Did you know there were once two Americas?
One is the United States of America we know today, but the other was an equally legally valid “Confederate States of America,” which was headed by true patriot Jefferson Davis, who “devoted his life to service to his country and to its principles”?
And did you know slavery had nothing nothing nothing to do with it?
Such is the world of 1982’s “The Jefferson Davis Coloring Book” by Ernesto Caldeira with illustrations by James Rice, available at that dumpster I fished it out of in North Center.
In it, the book geared at children… like, children children… in the late 20th century… like, Duran Duran was a thing at the time… talks about the life and times of the Confederacy’s heroic, kind, thoughtful, good to his mother, courageous first and only president, Jefferson Finis Davis.
It’s an eye-opening look into the causes of the Civil War.
“The Southern states wanted to secede from the Union, which they felt no longer treated them fairly.”
And the non-role of race in the dispute.
“Although the basic issue was the constitutional guarantee of states’ rights, abolitionists made slavery a paramount issue.”
And of the sufferings Jefferson Davis endured for no more than leading an armed revolt against the Federal government.
“He was confined for two years, and held in chains for the first six months. This was very rough treatment for a former head of state to suffer.”
As unimaginable as the image of someone in chains in the 1800s American South, it is tragic that Davis had to serve two whole years in prison.
He was the leader of a rebellion that created Andersonville prison, was allied with Quantrill’s Raiders, Silas Gordon, Bloody Bill Anderson and Champ Ferguson, whose soldiers and sympathizers were responsible for the various massacres at Baxter Springs, Centralia, Lawrence, Nueces, Saltville, Shelton Laurel and holy crap the things they did to African-American soldiers at Fort Pillow and Poison Spring, but two whole years in prison?*
Davis got the same amount of time we give people today for “aggravated identity theft” before being bailed out by wealthy patrons to live a life where he would never be president again.
Except for a Memphis-based insurance company. He was president of that after the war.
And he turned down an offer to be the first president of Texas A&M.
But then, Davis’ struggles got worse. He had some money trouble before an old lady willed him a mansion and the equivalent of $1.2 million in today’s dollars.
There he wrote and spent the rest of his life doing well-paid speaking tours before dying of a cold in New Orleans at the age of 81.
There are a few factual errors in “The Jefferson Davis Coloring Book.” For example, while Caldeira says Davis’ final resting place of Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va., contains the remains of five U.S. presidents, only James Monroe and John Tyler actually are interred in Hollywood.
Similarly, the obelisk marking Jefferson Davis’ birthplace is not the second-tallest monument in the nation, as Caldeira states. It’s the fifth tallest, after (in order) the Gateway Arch, the San Jacinto Monument, the Washington Monument and the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial.
And Jefferson Davis was a traitorous white supremacist who oversaw a campaign that led to the greatest loss of American life of any war in of our nation’s blood-soaked history.
The bit about the camel is true.
As I’ve written about in other spots, let us not as a people get too up our own asses about being better than “The Jefferson Davis Coloring Book” until we get our own racial injustices righted. If all we can say about 21st century Chicago racial politics is that we’re better than the worst moments of American history, we still have a lot of work to do.
But let us end this tale of a children’s book that glorifies the Stars and Bars with the words of the man himself. As, for some reason, we’re still debating the Confederate flag, let us consider what it stands for in the words of its leader.
I give you Jefferson Davis writing on race in 1881’s “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.”
Please note that this does not appear in “The Jefferson Davis Coloring Book.” (The picture of the camel does).
“Generally they were born the slaves of barbarian masters, untaught in all the useful arts and occupations, reared in heathen darkness, they were transferred to shores enlightened by the rays of Christianity. There, put to servitude, they were trained in the gentle arts of peace and order and civilization; they increased from a few unprofitable savages to millions of efficient Christian laborers. Their servile instincts rendered them contented with their lot, and their patient toil blessed the land of their abode with unmeasured riches.”
Break out the crayons, Ernesto Caldeira. You’ve created a children’s classic.
The Jefferson Davis Coloring Book
By Ernesto Caldeira, Illustrations by James Rice
32 pp. Pelican Publishing Company. Originally $2.95 from the Eastern National Park & Monument Association, Free from the dumpster I found it in.
* Not that the Union side was any prize, with the conditions of Camp Douglas, the Sacking of Osceola and holy crap the things they did to African-American slaves during Sherman’s March to the Sea. Basically, everything in history before, like, Tuesday was horrible.
Paul Dailing writes f’realsies at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons, a stab at literary journalism in the vein of the 1920s Chicago Daily News column “1001 Afternoons in Chicago.” His favorite Stooge is Shemp and he stands by that.
Know a terrible book that should be featured? Tweet it and #terriblebook to @1001chicago.