PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: A CONFEDERATE PRESIDENT’S HOME
Welcome! This is the tenth installment in a series about destinations associated with American presidents. Last week I paid homage to Lincoln, but today I’m going to take a little detour South. Do you know which president lived at Beauvoir? The President of the Confederacy: Jefferson Davis.
A Little History
Before anyone gets their nose bent out of shape, let me tell you that I think slavery was awful. No human being should ever own another and no one should have to suffer the way many slaves did in the South. However, I cannot hate everything that the antebellum South stood for. Beauvoir represents many of the things that are worth remembering.
Though the means did not justify the ends, Southern planters created a genteel society among themselves. The genteel aspect encompassed only the interaction between plantation owners and their families, but Southern hospitality is famous for a reason. I grew up in the South. Southern manners, Southern cooking and Southern accents are dear to my heart. These are also alive and well, so they are independent from the travesty of slavery. In the coming weeks we’ll be visiting Mount Vernon and Monticello. Much that is memorable about these landmarks is more closely related to the Southern traditions of Beauvoir than to the White House.
Beauvoir is located in Biloxi, Mississippi. Though it’s better known for casinos now, in the seventies, when I visited,
Biloxi was more of a sleepy little beach town. Beauvoir is situated right on that beach. I remember driving along the coast road and parking next to a comparatively modest house. I’d seen plantations with slave quarters grander than Beauvior.
Beauvoir is not exactly an antebellum home. Davis moved there after the Civil War. With his cause defeated, he searched for a place where he could write his memoirs and a defense of his way of life. At first he merely rented a couple of pavilions on the Beauvior estate, but fell in love with the home as he wrote and contracted to purchase it. Climbing the steps at the front of the house and turning toward the sea, you can certainly understand why.
A Little More History
Slavery was wrong, but there was a deeper issue that I still support – states rights, and beyond that, the rights of the individual. It is my opinion that the federal government has grown entirely too big for its britches. I’m for sending the czars home and closing down most of the government agencies. I’m not sure exactly how that could be accomplished and I can only imagine my liberal friends gasping in horror, but that’s at the heart of what I believe. Jefferson Davis would have agreed with me.
The history of Beauvior after Jefferson Davis’s death tells a story of how we Southerner’s look after one another. Mrs. Davis sold the property to the Sons of Confederate Veterans with the stipulation that as long as there were any Confederate veterans or widows who needed it, they had a home at Beauvior. It served in that capacity until 1957.
The American Civil War is a sad chapter of our history, but slavery did need to be eradicated from the land of the free. However, the Restoration was a sad chapter, too. What Lincoln intended for good, John Wilkes Booth’s bullet turned into a horror. The Restoration is an example of government policy run amok.
Just as individual freedoms are suffering under an onslaught of government policy now, Beauvior suffered the wind and water of Katrina. If you visited Beauvior today, the architectural restoration is well underway – and more than just restoration. A brand new Jefferson Davis Library and Museum is being built – thank you FEMA/MEMA. Everything should be finished by May 2012, so you might consider a visit this summer. Not only would you see the new and improved facility, but you’d be giving a boost to the Gulf Coast, which is still recovering from the BP Oil Spill.
We’ve reached an interesting place in the history of our world. From the day Cain slew Abel and set out in the wider world, men who were uncomfortable with the status quo could embark on settling a new land. They could go beyond the next mountain or the next sea and run things their own way. The earth has no new horizons, so today’s Pilgrims have no where to go. We are finally going to have to learn how to live with one another. I’m not sure how all of that is going to work out, but I hope the world will be able to find a compromise that includes a little Southern hospitality and protects our heritage of the rights of the individual. What do you think?