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
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 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
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation
P.O. Box 1383
or donate online.