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The flatterer's idea of the history of the present war would no doubt be to plaster the government with praises; to hide all the faults of the people of the South while gilding their virtues; to make, for a consideration, "especial mention" of all the small trash in the army; to coat his puffs thickly with fine writing and tremendous adjectives; and to place over the whole painted and gilded mass of falsehood, the figure of Mr. Jefferson Davis, as the second Daniel come to judgment. The author has no ambition to gratify in these literary elegances.
In the eyes of the historian the person of Mr. Jefferson Davis is no more sacred than that of the meanest agent in human affairs. The author has not been disposed to insult the dignity of office by coarse speeches; he recognizes a certain propriety of style even in attacking the grossest public abuses; but, while he has avoided indecency and heat of language, and has, on the other hand, not attempted the elegance and elevation of the literary artist, he trusts that he has given his opinions of the government and public persons with the decent but fearless and uncompromising freedom of the conscientious historian. He is certain that he has given these opinions without prejudice against the Administration in this war. The danger is, in such a contest as we are waging, that we will be too favorably and generously disposed towards the government, rather than prejudiced against it-that we will be blind to its faults, rather than eager and exacting in their exposure.
The author is aware that the views expressed in this work of the autocracy of President Davis, and the extraordinary absorption in himself of all the offices of the government, have been resented with much temper by critics in some of the newspapers. He would ask these persons who are so anxious to vindicate the character of Mr. Davis in this respect, for a single instance in the history of the war, where the Cabinet has interposed any views of its own, addressed any counsel to the government, or been any thing more than a collection of dummies. In all our experience hitherto of republican government, we hear of views of the Cabinet and the counsel of this or that member. In this war these common observations are lacking; the Cabinet is dumb or absolutely servile; we have ⚫ never heard a syllable from it on a single question of national importance, and the voice of the President alone decides the conduct of the war, distributes the patronage of the government, and forces into practice the constitutional fiction of himself being the commander-in-chief of our armies. These facts are notorious in the streets of Richmond.
The Cabinet of President Davis has really no constitutional existence The Cabinet has many objects to serve in our system of government. I was designed as a check to Executive power; it was intended to culi and collect the wisdom of the country in the management of public af
fairs; it shares the qualities of a popular system of representation with the conservatism and virtues of aristocracy; it constitutes the highest and gravest council in our form of government. Certainly not one of these constitutional offices has been fulfilled by the Cabinet of President Davis, and history is forced to confess that the harmony of our government has been deranged by striking from it an important, valuable, and essential part.
The author is sensible that another ignorant rule of criticism besides that of the professional political flatterer, has been unjustly applied to his work. He is informed that there are persons so childish and contemptibly ignorant as to have decried his work on the ground that it has exposed abuses in our administration, and faults in our people, which will be a gratification and comfort to the enemy. The objection is simply absurd and contemptible. Throwing out of consideration the interest of truth, it is surely much better, even on the narrow ground of expediency, to expose abuses, and to let the enemy have what pleasure and comfort he can from them, than to permit them, unnoticed and uncorrected, to sap the strength of our country, and publish their conclusion to the world in the ultimate ruin of our cause. There are ignoramuses in the Southern Confederacy who think it necessary in this war that all the books and newspapers in the country should publish every thing in the South in couleur de rose; drunken patriots, cowards in epaulets, crippled toadies, and men living on the charity of Jefferson Davis, trained to damn all newspapers and publications in the South for pointing out abuses in places of authority, for the sage reason that knowledge of these abuses will comfort the enemy and tickle the ears of the Yankees. These creatures would have a history written which would conceal all the shortcomings of our administration, and represent that our army was perfect in discipline, and immaculate in morals; that our people were feeding on milk and honey; that our generalship was without fault, and that Jefferson Davis was the most perfect and admirable man since the days of Moses-all for the purpose of wearing a false mask to the enemy. They would betray our cause while hoodwinking the enemy; they would make a virtue of falsehood; they would destroy the independence of all published thought in the country. The author spits upon the criticisms of such creatures.
So much the author has thought it necessary to say with reference to two classes of critics, who have attacked not only his book, but every form of free and independent thought in the country. With reference to the public, confident as the author is of the rectitude of their decision, he is content to submit his work to their judgment, without importuning their favor.
Finally, the author begs to make, without temper and in the fewest words, a plain and summary vindication of the character and objects of his work.
Every candid mind must be sensible of the futility of attempting high order of historical composition in the treatment of recent and in complete events; but it does not follow that the contemporary annal, the popular narrative, and other inferior degrees of history, can have no value and interest, because they cannot compete in accuracy with the future retrospect of events. The vulgar notion of history is, that it is a record intended for posterity. The author contends that history has an office to perform in the present, and that one of the greatest values of contemporary annals is to vindicate in good time to the world the fame and reputation of nations.
With this object constantly in view, the author has composed this work. He will accomplish his object and be rewarded with a complete satisfaction, if his unpretending book shall have the effect of promoting more extensive inquiries; enlightening the present; vindicating the principles of a great contest to the contemporary world; and putting before the living generation, in a convenient form of literature, and at an early and opportune time, the name and deeds of our people.
Richmond, September, 1869.