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Men of Opposition, Men of Lost Love - The Lives of Lincoln and Davis
Often when we think about the Civil War era, our minds jump to political and military figures such as; Robert E Lee, Ulysses S Grant, and the staple figure, Abraham Lincoln. However, there is a name that we often forget or simply we have never heard of. For those of us who grew up in the southern region of the United States we may have heard of him, but for those of us who grew up in the North or even in the West we most likely have only heard his name briefly. This man was the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis. In the words of James L. Swanson in his work, Bloody Crimes- The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse, he states, "Davis is often remembered as a grotesque caricature: a humorless, arrogant, inflexible, racist, slave-owning traitor who tried to over throw the Constitution but failed to win Southern Independence and who then vanished from history." In actuality, "Jefferson Davis was one of the most well-known , respected, admired, and influential political leaders of pre-Civil War America." Indeed, he stood for radically different values than the acclaimed Lincoln, but he believed in his cause as whole-heartedly as Lincoln did for the Union. In many respects, Davis was more qualified for his position as President more than Lincoln. It has been said that Abraham Lincoln was the most unqualified person who had ever been President up to that point in time. It is a curious thing to observe the striking similarities between these two Civil War power players. They both been born into old cabins in the woods of Kentucky. However, they grew up very differently. Lincoln remained in poverty; while Davis thrived in the scholarly circuit. It was not until later in life did their lives almost mirror each other.
As both of these men grew up, they resembled each other in their slender build and their thin hungry looking frames. Both men had a vice. Davis was a drinker and Lincoln loved to entertain his friends with dirty jokes. There was another similarity between these two men. Lincoln and Davis alike lost their first love to untimely deaths. It was not common knowledge for many years about Lincoln's love before his wife Mary Todd. Her name was Ann Rutledge. She lived in the town of New Salem, Illinois where Lincoln served as Postmaster and surveyor. The relationship was hardly documented by Lincoln himself, but only in later years did interviews with New Salem town members come forward. There is not even a single love letter that remains between them. We do know that Lincoln and Ann; although not engaged were on a track towards marriage. Ann died in 1835 most likely of typhoid fever even though the true cause is not truly known. Ann's death destroyed the young aspiring lawyer. He fell into deep depression; often found hugging the grave of his departed love. After he left New Salem, he never spoke of Ann again. It was not until 7 years after this did Lincoln marry his second love.
In the same respect, Jefferson Davis lost his love as well. He married the daughter of President Zachary Taylor. Her name was Sarah Knox Taylor who went by the simple name of Knox. They longed to be married, but were forbidden to act upon this wish. After two long years, they finally were united in marriage on June 17, 1835. Only three short months after their marriage began, they visited Davis' sister in Louisiana. It was here that the both were infected with malaria. Jefferson skimmed the edge of death, but made a recovery. Unfortunately, Knox's body was not as resilient. It was not until 10 years later did Davis marry again.
These men experienced their second loves in very different ways. Davis married Varina Howell in 1845. Varina was a doting mother and wife. She was often Davis' source of peace and advice. As the Confederacy fell we can see in the exchange of letters between the two of them that they remained each other's main concern. However, Lincoln was not as lucky as Davis. He married Mary Todd who often was the source of domestic discord. She was often selfish, hysterical, and financially irresponsible. This caused to Lincoln to be unhappy for most of his adult life.
As the Confederacy fell, Jefferson Davis was able to look to his wife for support. It is unsure what would have become of Lincoln's marriage if the Union had fell. Davis' marriage became stronger in the midst of their hardship. Looking at marital bliss alone it is a blessing that the Union succeeded in their mission.