But what of that? After all, he played a tremendously conspicuous part in the drama, a part to which it is difficult to do justice, and which rarely has been done justice by artists or by historians.
Davis' attire is somewhat concealed by a cape of semi-military cut draped over his shoulders, a garment which he wore frequently, if not habitually. He is mounted, like the rest, but his is the only static figure in the group. Viewed from directly in front of the model, his horse's head is abreast of Lee's saddle, and there is perhaps a slight movement of that head; but otherwise, Davis and his mount are perfectly still. One of his hands is concealed. In the other, he holds the reins, negligently. He looks out, not in the direction that the eyes of the others follow, the direction of the line of march, but away to the northeast, apparently toward a different objective.
In this figure Borglum has attained perhaps the finest artistic achievement, the head of Lee alone excepted, in the entire monument. But here he had material in abundance to work with. Here he was in possession of every element requisite to the construction of tragedy in the grand manner. Indeed, here is tragedy unredeemed. Lee, if he suffered defeat, was at least spared insult. Davis wore chains. Lee carried only the responsibility of the army, and in particular, the army of northern Virginia. Davis carried the weight of the whole burden. Lee's purity of purpose was never touched with the breath of suspicion. Davis was accused, even in the South, of overweening ambition. Lee's spirit was so mighty that it could throw off as a slight thing the wreckage of all his hopes. Davis was broken by his fall.
Yet in this lonely figure, immobile in the surging mass of the army, there is an appeal that touches the heart as the figures of none of the generals do. They all have suffered for the South, but this man has suffered without winning the glory of great deeds done in the field. He alone must bear the ignominy of pursuit like a common criminal, of imprisonment, of shackles, and of denial of the right of trial on the accusation that hung over his head for the rest of his days.
Only within recent years has the world begun to realize the real stature of Jefferson Davis. There was little in his life to bring it sharply to the fore. The obscure origin and early struggles of Abraham Lincoln made it inevitable that his rise should be remarked with amazement, and his strength realized to the full. But Jefferson Davis was born to the purple. Why should he not attain to a high place?
In the beginning of the nineteenth century the population of Kentucky was homogeneous. Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis came of the same racial stock, and from the same environment, in the larger sense, that is, from a civilization that had lost some of the roughness of the frontier, but not its strength. Otherwise, their conditions were antipodal. One, born to a harsh struggle for survival, moved North. The other, born to luxury, went South. All the world realized that Lincoln was strong, or he would not have survived; but the world has been reluctant to grant strength to Davis, since the mere fact of his survival offered! no indisputable proof of it. Yet in one thing, at least, a distinct superiority to his fellow-Kentuck fan stands out conspicuously--he was a better judge of men. For the high command, he chose Lee, early, and stuck to him, while Lincoln was trying general after general only to discard each at the first turn of ill-fortune. Considering the disparity in the means at their command, it is highly doubtful, to say the least, that Lincoln proved himself the abler organizer and executive. Only in his warm, human qualities was he clearly the superior of Jefferson Davis.
But Lincoln is enshrined in the hearts of a people. Not so Jefferson Davis, for he never has been the object of affection comparable to the South's adoration of Lee. He is forever lonely, forever a little apart, because he never learned how to stir men's hearts to quick and passionate affection.
So he stands in the memorial, a solitary figure. Behind him the officers crowd, comradely. Even the great Lee has Jackson at his side. But the President is aloof, staring fixedly at the horizon. No man draws abreast of him. His figure is still, but there is no peace in it. It is rigidity, not repose. His lips are drawn in a straight line, his body is almost at the soldier's position of attention, his foot is planted squarely in the stirrup, the knee bent but slightly. His eyes have looked upon that which it is not good for a man to see. Wealth, honor, fame in the world are sinking in the maelstrom, and he feels their loss. Great dreams are collapsing into ruin. He has staked everything, and the game is going against him.
Here is the statecraft of the Confederacy, as Lee is its courage and Jackson its faith; and the statecraft of the South can by no possibility be raised into the sublime. It was a mistaken statecraft. Its very inflexibility sent it driving straight into ruin. The protagonists of the South took their stand on the Constitution and from it they would not be moved. They could not, or would not, see that the Constitution belonged to the country, not the country to the Constitution. All that was nominated in the bond they claimed; and unwise insistence on that claim led them into war and ruin.
Yet there was that about them that commands respect, even if it does not compel agreement. They pleaded the sanctity of a contract, and that plea, while it may be ill-advised, can not be despised. They were men of honor, and when ruin came upon them, they met the blow upstanding.
That was conspicuously true of Jefferson Davis. Whatever else he may have done, he never cowered. The indignities that were heaped upon him, he met with a fortitude that extorted admiration even from his enemies. Having had so much, and having lost all, lacking the ability to move the hearts of men after the manner of Lee, he nevertheless conducted himself in adversity with a dignity that will be his peculiar honor while the tale of the Confederacy is told. He led the South to ruin, if you please, but he brought no shame upon her.
There he is, in effigy, suffering silently, tortured but bolt upright, rigidly still. The ruin that overwhelms his country may tear his heart from his breast, but it shall not extort a cry from those compressed lips. Defeat may hurt his pride as hideously as though he were flayed alive, but he will not murmur. There is nothing godlike about him. There is no lift of the spirit there, such as marks the other two figures. He is very human, very really a beaten man.
But what a man!