Resquiescat In Pace by William Cowper Brann

Story type: Essay

The mortal remains of Jefferson Davis, for four eventful years president of the Southern Confederacy, are now en route to their last resting place in Hollywood cemetery in the city of Richmond. New Orleans, the metropolis of the sunny south-land, surrenders, with sighs and tears, the dust of the distinguished dead to the keeping of the old capital of the Confederacy. There, where died the dream of a new nation; there, where the dashing Cavalier made his last desperate stand against the stubborn Puritan; there, where the cause was irretrievably lost,–where the stars and bars made obeisance to the stars and stripes and the “gray gigantic host” faded from the tragic stage of the world, will be laid the dust of our honored dead to await the judgment day.

Near the grave of Davis will spring a massive monument, which will forever remain a landmark in American history,– aye, in the mighty epic of the world! More imposing cenotaphs have risen, costlier mausoleums have charmed the eye, more gigantic monuments have aspired to kiss the clouds; but to the student of mankind none were more significant, to the historian none more interesting, to the poet none will appeal more powerfully through the long ages yet to be. It will be a new and grander Memnon in masonry, ever sounding celestial music for him that hath ears to hear, when smitten by the golden shafts of Justice’s shining orb, when gilded with the celestial radiance of Love and Charity.

To-morrow the Southern people will, with tender hands and loving hearts, finally commit their dead chieftain to the care of the impartial historian. May another Plutarch arise to paint him as he was–nothing extenuating, naught set down in malice. May another Macaulay come forth from the fecund womb of the mighty future to add to the charm of history the music of his voice.

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When the generation that knew and loved Davis shall have passed from earth; when those who idealized him shall have crossed the narrow boundaries of Time into Eternity’s shoreless sea; when those brave souls who set their breasts against the bayonet shall one and all be gathered into the great hand of God; when those who saw in him the incarnation of a principle in whose defense they had pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, shall be no longer with us to warp our better judgment, Jefferson Davis will sink to the ordinary level as a statesman and a soldier. It will be seen that his intellect was of the commonplace, his judgment ofttimes faulty,–that he can have no claim on the bays that lie ever green upon the brow of genius; but his dauntless courage, his devotion to his people, his purity of purpose–in a word, his American manhood–may well defy the crucial test of time and the analysis of the most exacting historian.

The honors which the South pays to the memory of Jefferson Davis are as unique as they are pathetic. He stood for the division of the Union, and the South rejoices that we are one nation and one people. He stood for the perpetuation of human slavery, and the South rejoices that the foul curse hath been lifted from her forever. Intensely loyal to the Union to-day, she bedews with her tears and covers with her rarest flowers the bier of him who devoted his best energies to destroy it. The successful revolutionary leader is always lionized; the patriot who strives and fails, remains dear to the people so long as his cause awakes a responsive echo in their hearts; but where hitherto in the great world’s history has chieftain been thus honored, when even those who bore the battle’s brunt give thanks to God that his flag went down in defeat lo rise no more forever? It is the grandest tribute ever paid to American manhood.

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