Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Jeffrey Zvengrowski's "Jefferson Davis, Napoleonic France, and the Nature of Confederate Ideology, 1815-1870"

Jeffrey Zvengrowski is assistant editor for the Papers of George Washington and assistant research professor at the University of Virginia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Jefferson Davis, Napoleonic France, and the Nature of Confederate Ideology, 1815-1870, and reported the following:
Page 99 details some of the efforts during the 1850s of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to renovate Washington, D.C., in emulation of French emperor Napoleon III's contemporaneous revamp of Paris. Davis hoped that his endeavors to build "the Paris of the Americas" would convince Napoleonic France that the Democrat-dominated United States could become a worthy ally against abolitionist Britain. Page 99, moreover, explains that even though he had been irked that Napoleon III's fledgling but very expansion-minded empire appeared to regard the U.S. as a potential client state at best, Davis concluded by the mid-1850s that the U.S. would have to accept becoming "a junior partner" of Napoleonic France due to "growing Republican power" as well as undeniable French organizational and technological superiority.

Happily, reading page 99 gives a good idea of my whole book. As mentioned on that page, Davis liked a new statue of George Washington in Washington, D.C., sculpted by Clark Mills, "whose 1853 New Orleans statue of Andrew Jackson had been inspired by a famous painting of Napoleon I crossing the Alps." Davis hoped by the mid-1850s that instigating and winning a new War of 1812 with Napoleon III's France for an ally of the United States would discredit the Republican Party. The pro-British Federalist ancestors of the ostensibly pro-British Republicans, after all, had fallen into disrepute following Jackson's victory over Britain's forces at New Orleans in 1815. That victory, though, did not change the fact that the U.S. and Napoleon I's France failed to defeat the British Empire despite fighting as de facto and nearly de jure allies. Taking abolitionist Britain and actual or perceived pro-British elements in the Americas to have been championing inequality among whites together with racial equality even as French Bonapartists espoused equality among whites and white supremacy much like the Democratic Party, Davis aspired during the Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan administrations to finally accomplish the principal goal of his "War Hawk" Democrat forebears by driving British influence from the Americas.

As Confederate president, Davis ended up leading what he deemed a new American Revolution against Republicans and other seemingly British-backed groups in North America. He would also promise Napoleon III's anti-slavery but white supremacist Second French Empire gradual emancipation under continuing terms of white racial dominance if France were to render the Confederacy an outright client under formal French protection. The Confederate president, however, overestimated the power of Napoleonic France, which only surreptitiously supported the Confederacy and collapsed half-a-decade later during the Franco-Prussian War. Having been hosted by Napoleon III as a guest of honor in 1869, Davis grudgingly adjusted to a South dominated by certain pro-British ex-Confederates who had disliked him for decades as anti-Bonaparte advocates of "slavery-in-the-abstract" and inequality among whites. Those same ex-Confederates successfully propounded the Lost Cause to alter memories of Davis's pro-Bonaparte Confederacy, which had implemented white equality and been coming to accept white supremacy sans slavery.
Learn more about Jefferson Davis, Napoleonic France, and the Nature of Confederate Ideology, 1815-1870 at the LSU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue