A closer look at Jefferson Davis charge

Published Wednesday, January 21, 2009

“Innocent until proven guilty” is a legal maxim Americans hold dear yet one that detractors of Confederate President Jefferson Davis have ignored. Davis was charged with treason but never tried in court and therefore never found guilty of the charge. It was Davis’ wish to stand trial because he saw it as an opportunity to vindicate not only himself but also the acts of secession taken by the individual Confederate states.

The underlying question would have to be whether states had the right to secede from the Union. Were it proven the right did not exist the charge of treason would stand. However, if the right of secession was upheld Davis would only have been attempting to defend his newly formed country.

In 1803 Massachusetts threatened secession and in the Hartford Convention of 1814 delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont discussed seceding from the Union. The right of secession was taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point until just before the war. Does the right of secession exist? That debate continues today and is one that will not be resolved on the pages of this newspaper.

Annually an average of 80,000 people honor Jefferson Davis by visiting his home and Presidential Library at Beauvoir and on October 17, 1978 by Joint Resolution the U.S. Congress restored his citizenship retroactive to December 25, 1868. What other “traitors” have had their citizenship restored?

A resolution renaming Jeff Davis Ave. east of Broad St. “J.L. Chestnut Blvd.” while retaining Davis’ name west of Broad would have been a true compromise. Both men would be honored. Neither side would have gotten everything they wanted but each would have gotten something. The Selma City Council chose to avoid compromise by renaming the entire street. This was done at the request of Franklin Fortier who revealed the complete motive behind the change when he stated on television January 14th that (paraphrased) “ we have removed a Confederate hero…, replaced him with a Civil Rights hero…, it’s a great day for Selma”

Selma sells itself as a historic city with the motto of “Civil War to Civil Rights and Beyond.” The changing of the historic landscape of our city impacts all of Selma’s citizens by the loss of tourism potential. The council’s action was shortsighted and demonstrates a lack of tolerance for all Selma’s culture and history.

Benjamin Austin


© 2009 Selma Times-Journal, Inc

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