being in the system) that people often have very good excuses for overrunning her boundaries. She even feels some sympathy for the wolf who is her blood mother. This girl also knows (or wants to believe) that not all people who invade her space are bad, but does that matter? When a foreign person insists on brushing her hair it’s still an invasion.
This girl’s personal rights and privileges have been suspended through no fault of her own. Many rights have been taken to “protect” her, and it’s then that she wonders how is it that the invaders, those with good intentions and those with bad, have more rights than she does. She slams the windows shut. She insists on repeating this CD is mine. This sock is MINE. This space is officially mine!
Is she irrational for insisting upon the notion of sovereignty? Is it okay to let other abused people fleeing poverty, despots and war into her personal space without asking? There’s a book her therapist gave her that she reads again and again. It’s My Body (a book to teach young people how to resist uncomfortable touch). This girl understands yet struggles with boundaries. Just like the millions of other people fleeing wolves, this girl wants to run away and into other people’s space. She ignores boundaries and the laws of nations set up to protect the rights of citizens. She’s never been protected, has never read the Bill of Rights, has not pondered its meaning or its history.
As foster parents we invited this child into our home, come what may. We considered long and hard and were never forced. There’s something about being forced to do something that makes it unappealing (God gave us each our sovereignty and when it’s tread upon we feel a boundary has been crossed).
Make no mistake, personal property is a sure sign of freedom. Forced sharing is a sign of tyranny and personal abuse. If our house were overrun with children each as needy as this one little girl then we’d have to fly the white flag of surrender. I’d rather fly the flag of freedom for one individual than all the flags of wolves.
One company is synonymous with the beleaguered flag that once stood for freedom: The Annin Flag Company. Around since the mid-19th century Annin vowed at the beginning of the Civil War to “Without going through forms of contract[to supply] the government direct . . . as the war progressed, orders came pouring in from every state and city that was loyal to the Union, so that by the beginning of 1864, there was not a single battlefield, a brigade or a division that did not use Annin flags.” Wikipedia
Some will argue that the Civil War was not about individual rights. I disagree. It certainly was a messy debate and butchery over the meaning of freedom and boundaries (personal and communal). People in the North hung Annin flags from their homes. Some (a great many as the war progressed) understood that it wasn’t enough to allow a percentage of runaway slaves escaping a rotten system to cross the border into freedom. If a group of states could go against the law of the land any time they didn’t like the outcome of an election (even if the election brought in the Republican Lincoln) there would be no such thing as a free election left on earth (The US was a very young experiment at the time–one which the world watched with a mix of disgust and awe).
The powers that be in the state of New York watch over a foster girl. All the papers are signed and procedures are followed presumably to protect the children and the adults involved in foster care. Rules will help protect this child’s boundaries. In time it is hoped that the chaos of a life spent without boundaries will be a distant memory for this girl. She will need time to first close her boundaries, to see what her baseline status is, before she can open up with freedom and allow others to politely cross the borders to her heart.
De jure, or legal, sovereignty concerns the expressed and institutionally recognized right to exercise control over a territory. De facto, or actual, sovereignty is concerned with whether control in fact exists. Cooperation and respect of the populace; control of resources in, or moved into, an area; means of enforcement and security; and ability to carry out various functions of state all represent measures of de facto sovereignty. When control is practiced predominately by military or police force it is considered coercive sovereignty. Wikipedia
**Paintings by Childe Hassam
“I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world.
The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives.
Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate.
That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.
For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community.
It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA by Alexis de Tocqueville
**Featured painting Pastoral by Jerome Thompson
Oh, the joys of a summer road trip! In 1893, William Frank Fonvielle, a student at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, waved goodbye to his friends who worked with him on the college newspaper. At the tail end of the giddy post-slavery years when young men and women like William with no first hand memory of slavery and with all the enthusiasm and confidence in the future that many college students once had (before colleges became soul-deadening reeducation camps) Fonvielle set out on a journey south armed with knowledge of the ancient languages and the stories of humanity captured in classic novels and histories.
The struggle for human freedom was an epic one tracing its beginnings further back than the African slave trade, further back into the dark recesses of human memory and written language.
It’s fair to say that William Frank Fonveille, his classmates and the many white men and women who helped educate the children of slaves saw this thrilling time as one of advance and victory. Yes, there were ominous signs in the Mississippi where a new constitution prepared the way for disenfranchisement, and in many places the newly won right to keep weapons for self defense against marauding gangs and local government tyrants was under assault, but hope remained.
The dark signs were obscured in the Upper South by the promising property gains and improving literacy rates of the generation of black people who came after the war. When William, confident in his own future, journeyed on a train discussing Dickens with a white passenger beside him he had no idea how Atlanta with its colored restaurants, train cars and bathrooms would disturb him.
Yet I wonder if when he returned to North Carolina he really believed the doors would be shut upon another generation of blacks in the South.
Freedom is not a thing only once won. As the rights of man diminish across the globe in a dizzying number of ways we take our road trips nowadays not to investigate the course of freedom but to indulge in fantastical thinking. We take pictures of ourselves. We turn inward–but only superficially.
We let our emotions, not reality be the judge. We attend anti-gun rallies by day and massive drink-ups by night never realizing that more deaths occur each year due to alcohol (abuse and drunk driving). Factor in the crazy things we do when drunk or the suffering caused by an alcoholic parent or spouse! CLICK HERE FOR INTERESTING REAL TIME DEATH STATS.
We care more about how someone addresses us than the innocent men, women and children killed in our name. We care more about body shaming than female genital mutilation by groups of people our taxes fund.
As young William Fonveille fretted over sitting in a sooty rail car could he be expected to imagine that one day Margaret Sanger would push for an abortion program to exterminate black people all together? When he crossed the border into North Carolina at the end of his eye-opening trip he breathed a sigh of relief. Never would his home state go the way of the Deep South. Never would freedom once fought for by whites and blacks alike be trampled over by small-minded and hateful humans seeking to destroy what they could not control: the desire of humanity to be free . . .
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”