FGF E-Package
The Confederate Lawyer
June 24, 2009

The Blessed Pius IX and President Jefferson Davis: Kindred Spirits
by Charles G. Mills

GLEN COVE, NY — Despite very different backgrounds, Blessed Pius IX and President Jefferson Davis enjoyed an extraordinary rapport.

Pius IX was elected Pope in 1846, a full generation after the mistreatment of Pius VI and Pius VII at the hands of revolutionaries who wanted to destroy the papacy. He was expected to be a liberal pope and did start his papacy with some reforms. By the time the revolutionaries took over Rome in 1849 and committed sacrileges in Saint Peter’s, however, he realized that they and their liberal allies were completely untrustworthy. In 1860, the new Kingdom of Italy took two large regions of Italy from the Pope by force.

The Mexican War gave no indication that Jefferson Davis and Pius IX would ever be allies. Jefferson Davis first came to national attention as a hero of that war. One of Pius IX’s first acts was to try unsuccessfully to prevent the United States Army from hanging some Irish Catholics in Mexico.

Jefferson Davis, a broad-minded Christian, often expressed special love for Episcopalianism and Catholicism. Between the ages of seven and nine, he was educated by Dominicans for two years at St. Thomas Aquinas Academy in Kentucky. After he was elected President of the Confederate States of America, he officially joined the Episcopal Church. While the Confederate President and thereafter he wore a Carmelite scapular, a St. Benedict Medal, and a Miraculous Medal based on the vision of contemporary St. Catherine Laboure. He frequently read from his copy of The Imitation of Christ during his postwar captivity and mistreatment. During this captivity, he received Episcopalian communion after struggling to be sure he had sufficiently forgiven those who were mistreating his wife and children to receive worthily.

The North’s strategy of overwhelming the South entailed a willingness to lose the lives of many Northern soldiers. Northern agents in Europe recruited military-age male immigrants from Ireland and southern Germany by false promises of homesteads. When these immigrants reached America, there were no homesteads and they were recruited or drafted into the Army. The draft was set up in such a way that the middle class and the wealthy could buy their way out of it, so that it was mainly the poor who were drafted.

Northern officers cared little for the safety of these men, and the desertion rate was high. In July 1863, hundreds died in a battle between New York City residents and the Northern Army over the unfair draft.

In 1862, Pius IX wrote to the Archbishops of New York and New Orleans, urging them to try to make peace in America. In September 1863, President Davis wrote to thank the Pope for his letter to the American bishops. Pius responded with a letter to Davis that addressed him by his proper title as President of the Confederate States. Some, including Robert E. Lee, deemed the Pope’s letter an implied recognition of the Confederacy; Davis did not. The two letters were widely published in Europe in English, French, German, and Italian. The letters reduced slightly the number of Catholic Europeans who emigrated to America and their recruitment into the Northern Army.

After the War, while Davis was imprisoned and severely mistreated, Pius IX sent him a photograph with a handwritten message and the Pope’s signature. This was the first autographed photograph of a Pope ever given to anyone other than a crowned head of state. The Pope also sent him a crown of thorns. During his imprisonment, Davis told an Episcopalian bishop that Pius IX was the only prince in the world who really wished the Southern cause well.

In 1871 (the same year French Communards murdered the Archbishop of Paris and Bismarck took the first tentative steps to what would become the anti-Catholic Kulturkampf), the new anti-religious Italian kingdom seized Rome from the Pope by force. He could not safely go outside the Vatican and accurately described himself as a prisoner in the Vatican. Pius IX died in 1878 and was buried in the Church of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls. Italian revolutionaries attempted to ambush the funeral procession, steal his body, and throw it in the Tiber. At his beatification in 2000, it was discovered that his body is incorrupt.

Davis’ wife was in Memphis when Pius IX died; she wrote to her husband, “It will be long before a better man fills the Papal Chair, and I very much regret his death.” Davis wrote a somewhat personal letter of condolence on the death of Pius IX to the largest Catholic magazine in the country, calling him “great and nobly good” and “sublime” and terming his death a “loss which the Christian world has sustained.”

Davis died in 1889 in New Orleans. A public requiem Mass was celebrated for him, an unprecedented honor for a non-Catholic.

Why did these two men — an Italian Catholic Pope and an American Protestant soldier and statesman — feel such admiration and sympathy for each other? The answer lies in the great events of history.

In 1929, Allen Tate proposed one of the most interesting of the many explanations of what the War Between the States was really about. Tate tells us that “In the South, the most conservative of the European orders had, with great power, come back to life, while in the North, opposing the Southern feudalism, had grown to be a powerful industrial state which epitomized in spirit all the middle-class, urban impulses directed against the agrarian aristocracies of Europe after the Reformation.” Tate states that the South was “a conservative check upon the restless expansiveness of the industrial North, and the South had to go.” The South was “contented to live upon a modest conquest of nature, unwilling to conquer the earth’s resources for the fun of conquest; contented in short to take only what man needs; unwilling to juggle the needs of man in the illusory pursuit of abstract wealth.”

Much the same could be said for the Papal States. The horrors that Burke foretold came to pass not only in the French terror, but also in the destruction of the old order in the South, and in 1871 in the destruction of the Papal States by a new anti-religious Italy, in the Paris Commune, and in Bismarck’s Germany. The Blessed Pius IX and President Jefferson Davis must have seen themselves as comrades in arms fighting for the survival of European civilization.

The Confederate Lawyer archives


The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2009 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

To sponsor the FGF E-Package, please send a tax-deductible donation to the:
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation
P.O. Box 1383
Vienna,VA 22183
or donate online.

© 2009 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation