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This child was born in 1808 in Kentucky, the youngest and last of ten children. His father was an aging Revolutionary War veteran and his mother was 49.
When he was a toddler, the child's family moved to Mississippi, where they bought a cotton plantation. The boy had a happy early childhood, and adored both of his parents as well as his older siblings, with whom he would remain close the rest of his life. His father, however, died when the child was a teenager.
After being educated locally, the boy enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His first military assignment as a new 2nd Lieutenant was to escort Chief Black Hawk to captivity in Missouri. Black Hawk would later recall in his autobiography that the young officer had "treated us all with much kindness".
After leaving the military he went back South to become a cotton farmer. Booker T. Washington described his relations with his slaves, many of whom were educated on his plantation, as having more "good will" than most. In fact, this plantation itself eventually was sold to freed slave Ben Montgomery, the overseer of the plantation's purchasing and shipping operations.
Some time later, he entered politics, and in 1845 was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he championed states' rights. Then he left Congress to serve again in the military in the Mexican Wars, where his successes brought him national acclaim and helped him win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Admired and respected as a politician and military leader, he was appointed by President Pierce as Secretary of War. In this position, he worked to improve U.S. military training, and also to set up the first formal medical corps. But political trouble -- another war -- interrupted his career.
He was asked to return to Mississippi. He resigned his U.S. political post, and reluctantly accepted a different appointment back home. He declared
The South is determined to maintain her position, and make all who oppose her smell Southern powder and feel Southern steel.
This was not to be. At the end of the Civil War, he was captured by Union cavalry and imprisoned at Fort Monroe. Two years later, part of his bail was posted by the abolitionist Horace Greeley.
After his release, he authored a treatise on the war, dedicated to the memory of those who had sacrificed their lives in defense of their convictions. But national recognition for his contributions would not again be given to him during his lifetime.
After he died of bronchitis while travelling on family business, a Louisiana newspaper wrote:
Throughout the South are Lamentations and tears; in every country on the globe where there are lovers of liberty there is mourning; wherever there are men who love heroic patriotism, dauntless resolution, fortitude or intellectual power, there is an sincere sorrowing. The beloved of our land, the unfaltering upholder of constitutional liberty, the typical hero and sage, is no more; the fearless heart that beats with sympathy for all mankind is stilled forever, a great light is gone...
Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a boy from a "fatherless home."
This fatherless child story was written by Elizabeth G.
* The term "fatherless" is used in this series as it is in current research and policy rhetoric by the U.S. federal government, DHHS and the National Fatherhood Initiative, most U.S. states in connection with child custody law and policy, and various family values and fatherhood interest policy and lobbying groups.
"...Just add Dad, the magic ingredient. It's hard to know where wishful thinking becomes deliberate deception. But this argument, advanced by the fathers' rights movement, is like saying that, since Mercedes Benz owners make more money than people who drive Hyundais, you will become wealthy if you buy a Mercedes..." Mike Peterson
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